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hosted by Dr. Corey Allan

Perfectionism #466

On the Regular version of today’s show …

Dr Margaret Rutherford joins me to tackle perfectionism and how it can actually be something that is covering up depression. 

Learn more from Dr Rutherford on her site – https://drmargaretrutherford.com/

On the Xtended version …

Dr Rutherford and I continue the conversation about how perfectionism impacts our sex life and marriage.

Enjoy the show!

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Got a question?

CALL US 214-702-9565
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Corey Allan:
Welcome back to another episode of Sexy Marriage Radio, where we are having straightforward, honest conversations about what goes on behind closed doors and in your house.

Pam Allan:
Which that could be any variety of things, right?

Corey Allan:
Since we live in our houses, pretty much full-time-

Pam Allan:
[crosstalk 00:00:41] specific, yes.

Corey Allan:
... right now, unless you're in parts of the world or country where things are trying to open back up, we wish you safety, and health, and wisdom on wherever you might be.

Pam Allan:
Yeah. Be smart.

Corey Allan:
Because this is still strange times, unprecedented, and what are the next steps? What's the right thing? We just hope that you get opportunities to steal away a little bit of time with your spouse, and we love it when you steal a little bit of time away to listen to us, the Sexy Marriage Radio.

Pam Allan:
Yeah, join us.

Corey Allan:
And the way you can do that is all kinds of different avenues that the show's on, with iTunes, Spotify, iHeartRadio, Google Play, Stitcher. There's a bunch of different ways, and if you do listen, as part of the SMR Nation, we ask in return, rate and review, leave a comment, spread the word, help people know that married sex is the hotbed for sex, because that's what we're hoping to have happen in your neck of the woods, and in your home, and in your relationship.

Pam Allan:
Right.

Corey Allan:
So, a couple things that come to my mind real quick, Pam. First off, as we are talking through at this week here, the first part of May.

Pam Allan:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Corey Allan:
Happy Mother's Day week.

Pam Allan:
Yeah. Happy Mother's Day to all the moms out there.

Corey Allan:
Yeah. This is the weekend in the States. Is it a worldwide thing?

Pam Allan:
I think it's just a Hallmark thing here in the States.

Corey Allan:
Oh, look at you taking on the Hallmark world.

Pam Allan:
Well, it's not bad to honor things, right?

Corey Allan:
Not at all. I usually take that stance with Valentine's Day [inaudible 00:02:22].

Pam Allan:
I know, I know, I know. We both do. But still, it's good to recognize and honor-

Corey Allan:
Absolutely. So to all of the mothers in the SMR Nation, Happy Mother's Day this weekend. I hope that it's a fabulous time, and to you, my beloved wife, Happy Mother's Day to you.

Pam Allan:
Thank you.

Corey Allan:
Coming up.

Pam Allan:
Thank you very much.

Corey Allan:
I'm looking forward to having the weekend and being able to celebrate that day with you.

Pam Allan:
Yeah, me too.

Corey Allan:
It should be a lot of fun. And secondly, I don't know however people might have been spending their time with quarantine, and isolation, and social distancing, and just kind of the way the world has been transitioning right now, but we had an email, this is about a month and a half ago, from a new listener that has just found the SMR Nation, and she's actually gone back to episode one, and is working her way through.

Pam Allan:
Excellent, okay.

Corey Allan:
And I love it, because just this past week, I got an email from her asking if we had bumper stickers still.

Pam Allan:
Oh my goodness, [inaudible 00:03:23].

Corey Allan:
Which was from years ago.

Pam Allan:
Yeah, it was like, Gina, or-

Corey Allan:
That was with Shannon.

Pam Allan:
... early on with Shannon. Okay.

Corey Allan:
Yeah, that was about midpoint through when the getaways were just getting started, so this was probably four or five years ago.

Pam Allan:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Corey Allan:
And so she's like, "I realize timing of this is probably a little not right, but maybe you still have some bumper stickers, and I'm just curious if you still have anymore," because she's been one that I've loved as she's emailed throughout her journey through the archives, she started the first email with, "Hey Corey and Gina."

Pam Allan:
Right, right.

Corey Allan:
And has moved into with Shannon, and then was, "Hey, stay tuned. My wife is going to be on board."

Pam Allan:
"She's what?"

