Archive: December, 2011

Sharing Emotions

A basic, necessary and essential ingredient of keeping a relationship going is emotional. This means having and expressing emotions. This means being aware of them yourself as well as sharing them with your partner. It means being conscious about what is happening emotionally at the moment not only as it happens but also when reflecting on situations afterwards. It is having the emotions, recognizing what is going on and sharing them. That is all part of communicating where you and your partner are at in your relationship.

The question that often arises for couples is how to share emotions, what emotions to share and when to do so. Often people fear their emotions and worry that expression of them will ruin things. On the contrary, it is the repression of emotions that can be ruinous.

An easy way to address how to handle emotional expression is to set up a regular time each week to check in with each other. Make the topic emotions. Share what you were feeling that day, that hour, that week. Share what you feel about your partner and how you think things are going. Share the easy feelings and those that are more complex and difficult. This is a time when partners set aside the routines and duties of life that can get in the way and take up time. They can be ways we defend against getting closer by being busy with everything but having time with each other.

The point is to share what is going on inside of you. Share a dream. Share a reaction. Share a thought. Share. And be open. It does not work to share from an ego position or to show how insightful and bright you are. Share to relate and to engage with your partner emotionally.

Without telling you what to do, we can say that one of the most intimate things a couple can do is engage in this way. It can gradually lead you both to open to the deepest recesses of your soul. This sharing is moving closer into an embrace of emotion and brings people into a level of honesty that can be quite remarkable. So it is not only the content of what you share but also that you both value this or learn to value it and do it regularly. Love becomes enhanced, interactions become richer, life is more intimate and the rewards are outstanding. Try it for yourselves and see.

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When The In Love Feeling Is Gone, Can We Ever Get It Back?

“I am not in love with my partner any more, and I don’t know what to do to get it back. Is it possible?

I hear this question quite often in my work. Couples are upset, confused, sad and disappointed that those loving feelings for each other seem to have vanished in thin air. They miss the butterfly-in-the-stomach reactions they used to have whenever they were in each other’s presence; the obsessive thinking about the relationship, and the wonderful feelings of being deeply connected to each other, of being understood, loved, appreciated, cherished.

Often couples cannot pinpoint a specific event or situation that might have contributed to this loss. They try to figure out what happened, but they cannot come up with anything that explains why they are presently feeling the way they do, how they got to this point and how to recover what they had together.

Losing the in-love feelings is a process that occurs in all romantic relationships, as these feelings are just the initial glue that gets people attracted to one another, the early motivation that energizes and motivates them to be together and enjoy each other’s company. These feelings, however, cannot last indefinitively, as the relationship shifts from the initial infatuation to a longer lasting companionship based on mutual respect, appreciation and feeling secure with one another.

As couples settle from the initial passion to a steadier pace of life together, a feeling of attachment takes the place of the initial in-love feelings for each other.

In-love feelings are fueled by the new, the different, and the exotic in a situation that is felt to be unpredictable and surprising.  Attachment, on the other hand, is based on routines that foster familiarity and, in turn, emotional safety between partners.  At the beginning of a love relationship, there is a lot of newness, with unexpected, unpredictable, and exciting scenarios unfolding. As the relationship continues, more predictability, regularity, and consistency develop between partners. The first experience can be highly exciting, yet unsettling; the other predictable and safe but potentially boring.

Having said this, however, I don’t mean to imply that, as romantic relationships become more permanent, the in-love feelings of the beginning disappear forever. It just means that couples need to work at creating situations that are likely to evoke these feelings again by re-introducing excitement, unpredictability, and a break with routines. A special evening together, time set aside for each other,   fun and pleasurable activities, unexpected gestures toward one another are what longer term relationships need to get revitalized and rejuvenated.

So, surprise your partner with a different plan this evening. Take time to think about what he or she would like. Create a romantic environment that can remind you two of the earlier times of your love forgetting, for a moment, all the responsibilities that bog you and your partner down, and keep your minds focused on just the two of you.

