Archive: March, 2012

On Being Friends

There are so many opinions floating around advising you on how to keep your relationship solid as well as lasting. We could look at any one of them and find value and take the useful hints they offer. Yet, all the how-to ideas seem to miss finding the real key. We can tell this because couples remain on the search. They are looking for the part that is foundational to creating strength and joy, love and resilience. And, that means containing and maintaining the quality of friendship.

Equally, this essential piece of a relationship seems to often get ignored or not cherished for the value and importance it represents.

A friend is someone you trust. You do not take that person for granted. You can be yourself with him or her. Walls come down. Defenses are not needed. You feel free to be honest, expressive and creative. A friend is someone you will tell the truth to. You want them to know you as well. The bridge of communication is daily crossed and gets clearer and clearer. You let a friend into the innermost recesses of your heart. You feel calm, without anxiety or false presence. You are able to bring out your best self because you are being completely real. The friendship holds and changes over time. Each person can grow, develop and become all they are.

Quite importantly, you have each others back. This means you each keep the other in your mind. You connect during the day by calling, texting, e-mailing. You make a date for lunch, you bring home something you know would be liked or special to your partner. You treat your partner as you want to be treated. You are tender and loving to yourself and to your partner.

Mutual consideration, kindness and tenderness reign. This does not mean avoiding harshness, anger or messy emotions. Rather, it means a fuller expression of each partner’s personality. A friendship does require couching words consciously and with thoughtful reflection and aimed for understanding of the difficulties and growth from listening to each other. This is sharing ideas rather than jumping down each others throat.

And, you both consciously remain aware of being committed to keeping alive the friendship. Come what may, you will do what you can to be there and be present. The commitment means both people develop. The foundation of the relationship maintains and is shaped by the friendship you both determine to nourish.

Susan E. Schwartz, Ph.D.

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Messages of Intimacy

We all need intimacy. We all have different ways we receive and give intimate messages. It should be easy, as intimacy is natural and we are born needing to be intimate and close. What is challenging is that we might know what we want, but not how to get it. We may know how to give, but not to receive or vice versa. In other words, intimacy, although needed by us all, is not so easy to time correctly. Sometimes we are unable to even understand it is there, right before our eyes.

This is because we are conscious of a certain level of our needs but remain unconscious of other levels. We meet a person who becomes our partner.  We assume this person can give what we require. However, sometimes what we require has remained in the unconscious and therefore we do not notice it and even might miss it. The deeper layers of our lives, although tremendously important, might have been too often ignored.

So the intimacy messages like warmth, interest, love signals in numerous forms, the various ways of nurturing; including how to listen and hear each other, have to be made conscious and almost re-learned or learned for the first time.

These messages might be like making a simple meal for our partner, or doing something out of the usual or reaching out in a normal way or in an out of the ordinary way. And, this might be what we need yet we have to be even more than a bit overt for our partner to know what we need. How complex we all are and perhaps we are even shy or uneasy about expressing what we want and need.

An oft-heard comment is that each partner expects the other to know these intimacy messages. How this happens is not clear, but it is assumed to be a normal happening when there is love. These are the kinds of misunderstandings that lead to problems and partners coming to the crossroads of a relationship, but not knowing how they got there. These moments of misunderstanding can build before anyone is aware. Needs and wants for intimacy are key. And remember, intimacy does not just refer to sex but it does refer to the giving and getting of physical attention and affection.

It means being seen and regarded by each other. Intimacy is getting close and being open with respect, honor and cherishing for each other. The messages that convey intimacy will be different for each couple. And, they will also be necessary to keep the relationship healthy and satisfying. These are part of the essential ingredients for finding ways of keeping love alive.

Susan E. Schwartz, Ph.D.

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When was the last time you told your partner you loved him/her?

I remember a couple, old friends of mine, who had been married for over 25 years. They had raised a family; had made major financial decisions together; had achieved common goals throughout their marriage and, I thought, were solidly attached to one another for the foreseeable future…

Until, one day, while discussing my new book, “Couples at the Crossroads,” Sheila, the wife, asked Aaron, her husband, when was the last time he told her he loved her. At that point, I realized that our conversation had suddenly shifted from the three of us having a chat about my book to the two of them having a very private conversation about their emotions for each other.

I stopped talking at that point, waiting for a signal from one or the other to tell me where we were in the conversation. Aaron seemed to be as surprised as I was by Sheila’s shift and by her directness. Sheila was a soft spoken woman known by all of us as someone who would never make anyone feel uncomfortable; who was conflict avoidant and would hold things in at her own cost in order not to upset anyone else. So, her question to Aaron was very unlike her, and both Aaron and I were caught off guard.

Before Aaron had time to recover and come up with an answer, Sheila continued: “I bet you don’t even remember because it has been so long…” Then she turned at me: “I think the last time I heard Aaron tell me he loved me was when we got married.” She looked sad, hurt, on the verge of tears. It was obvious this had been a source of pain for her for a long time, a pain that she had not been able to express to Aaron in the past, or perhaps she had and he had not responded to her… Aaron became very defensive, but could not avoid the question and Sheila’s remark because I was there and he was a captive audience.

I realized at that point how Sheila, far from “blurting out” something too personal to be discussed in front of a third person, had “planned” for things to go this way, so Aaron wouldn’t ignore her, or respond to her with a platitude, as he had done in the past.

Sheila was hungry for feedback from Aaron. She NEEDED to hear that he loved her; that she was the most important person in his life, and he still cared for her as he did when they got married. Sheila was going through a tough time personally, with medical problems that affected her life and her view of the future. SHE WAS SCARED and needed Aaron’s support and acceptance to make her feel less anxious, but Aaron had, previously, missed all the clues from her about what she needed from him and she had felt abandoned and very insecure.

What Sheila needed is what all of us need at one point or another in our lives, particularly if we are going through a tough patch and cannot reassure ourselves. We need our partners’ reassurance, support, comfort, soothing and the provision of emotional safety. We need them to tell us that they have our backs, and that we are still worthy of their love.

When was the last time you told your partner you feel about him or her?

Daniela Roher, Ph.D.

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