Corey Allan:
Coming up soon. So I love the binge listeners, we love it when they find SMR, and just go all the way through the archives, which that's quite a feat in today's... With the amount of resources and shows, and just the sheer volume-

Pam Allan:
Yeah. It's a lot of time.

Corey Allan:
... of content that's out there. That's a lot of time. And so, to all of the binge listeners and anybody else that's just regularly taking some time out with SMR Nation, we're so glad that you're here, and we hope that whatever it is that we're steering, you help jump on board, and let us know what you think. (214) 702-9565 is where you could call and leave a voicemail, or feedback at sexymarriageradio.com, is where you can leave us emails, and that's where you ask your question, bring up the topic you want us to cover, or let us know what you need, and we want to try to help steer this where it will help you.

Corey Allan:
This episode of Sexy Marriage Radio is brought to you by LetsGetChecked, a company that's all about personal health testing. Working to make healthcare and health screening open and patient-led for everyone. Go to trylgc.com/smr. That's T-R-Y lgc.com/smr, and use the code SMR20 at checkout to save 20% today.

Corey Allan:
So coming up on today's regular free version of Sexy Marriage Radio, Pam, is a interview I had with Dr. Margaret Rutherford. And so today's episode will be kind of interesting, because we're steering away, in some regards, from just talking about sex and our sex life. Because Dr. Rutherford has a book out called Perfectly Hidden Depression: How to Break Free from the Perfectionism That Masks Your Depression. And so, she's coming up with this idea of seeing how perfectionism, and this is really, the interview talks about her own journey with this, and dealing with anxiety and depression, and realizing perfectionism is actually a covering trait of depression, and identity-

Pam Allan:
Could totally see that.

Corey Allan:
... and worth. And it was a fascinating dialogue to have. And so, in the regular version today, we're just talking about what does that look like? And then coming up on the extended version of Sexy Marriage Radio, which is deeper, longer, and there's no ads, you can subscribe at smrnation.com, Dr. Margaret Rutherford and I continue the conversation, but we start looking at some of the characteristics that she has found that are markers of perfectionism, and markers of where this could start to be a problem in your life. And this is not a diagnostic tool, she's very clear about that, but it is something to help get an understanding of, "Wait, there's other ways I could be doing this," and it was such a fun conversation to have.

Pam Allan:
Yeah, I'm looking forward to it.

Corey Allan:
And so, I'm hoping that the SMR Nation understands and gets the insight of, "Okay, how does this play out in my life?" because I think we all, in some way, shape, or form are perfectionists, and maybe we could go a little bit too far on that scale and we miss some things. And this is a great way to just look at it through a little bit of a different lens.

Pam Allan:
Yeah, looking forward to it.

Corey Allan:
So all that's coming up on today's show.

Corey Allan:
Well, joining me today for the episode of Sexy Marriage Radio is Dr. Margaret Rutherford. And she has a book, I love the title of your book-

Margaret Rutherford:
Thank you.

Corey Allan:
... Perfectly Hidden Depression: How to Break Free from the Perfectionism That Masks Your Depression. So I'm thinking we've got a lot we can talk about, but-

Margaret Rutherford:
I hope so.

Corey Allan:
... but nobody's dealing with perfectionism in the SMR Nation. So a lot of people will probably just skip this episode, Margaret. No, [inaudible 00:07:57]-

Margaret Rutherford:
Yeah, sure. Okay. Well, move on, move on.

Corey Allan:
But you and I will have a good conversation, because we can talk about it. So Margaret, thank you so much for joining me today.

Margaret Rutherford:
Oh, I'm delighted. Thanks for having me.

Corey Allan:
And it seems like the obvious first question to just start the conversation with you is how did you come up with this kind of a connection? Because as clinicians in the field, anxiety and depression is one of the main stalworth of ... It's rampant in a lot of people, and it's going to be even more exacerbated with what's going on in our world right now, that-

Margaret Rutherford:
Oh, you betcha.

Corey Allan:
... it's going to magnify things, is the prediction, and all the research is showing. But how did you come into the idea of perfectionism being a component of this?