When you take time out for yourself and your partner, you feed your relationship, infusing it with new experiences that come from being in the moment, just like the two of you used to be at the beginning of your love.

 

 

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The Power of Relationships

Most of us enjoy being with others rather than being alone, as being with someone we like is an enjoyable experience. We like to share our reactions to situations and events that amaze us, like going to the Grand Canyon, for instance. As we stare and are awestruck by its beauty and majesty, we like to share this experience with someone close to us, who is feeling the same emotions at the same time as us. Likewise, when we are sad and lonely we seek someone who can hold us, comfort and sympathize with what we are feeling. Somehow, when we share our emotions, the enjoyable ones get magnified and the painful ones don’t seem to be too overwhelming any more.

Why is that so?

Let’s start from the very beginning, from when we are still in the nice and warm cocoon that is our mother’s uterus. From there we can hear her voice (at birth, infants are already familiar and recognize their mother’s voice;) we can feel her hand rubbing her tummy, connecting with us, and we are affected by her feelings and moods. At birth, she is usually the first face we fix our gaze upon, once the hoopla of the actual birth process is over. And it is her face we see over and over again, day after day, or the face of the person who will mother us, whether our biological mother or not. So, we can say that, from the very beginning, our lives are social in nature. From people around us we learn to interact, to smile, to fret, to be anxious and scared, but also to be comforted, reassured and made to feel safe. We watch these people in order to learn how to be in this world and how to deal with our emotions and those of others. Our early experiences of interactions shape the way we see ourselves and people around us and, to a great extent, determines the quality of personal relationships we will develop throughout life. If we were lucky enough to have good interpersonal experiences with the people who took care of us as infants and children, we are more likely to develop trust, have a positive attitude and be open and comfortable with emotional and physical closeness. If not, we may suspicious of others and uncomfortable with intimacy, distrusting partners and keeping them at a “safe” distance.

Social connections allow us to regulate our emotions, magnifying pleasant ones and making more manageable the uncomfortable and painful ones. When we are not in a good relationship, or when we are uncomfortable with closeness and intimacy, we may use other means of regulating our emotions, such as FOOD, ALCOHOL, WORK, EXERCISE, DRUGS in compulsive ways. These become our emotional regulators. However, they create dependency, adding a new set of problems.

So, let’s open our hearts to good, healthy emotional relationships. These will improve the quality of our lives, will reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness and make us more comfortable with ours and other people’s emotions.

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Are You In A DINS Marriage?

The acronym DINS (Double Income No Sex) was coined a few years ago in discussions about the evolution of marriage in this country. In research carried out at Georgia State University, 16% of married couples reported they had sex with each other less than once a month.

As a psychotherapist working with couples, I agree that the pressures of a fast life and hectic days (and nights) can contribute to the reduction in the frequency and quality of sex  in couples who live together, whether married or not.

But is it only the fact that both partners work that reduces the frequency of sex in couples?

I believe this is a very complex situation that is not created uniquely by one factor, but a series of them. Possibly the most important one has to do with the nature and change in desire throughout the life of a romantic relationship. A the beginning, sexual attraction and desire for one another are very strong, as two partners get to know each other and testosterone levels are high for both men and women. As the couple settles in a routine and partners become more familiar with one another, attachment develops, while desire decreases. There is a paradox here that all couples have to negotiate, as attachment comes with what feels safe and familiar, and sexual desire with the new and exotic. It is thus a tight balance that needs to be maintained.

Having said this, however, the changes in sexual activities we see today with some couples, particularly those with young children, seem to be more drastic than the progressive waning of desire that comes with familiarity and growing attachment for one another.