Margaret Rutherford:
Well, basically Corey, I had worked with several people over the years, in fact, many who just didn't fit into that rubric of classic depression, especially when they first presented. And what I really noticed was that they could not express painful emotion. They would deny, discount, "Oh, what happened to me isn't as bad as what happens to other people," or "I just don't like to get into that, it's in the past," or whatever [inaudible 00:09:08] to be. And as I was sitting down just to write my normal blog post, I started thinking about these folks, one of whom had actually attempted suicide, and I actually found her, and that story's in the book, and she's alive because I found her, which is a dramatic story, but it's true.

Margaret Rutherford:
Anyway, I started thinking about these people and the title just kind of came to me, The Perfectly Hidden Depressed Person: Are You One? And that's the blog post I wrote and I was describing what these people were like. And you know, at that time, back in 2014, if I got 50 shares, I was on a roll. [crosstalk 00:09:48].

Corey Allan:
I get it. I totally get it.

Margaret Rutherford:
[crosstalk 00:09:50] My mother was deceased, so I knew it wasn't her. And so anyway, it went viral and then at the time I was writing for the Huffington Post and what I forgot, Corey, was that I had left my email on the bottom of the post when I submitted it to the Huffington Post. I got hundreds of emails.

Corey Allan:
Right. So that went out worldwide, in a sense-

Margaret Rutherford:
Yes, it did. And so I started researching about what's out there, whether in the popular literature or the professional literature about perfectionism and depression. And perfectionism had been seen as a problem for a long time. And of course there was Dr. Brene Brown's work, who's astounding, but even she, probably I would guess ... I don't know her, so I would love to ask her. But she's a researcher, so she didn't make the direct connection between perfectionism hiding or masking or cloaking, however you want to say, or being the strategy in order to push away, stuff away, suppress, whatever the words you want to use, depression and trauma and painful emotions.

Margaret Rutherford:
I've never really wanted to write a book. I've never planned to write a book. I love being a therapist, that's what I wanted to do, but I was encouraged and kept writing about it and thinking about it and thinking about the traits that people have that I'd seen. And then I kind of came up with this syndrome and [inaudible 00:11:26] it's a book.

Corey Allan:
And that's what I love about the field, in a sense, that people are so quintessentially unique. But there's still so much overlap in commonality, right?

Margaret Rutherford:
Right, exactly.

Corey Allan:
On human existence, there's a lot of similarity across the globe.

Margaret Rutherford:
Oh yes.

Corey Allan:
And so I love the idea that the field can bring in a nuance to understand something that maybe has been always understood a certain way, but it's limiting. Because if you think of the classic depressed person, what comes to my mind, in my experience with clients, is it's that depressive vortex that happens, right? Of, "I feel down, so I don't go out. And then I feel down because I'm not going out. And then I feel down because I feel down and then I feel down," and it's just this-

Margaret Rutherford:
And I feel guilty for feeling down.

Corey Allan:
Add to it, yep. But the idea of, what if perfectionism is masking something? That's huge because that's a whole different way to start looking at, "Okay, what's going on?" Because tell me if I'm wrong with the way you think of life, Margaret. We all have vices and things we use for covering.

Margaret Rutherford:
Oh, you betcha.

Corey Allan:
Just when they go to an-

Margaret Rutherford:
Humor is one of mine.

Corey Allan:
Mine too. We went to the same school apparently. Except mine comes out as sarcasm, which a lot of times isn't always a good thing-

Margaret Rutherford:
[crosstalk 00:12:53] right there with you.

Corey Allan:
But it's seeing it as, "Okay, if I go to an extreme, that's where I start having major issues." But finding at least the courage to be honest about, "Yeah, I do this and perfectionism is a part of my story, but what do I do with it?" I guess this is the next step. How do I recognize it and what's my next step after that?

Margaret Rutherford:
Right. Let me share with you, I had the wonderful experience of having about, oh gosh, at least about 70 or 80 people actually reached out to me. I was asking people to volunteer to talk with me if they identified with this. And so sure enough I had to filter out some people because I didn't really think they fit. But there were about 50, 55 people that I did interviews, about two hour interviews, with. And so many of them had finally gotten so lonely and so despairing or they had some other kind of problem that had to do with control, like panic attacks or eating disorders or addictions or something that they would come in or they were having problems in their relationships probably.

Margaret Rutherford:
And so anyway, they wanted to talk to me and what they said was, even when they went for treatment, they fell through the cracks. They just was told, "You're overworked, you're exhausted, you worry too much."