Today most couples complain of being chronically tired. They are exhausted by the fast pace of their lives. They often complain of not having any time for themselves – or for each other. They feel they need to be good parents; they need to be good employees; they often have to drive long distances from work to home or to their children’s activities and sports events. At times they have to commute, being with the family only for a very short time each week. A lot of them don’t have extended families that help them with child care and other activities. No wonder they don’t think about sex! This may be the last thing on their minds, or the thing they are willing to give up because, on their list of priorities, it is not at the very top.

I would also add that it is not only sex that has disappeared, but time together, regular date nights, times of sitting down together and discuss the day, check with one another, hold hands, give each other a back rub or foot massage, enjoy each other’s company. When all this goes, it becomes more difficult to engage in sex, as couples feel disconnected and emotionally unengaged and cannot easily switch on at will. Or, one partner wants to do it, but the other doesn’t. This leads to tension, feelings of rejection, anxieties and fears, and all this keeps partners further apart from each other

The relationship with our partners, like all relationships, needs to be nurtured and attended to. When we push it on the back burner and leave it there, it will wilt and eventually die. So, we need to make it a priority, investing time, energy and interest in order to keep it exciting and vibrant. Can you think now of a kind way of letting your partner know how important he or she is in your life?

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Is There A Silver Lining In Infidelity? Part 2

It is important to remember that in most cases affairs are symptoms of something deeper that is going on in intimate relationships, of which couples may not have been aware. And here is where I can see the silver lining. The affair is such a shocking event in their lives that couples cannot ignore it, while in the past they may have ignored other, less obvious symptoms.

It’s like when you go to the doctor because you don’t feel well. The doctor treats the symptom, but also decides to run some blood work, maybe sends you to have an x-ray or an electrocardiogram to find out what is behind your symptoms. When the results come back, the doctor may tell you that you have high blood pressure, or high cholesterol, or high blood sugar you did not know you had. You probably wouldn’t have found out about these conditions until they got much worse. Without knowing, you wouldn’t have taken care of them with proper medications, a healthier diet and changes in your life style. So, going to the doctor, even though you went for a different reason, may have saved your life.

When an affair occurs, some partners get stuck in anger and hurt, as we said in our previous blog. If they continue to stay there without doing anything about the situation, chances are their relationship won’t survive. Some couples, however, don’t want to let go of their relationship and are willing to explore what can be done to heal the wounds. They may decide to seek professional help to guide them out of these stormy waters.

In therapy partners may find out that one of them was feeling isolated, sad, mad, disillusioned, caged in, or uncomfortable with closeness, commitment and intimacy. In therapy they may uncover events and feelings that began the distancing process between them, perhaps quite some time ago, but that they never discussed with one another, because they were not aware of them. Now they have an opportunity to get these feelings out into the open, acknowledge them and share them with one another in an environment that feels safe. And what happens?

In therapy, the cheated partner finds a place where he or she can talk about feelings of hurt, disbelief, anger, disappointment and fear. The cheater may feel relieved that he or she doesn’t have to keep secrets any longer. He or she may begin to work at understanding why the infidelity occurred. Both can examine their feelings not only about the affair, but also about their relationship in general, and together work at repairing the damages to it. This process, though grueling and painful, is a transformative experience that will make partners feel closer together. It is a life saver because it makes couples look and address deeper, often unconscious issues, just like the visit to the doctor that sounded the alarm for other, underlying medical conditions hitherto unknown to the patient.

Of course, seeking therapy for infidelity is not the only way of addressing the problem, but it is certainly one of the best tools couples have available. The therapist is the professional whom provides support and guidance to couples; helps them get in touch with their feelings and identify the root causes of their problems; teaches them new skills about healthy communication, and guides them towards acceptance, understanding and, finally, forgiveness.

At the end of therapy, couples know each other better and are ready to make a new commitment to each other, borne out of the hard work together. By going through this transformative experience, couples discover an unexpected gift: their love for each other, which they had thought was gone forever.

Do you have a story that reflects this experience? Please comment on this blog, so that we can provide hope for couples who are willing to do the work to restore their love and trust in one another and get their marriage back on the right track.