Corey Allan:
Right. There's a logical explanation that's ultimately dismissive.

Margaret Rutherford:
There's a logical explanation, and just go home and rest, here's a benzodiazepine, exercise. And one guy told me this story, he said, "Three weeks after I filled out the Beck Depression Inventory and scored like a charm on that sucker. Three weeks later I tried to kill myself and the psychiatrist who I'd seen actually came to my hospital room and he said, 'But you didn't say anything about being depressed.'" And the man looked at him and said, "You didn't ask me the right questions." The right question would not be, for me, for people like me, would not be, "Do you ever feel hopeless?" Because I'm going to say no. The question could be, "Would you admit it if you ever felt hopeless?" I might still say no, but then you would get a chance to tune in to what's going on with me. I thought that was the really good story.

Corey Allan:
Right, because you're talking about a deeper ... Because this is that whole threshold we all have as humans, in my experience, that there are lines I will not cross if I'm asked. I'll cover a lot of things, but if the right opportunity, question, pointedness, straightforwardness from somebody presents itself, that's when it's likely I would, "You know what? You're right. You know what? Yes, that is true." And that's kind of calling on the best in people, I guess you could say, to really speak up and own and honor, "Yep, this is my experience. This is my existence."

Margaret Rutherford:
Well, hopefully also in a supportive therapeutic relationship, even if it's in the first or second session, you create the kind of environment where somebody will risk saying something like that. And because, "Gosh, does this person maybe ... Can they tell something about me that I have hidden from everybody else and all of a sudden I walk in their room and they're going, 'Well, are you sure you would say anything about [inaudible 00:16:21].'"

Corey Allan:
Yeah. That's that idea of how there's so much of a commonality among us as humans. Because I hear this from episodes that we've done and just the work I do, of when we're talking, they're like, "I've went around my house looking for the cameras, because what you're talking about is exactly what's going on with me. You're nailing it perfectly." And we'll be back with more of our conversation right after this.

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Corey Allan:
I'm just curious because I know a lot of people are going to hear this and go, "Yeah, I battle perfectionism," right? But is there a delineation of-

Margaret Rutherford:
You betcha.

Corey Allan:
Like a scale, almost? Or a continuum on this?

Margaret Rutherford:
Well, there are, which we can talk about in the extended version or this one, whichever you desire, but I put together 10 traits because this is not a diagnosis, it's a syndrome, okay? Like co-dependence is a syndrome. It's the behaviors and beliefs that are found together often, like salt and pepper. So I'm still learning, and I probably would change this list a little bit, not substantially, but I'm still learning. But what I wanted to remind people of was that, or what I want to say now is, perfectionism in and of itself is a character trait that can be very helpful at times. It's about wanting to do something extremely well, maybe even flawlessly. And so you take pride in that and you get kudos for that and you get a promotion for that. There're a lot of good things that can happen.

Margaret Rutherford:
But this kind of perfectionism isn't fueled by some sort of innate desire to do well. It's fueled by a constant critical shaming voice that says, "You better do this because you're not valuable any other way." And every time you keep doing more and more and more, it's what a lot of researchers call socially prescribed perfectionism, meaning that you are constantly on this treadmill of having to meet everyone's expectations, including your own. But the trick is the expectation, just like the treadmill, is going faster and faster and faster. The expectations grow and grow and grow. How many times has someone who raised $10,000 for a nonprofit, they were chair of the fundraiser, and he or she got told, "We can't wait for you to do this next year. We'll make even more money." Or you're at your job and you do something really well and bang, "We're going to count on you to do this next time." And, "We can't believe you did it in three days. Maybe you can do it in two."

Margaret Rutherford:
It's that kind of thing that perfectionists are going to hear and all of a sudden, because of some of the other traits, they have to meet those expectations.

Corey Allan:
Right, because you're describing, it's a close tie to our identity. And even our identity, we don't feel good about. There's a shame or a negative connotation to it that then now I'm actually ... The word that comes to my mind, is now I'm actually posing in my life. I'm playing a role in my life to hide me. To hide because I'm afraid that won't be seen well or accepted or ... I mean there's a lot of different things probably that come with it because there's even trauma that fits into this.