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Partnership — in Writing

Writing together is more than a friendship. Daniela and I began as friends and we became, over the years, writing partners. We conceived ideas, she one, myself another. We shared and we presented differing views. One gave in. Another had strong opinions on some topic. We listened. We shared. We were trying to be honest. It was not easy. Honesty in relationship means sometimes disappointing a partner. It can mean being opinionated. It can mean being too narrow. It can also be a harbinger of change and expansion.

Both people have to be willing to butt heads a bit. It is not easy. This is especially so when both people have definite ideas and also respect each other. Daniela and I respect each other. We are professional colleagues and work from different theoretical bases but we are essentially in agreement about human nature and humane treatment of the psyche. We hold similar values. This is all very important in a partnership. The places of similarity provide comfort and ease. The places of difference provide challenge and growth. The whole range is necessary for creativity.

So, our writing has been a journey not just in putting words down but in discovering our styles of relating. We did not expect this. And, we did not expect to differ. We are both tenacious and it has not been clear all along the way. We have slipped up and not noticed some problem areas and they got bigger, of course. We had to pay attention and look at some painful facts of our connection that was causing disconnection.

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Is There A Silver Lining In Infidelity?

What Couples Can Do To Get Back On Track

It is important to remember that in most cases affairs are symptoms of something deeper that is going on in intimate relationships, of which couples may not have been aware.  And here is where I can see the silver lining. The affair is such a shocking event in their lives that couples cannot ignore it, while in the past they may have ignored other, less obvious symptoms.

It’s like when you go to the doctor because you don’t feel well. The doctor treats the symptom, but also decides to run some blood work, maybe sends you to have an x-ray or an electrocardiogram to find out what is behind your symptoms. When the results come back, the doctor may tell you that you have high blood pressure, or high cholesterol, or high blood sugar you did not know you had. You probably wouldn’t have found out about these conditions until they got much worse. Without knowing, you wouldn’t have taken care of them with proper medications, a healthier diet and changes in your life style. So, going to the doctor, even though you went for a different reason, may have saved your life.

When an affair occurs, some partners get stuck in anger and hurt, as we said in our previous blog. If they continue to stay there without doing anything about the situation, chances are their relationship won’t survive. Some couples, however, don’t want to let go of their relationship and are willing to explore what can be done to heal the wounds. They may decide to seek professional help to guide them out of these stormy waters.

In therapy partners may find out that one of them was feeling isolated, sad, mad, disillusioned, caged in, or uncomfortable with closeness, commitment and intimacy. In therapy they may uncover events and feelings that began the distancing process between them, perhaps quite some time ago, but that they never discussed with one another, because they were not aware of them. Now they have an opportunity to get these feelings out into the open, acknowledge them and share them with one another in an environment that feels safe. And what happens?

In therapy, the cheated partner finds a place where he or she can talk about feelings of hurt, disbelief, anger, disappointment and fear. The cheater may feel relieved that he or she doesn’t have to keep secrets any longer. He or she may begin to work at understanding why the infidelity occurred. Both can examine their feelings not only about the affair, but also about their relationship in general, and together work at repairing the damages to it. This process, though grueling and painful, is a transformative experience that will make partners feel closer together. It is a life saver because it makes couples look and address deeper, often unconscious issues, just like the visit to the doctor that sounded the alarm for other, underlying medical conditions hitherto unknown to the patient.

Of course, seeking therapy for infidelity is not the only way of addressing the problem, but it is certainly one of the best tools couples have available. The therapist is the professional whom provides support and guidance to couples; helps them get in touch with their feelings and identify the root causes of their problems; teaches them new skills about healthy communication, and guides them towards acceptance, understanding and, finally, forgiveness.

At the end of therapy, couples know each other better and are ready to make a new commitment to each other, borne out of the hard work together. By going through this transformative experience, couples discover an unexpected gift: their love for each other, which they had thought was gone forever.

Do you have a story that reflects this experience? Please comment on this blog, so that we can provide hope for couples who are willing to do the work to restore their love and trust in one another and get their marriage back on the right track.

We would like to hear from you on your views. Please leave a comment to make your view known.

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Couples Who Survive Infidelity

We all know the evils of infidelity. In previous blogs I wrote about them, citing statistics, characteristics of who is most likely to cheat, and what can be done to address these issues.

Here I want to approach this subject from a different perspective: infidelity as an alarm system about the state of the relationship, and as an opportunity to make it stronger.

Yes, I know that about 2/3 of relationships where one or both partners cheat end in divorce. As a psychotherapist working with couples, I also know how difficult it is to stay with the pain caused by infidelity and work thorough it. I am keenly aware of how hard it is to forgive and move on. However, in my long career of counseling couples I have seen some of them get stronger and closer to one another after infidelity was uncovered.

So, what makes the difference between couples who survive infidelity and couples who don’t?

There are several factors, in my opinion, that contribute to the difference. Some of them are:

  1. The cheater admits to his or her behaviors, rather than being found out;
  2. The infidelity is an isolated event, rather than part of a pattern;
  3. The infidelity was short lived and did not involve deep feelings on the part of the cheater;
  4. Couples used to have good communication and felt close to one another earlier in their relationship, even though at some point they lost closeness;
  5. Couples live in a social/religious environment where cheating is strongly looked down upon, and where there are less opportunities to get away with it;
  6. Couples have a strong feeling of what is right and wrong;
  7. The cheater has the ability to feel empathy for the partner and remorse for the cheating, and the other partner has the ability to forgive.

When these elements are in place, couples have a much better prognosis of surviving infidelity.

After an affair is uncovered, couples respond to it in different ways. All feel an array of intense emotions, like confusion, anger, rage, hurt, fear and disappointment. Some of them, however, are eventually able to get past them and move on. Others stay stuck in a cycle where the cheated partner continues to feel pain and anguish caused by the betrayal, and the cheater maintains a defensive stance and an unwillingness to talk about what happened. When this is the case,  progress is extremely difficult to achieve.

The truth is, very often couples don’t know what to do to address their problems in a healthy way and reduce the pain and hurt they feel. One common approach is to say to each other, “Let’s start again. Let’s forget the past. What happened happened and we cannot change it, so why think about it?”

Well, this approach never works, as avoidance is not a solution to any problem, including infidelity. The simple reason for this is that we cannot forget something so traumatic, so unexpected and still unresolved.

Cheated partners have questions without answers and feel emotions they cannot express. Because security and trust in each other are gone, they cannot process thoughts and feelings with their partners, who used to be their source of comfort and support and now are the cause of their suffering. Without being able to processing their feelings, partners cannot re-establish trust and security in their relationship, thus maintaining a vicious cycle of attacks and defensiveness that cannot be broken.

In order to break this vicious cycle, feelings and the events that caused them need to be addressed together, at the risk of putting the finger on the wound that is still bleeding. Facing the issues rather than avoiding them is actually the way in which the wounds can be healed.

In the next blog post I will talk about what successful couples can do to get their relationship back on track.

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Healing Power of Healthy Connections

A lot of studies show how people in healthy, close connections live longer, are happier, have less medical problems and have a more positive outlook on life and their future throughout the life cycle. As Mother Theresa said, “Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty.”

Connections help make life less scary and overwhelming for all of us, starting from infancy and continuing throughout life. They also allow us to share its beauty with people we love. Above all, connections help us regulate each other’s emotions, making them more manageable. We all had the experience of being scared about something. We cannot calm ourselves down, no matter what we say to ourselves. We call a trusted friend, or our emotional partner, or a family member with whom we feel safe. We tell them what is scaring us. They seem to find the right words to calm us down, soothe and reassure us. Chances are they are not saying anything dramatically different than what we could have said ourselves. And yet, when it comes from them rather than from us what they say has a healing quality that our self-talk lacked. Influenced by their words, we calm down: we breed slower, we feel our body relaxing, we feel our heart to quieting down and returning to beat at a normal rhythm again.