Margaret Rutherford:
Sure, of course. Well, people have asked me, "What causes this?" And in the book, they're just ... I don't know, there may be 30 or 40 stories of people of how they developed this. So there are lots of ways to the roads to Rome, as they would say, but in Arkansas we have lots of ways around the barn.

Corey Allan:
Same thing.

Margaret Rutherford:
Same thing. But what I believe, and I'm sure you see this in your work too, is that we as children are born into certain situations. Some of us are lucky enough who were born into really loving, great ones, caring ones, supportive ones. But there are many of us who are not born in those kinds of families. And either we have alcoholic parents or we have abuse, trauma or we have a very enmeshed relationship with a parent that they pull us into their world and sort of expect us to be their super confidante or their super kid. There are lots of things that can be happening.

Margaret Rutherford:
And so you come up with a strategy at that point. And for these folks, that strategy was to use accomplishment to feel valuable and to ... That was their strategy. And what has happened is, they have brought that strategy into adulthood and it turns out that it's got a lot more problems in adulthood than it did ... It worked, it kept you sane, it kept you emotionally stable as you could be as a kid, but as an adult, it's going to cause problems. And in fact, one of the questions I asked those interviewees was obviously, "Why did you reach out to me?" And Corey, they would say to a tee, they would say something that sounded exactly like this. They would say, "I don't want anybody else to live the life I've lived. It's lonely. It's despairing. I've come close, if I haven't already, tried to die by suicide, I've come close. And I don't want anybody else to be that way and not even know what's going on."

Corey Allan:
Right. So how does this then, in your experience and view, what happens with this in a context of a relationship, a marriage? Because that's the whole ... We have a belief here at Sexy Marriage Radio that you can't hide in marriage, right? If you live in close proximity to anybody else, you're known, good or bad. Even if your spouse has blinders on and assumes the best, there's still things that maybe you can't put your finger on to exactly name it, but there's still something that's like, "Oh yeah, that's just them. That's just who they are. They're just a perfectionist, they're just ...", whatever. So how do you see this that plays out from the people you've talked to and the experience? How does this impact marriage?

Margaret Rutherford:
You know, let me tell a quick story. I have panic disorder, I developed it in my late twenties, but I appear very comfortable and extroverted so much of the time. And these people that we tailgate with, for some reason, one day I decided to share with this guy that I had anxiety and his immediate response to me was, "You? You got to be kidding." And that's what happens a lot to these folks, okay? Even if they do try to be a little vulnerable.

Margaret Rutherford:
In relationships, I think a lot of times they are attracted to people who also want to stay a little more superficial and that they will pick someone who is building the perfect looking life themselves. And they're just like Ken and Barbie or Beyonce-

Corey Allan:
So they could just slot right in to the script.

Margaret Rutherford:
Slide right into the script. And so that's one scenario. Another I think fairly common scenario, is for an over-functioner, like someone with perfectly hidden depression, to select an under-functioner.

Corey Allan:
Of course.

Margaret Rutherford:
The under-functioner would really dig that you'd get everything done and you do it all, and now I'm just going to kind of slide along.

Margaret Rutherford:
Another kind of relationship that this person might be attracted to is one with a narcissist. Where a narcissist is going to want you to pour a lot of yourself into them and then will actually be abusive toward you, which if you have any of that trauma in your past, will keep you really tied in and connected into the relationship.

Margaret Rutherford:
But there is a fourth kind, and actually these are the folks I hear from. Folks I hear from are spouses who say or committed partners who say, "I know that my wife or my husband has this. I can see it. When their best friend moved away, they acted like nothing happened. When their mother died, I never saw them cry. How do I help them?" And these are people who really do see it. They don't know what to call it. They see it and they sense it and they're trying to reach their partner and someone with perfectly hidden depression will not let them in.

Corey Allan:
Okay. So I guess-

Margaret Rutherford:
To the best of their ability.

Corey Allan:
No, absolutely. And we all are capable of that, of not letting someone in, right?

Margaret Rutherford:
Well, they can go in so far. Now the interesting thing is that almost everybody I've treated has had no problems with anger with their spouse. Anger is something that, especially if it's about control, that these folks really say, "Yeah, I can get angry, all right. Because I'm not in charge or I'm not in control or you're making me anxious." But it is very hard for them to be really vulnerable. And to your statement a few minutes ago, I think the person sees it, they're yearning for a closer relationship. They don't know whether to blame themselves, what's going on?

Corey Allan:
Right. Because I have the belief that anger oftentimes is a covering emotion, even in the best of circumstances. There's other things in there because anger is just a socially acceptable way to show it. Because a lot of people don't handle frustration, fear, uncertainty, disappointment, all these things, well, because it just feels different. And so therefore I'll just channel it this way and that feels, at least a pressure relief, but it's not an accurate one.

Margaret Rutherford:
Right, right. So I usually say things like, "We all have an emotion we're comfortable feeling." We're much more comfortable feeling anger or sadness or fear. So we'll sort of, like you said a few minutes ago, it's kind of like rain coming down a mountain. It starts out as different rain drops, by the time it gets to the bottom of the mountain, it's all one rivulet, right? Entrenching itself as a pattern into the ground. So I think we're just like that. We choose an emotion we're comfortable with and we just let all our emotions channel into that one.

Corey Allan:
Yeah, that's good. And so before we switch to talking about some of the characteristics and we're not going to have time in the extended to go through all of them, but we'll talk about some of the main ones. Those of the people in the SMR Nation that you are speaking their language, either to them or about their spouse, how can they find you more? If they want to get your book, and I'll put all this in the show notes, but how do people find you, Margaret?

Margaret Rutherford:
Perfect. Thank you. Sure. My website's drmargaretrutherford.com. That has a very original title.

Corey Allan:
Straight forward. It's easy.

Margaret Rutherford:
The book is on Amazon, it's called Perfectly Hidden Depression: How to Break Free from the Perfectionism That Masks Your Depression. So it's on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, it might not be at your bookstore, but they can order it for you. Or you can go to New Harbinger Publications and they will give you a discounted copy as well. My podcast is the SelfWork Podcast, S-E-L-F-W-O-R-K with Dr. Margaret Rutherford and I've been on for about three and a half years and there are a lot of episodes on perfectly hidden depression, as well as other things. And then I have a Facebook page, just like everybody else does, and all that kind of thing, but those are the two major ways. Drmargaretrutherford.com and the SelfWork Podcast with Dr. Margaret Rutherford.

Corey Allan:
Margaret, thank you so much for the time thus far with me today.

Margaret Rutherford:
And we can talk about sex too.

Corey Allan:
Ah, that's where we're heading. That's a great tease for those that are not in the extended because I can't ... I mean I'm already thinking, this whole thing, not only does it play out in marriage, it's definitely going to play out in our sex lives too. So Margaret, thank you so much and I look forward to the next segment with you.

Margaret Rutherford:
Sounds great.

Corey Allan:
One of the things I love, Pam, is that since Sexy Marriage Radio has been around for so long, there's been a lot of voices that have been on the airways with us.

Pam Allan:
Yeah, yeah.

Corey Allan:
And we get a chance to talk to a lot of different people and collaborate and just pick their brain.

Pam Allan:
A lot of smart people, a lot of highly educated that bring so much to the table.

Corey Allan:
Absolutely. And I love it when, because we've always had the tagline of how you do sex is how you do life and how you do life is how you'll do sex, and I like it when we can steer into areas that it's going to impact our sex life, but that's not specifically what we're talking about, because it matters.

Pam Allan:
Well, that's so much of what I think we talk about here. I really don't think that this one was so far different than so many things that we talk about that really do ... It's life, it's how we do life, and how all those things come around and affect every aspect of our marriage relationship.

Corey Allan:
Absolutely. Because in marriage you are in close confines with everybody that lives in your home and for sure with your spouse and you can't hide. And so if there's something there, it can be an impact, either positive or negative, when it comes to your marriage and your sex life.

Corey Allan:
If this spoke to you in today's show and there's something that you need more or curious about, checkout Dr. Margaret's site. Also, let us know, (214) 702-9565. This is stuff that we can explore even further because we want to truly speak to what will help the people in the SMR Nation live the best engaged, connected life that they can. We only get one shot at this, so let's make it what we can.

Pam Allan:
That's right.

Corey Allan:
Well, this has been Sexy Marriage Radio. Thank you again for each and every week that you take some time out of your day to spend it with us. We'll see you next time.

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