What is this power from loved ones that affects our bodies and minds? It is the feeling of security that comes from the relationship that determines how we respond to their interventions. In other words, it isn’t so much what they say to us, but what their words reflect that is healing. Their words reflect closeness, trust, love, concern, presence, attunement and, ultimately, security. When we feel secure we are no longer scared. This process is not unlike what happens between a parent and a toddler. The toddler falls, and immediately starts screaming at the top of his lungs. The parent comes close, picks him up, holds him close and starts talking to him in a calming, soothing voice. “Don’t worry, you did not get hurt. You are all right. I am here now. Nothing bad will happen to you.” Like magic, the toddler stops crying because the danger is no longer present, as the parent reassures him he is not alone. The physical proximity of the parent provides the feeling of safety the toddler needs to stop being afraid.  The danger is gone. The toddler feels safe again.

Nothing can take the place of these precious connections. Valuing the people we love and keeping them close is very important. Getting involved in the community is a way of developing connections when we live alone, reducing isolation and increasing a feeling of belonging and being useful.

At times, when we don’t have an opportunity to connect with another human being, a close connection with a pet provides comfort and companionship, reducing isolation and disconnection. Everybody can benefit from a close relationship with a pet, but in particular older people who live isolated and only children.

What are the connections you value in your life?

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Religion and Couples Counseling

In every relationship whether partners unite or not in a formal religious way, there is an element of the spiritual around. When recognized consciously this can enhance their connection. To explain this concept more clearly, we could say that beyond and encompassing the narrower topic of religion lies the broader issue of spirituality. The latter means a certain attitude that recognizes whatever energy or force is beyond us. This could be nature as well as a formal religion or something else. Spirituality is not tied to a belief system per se but to a way of living that means respect, love, care, guidance, protection and so on. It extends from self to other and includes aspects of life that create closeness between couples.

The spiritual shows up in how partners treat each other. They may worship together but not be honest together. They may follow the religious rules but not be faithful to the relationship. The religious traditions in an outer way may be respected but the real meanings in them include a spiritual approach to life. This entails a level of personal examination and responsibility. In this way, if people follow a collective religion, together or separately, their mutual commitment comes to have greater meaning and significance.

The following is an example you may identify with as it could be happening to you or someone you know. Couples who are from a similar religious background marry. They each think they are doing the right thing by marrying each other. In effect, they each hold the correct outer requirements for the other. Their union is right according to the family and the religion and their community. However the bond of love for both of them was thin, even from the beginning. They both knew it but got married anyway, thinking they would get closer in time. But it never happened. The spark got weaker and was almost dead. Now they are together due to social and family and religious dictums but their real selves are suffering. She starts going out and coming home late. He works many hours. They avoid each other. Now there is more and more space between them. What to do?

Where is the spiritual in this situation? The religion says remain married. The community and culture agree. But the partners are more and more emotionally separated and have lost their feelings for each other. Their religion no longer binds them and each is facing how to work out what is right for their own soul. The answer could come in a process of inner self-discovery that involves a re-examination of their spiritual connection to each other and to their selves. A relationship is composed of the spirit of each and unless they can find a way back to each other, the relationship will continue to suffer.

This situation brings up the kind of issues people discuss in couples counseling. It can become a safe place for partners to examine beliefs. Partners can begin to hear each other and come to know who they are at this point. The emotional reactions that emerge from their interactions are the very ones that combine both the problems and the solutions.  Most couples struggle with issues of one kind or another, and again, by staying with the process of talking, listening, emoting and discussing, they can learn to navigate towards the rewards that come with emotional closeness. Or, they will discover that issues like religion and spirituality are so core and basic, and they are so different, that there is no way of reconnecting. The bridge is broken and they will have to come to other conclusions. This also is what happens in couples counseling.

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