Archive: May, 2012

On Gratitude

The dictionary defines gratitude as the quality of being thankful, a readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness. An example is that she expressed her gratitude for getting support. The word originates from the late Middle English, from Old French, or from medieval Latin and from the Latin ‘gratus’ meaning pleasing and thankful. The word therefore implies feeling, emotion and the sharing of this feeling and emotion with someone.

Yet, how often and every day we gloss over the opportunity to feel or much less show gratitude. Think about it. Especially we can ask how we stay mindful to show and feel gratitude with those closest to us?

This emotion is related to care and the ability to care deeply for and with another. It requires noticing and attending to the small and not so small things we can do for a partner or that our partner does for us. This brings us to the details of emotion and feeling and the value of sharing them.

Gratitude is needed to feel and express for our well-being. It will make us feel more alive and more attached. This can be called a connecting emotion as it has qualities that exist best in a relationship. The nuances and ways of being in gratitude accentuate the layers of love residing in us and in our relationship of love.

We can say that gratitude is one of the cornerstones for love. It molds our ways of relation, creating a softness and tenderness of expression. Love is part of gratitude and through it we learn more about the many expressions of love. Feelings keep us alive and prevent emotional numbness. They put us in the present and make us focus on what is going on this minute.

Gratitude allows us to attend to all we do have. The glass is not half empty as there is a container that holds good things. The container may be our life and our relationships. It does not have to be perfect, but might just be sufficient, if we take the time and effort to look.

For example, while writing this I realized I had in my drawer a card from Trader Joe’s; a store that sells the average along with the special. The card has a saying from Lao Tzu, the founder of Taoism in ancient China. The saying is, “To know when you have enough is to be rich beyond measure”. The point here is also that in the drawer, hidden from view, is a reminder about gratitude and its value in our lives. The task and the pleasure are to take the hidden out of the drawer and put them into whatever action expresses your gratitude.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Susan E. Schwartz, Ph.D.

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Being Friends AND Lovers: Is it Possible?

Some people feel very strongly that a person cannot be both a friend and a lover, as one will undermine the other. It’s one or the other, these people say, and cite the importance of mystery and the excitement of the new and the exotic as powerful forces that fuel sexual passion and physical attraction and lust between two individuals. How can you feel the attraction, they say, if you know the other person as an open book? When do you ever feel passion for a friend?

People who believe in the incongruity of friendship and erotic passion quote the numerous experiences long term couples often talk about: lovemaking becomes stale, boring, repetitive and very predictable; the friendship and companionship that develop through the years of being together eventually kill the initial passion and all that is left is unimaginative and infrequent sex.

Of course, there is a point in what they are saying. We are all aware that lust and desire decrease as people live together for a long time. Lovemaking becomes less passionate, exciting and adventuresome. Many jokes on how marriage kills sex reinforce this view.

Physiologically, we know that levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter in our brain that creates excitement and the in-love feeling and stimulates the release of testosterone; the hormone that awakens desire in both men and women; are high at the beginning of a romantic relationship. As the relationship continues, dopamine levels decrease and oxytocin, called the “cuddle” hormone, increases, stimulating bonding.

So, are we all doomed to either constantly move from one partner to the next in order to keep passion alive (high levels of dopamine), or accept that love and passion change for the worse with familiarity and friendship (increase in oxytocin levels)?

The question I ask is: can love be prevented from becoming more boring with the years because of these intrinsic physiological changes that inevitably develop with couples being together for a long time, and is there something that long term couples can do to keep the spark alive between them? After all, both men and women claim that lovemaking with someone with whom they have deep loving feelings heightens, rather than dull, their sexual experiences. And oxytocin spikes after lovemaking, encouraging bonding, pointing to the fact that lovemaking is one of the ways in which bonding in couples is reinforced.

Indeed, there is something to be said about the deep appreciation, fondness, respect, love and, yes, friendship that develop between two individuals who know each other intimately and who have spent a long time together. It doesn’t seem that friendship and sex are so antithetical to each other in ALL circumstances and that nothing can be done to change the fate of love in the long run. What is required, however, is for long term couples to be more aware of what they need to do to maintain the passion between them alive.

Life just happens; with challenges, crises and detours that require a constant rearranging of priorities. Over the life of a long term relationship, there are plenty of times when couples may feel they don’t have time for each other, or they take each other for granted, as they tend to what they consider to be more urgent problems than each other. For instance, young parents tend to be less inclined to be amorous with one another when they are physically exhausted and emotionally spent in taking care of their children. Or some couples may have less time for each other while they work at demanding jobs, are absorbed by financial or medical problems; they may be in the middle of relocating, or are mourning the death of a person close to them.

While there is no way we can totally insulate ourselves from any of these situations, it is nonetheless important not to forget about our intimate partners. The spark of sexual desire and passion can be kept alive by making time for each other; by making each other a priority, even and particularly during difficult times, and by not taking each other for granted. We need to invest the energy, time, effort and hard work needed to give our partners the message that they come first; that their happiness matters to us, and that our own happiness is not possible without them in our lives.

Love and friendship, then, rather than being in conflict, can actually reinforce each other and bring about the combination of emotional security, and the playful and joyful feelings that can be fully experienced when we are physically close to someone we cherish and love.

Daniela Roher, Ph.D.

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Beyond the Anger

Partners express anger. They feel justified, defensive, frightened, fearful, hurt, depressed and so on and on. And, they do not know all these other emotions; they just come out with anger. All they know is anger. The point here is that anger is a real emotion but it is also a masking emotion. Something else lies underneath. Something else is also being felt. Anger is an easy emotion and holds more than meets the eye. It is a process, but worth it to unearth all the feelings contained in our angry responses.

For example, we become angry at a slight or what seems like an even larger form of betrayal. Our partner should know better we opine. We are sensitive to a partner getting mad. After all, he or she should be aware of our feelings. The argument begins in our head, but then only serves to disconnect us from our partner. The anger is not to connect, but to build a case against. Here is anger separating us from our partner and ourselves.

How can we learn to stop, pause and deviate from this divisive way of being? Again, we have to admit as we examine anger that the thought and feeling process takes us away not towards. We become more disconnected, not less. The power of this emotion makes our world singular and isolated; not one of connections. After all, the saying is that anger blinds us and it is often noted colloquially as being blinding. One cannot see clearly in the midst of anger—neither oneself nor the other and often not the situation.

In support of this, the Dalai Lama says, “if we explore the nature of this energy, we discover that it is blind: we cannot be sure whether its result will be positive or negative. This is because anger eclipses the best part of our brain: its rationality. So the energy of anger is almost always unreliable. It can cause an immense amount of destructive, unfortunate behavior. Moreover, if anger increases to the extreme, one becomes like a mad person, acting in ways that are as damaging to oneself as they are to others”.

If we can reflect and take a step back from the angry outburst, we can begin to feel something else. We may be sad, hurt, upset about something else and so on. Once the fire dies down we can make sense of what is happening. We can talk; share a dream; make a gesture to our partner that shows we are now open. We want to repair. We want to connect. And, we do not want to be mean or disrespectful.

In essence, moving into and then beyond the anger can take us from being caught in old, self-defeating habits of mind, to a place of clarity where we can act from the wisdom of our intentions.

Susan E. Schwartz, Ph.D.

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Doing Things Together

Do you remember when you and your partner were getting to know each other?

I bet that, when you think back to those early times of your love, you remember what you did together: perhaps you both liked the same music and went to concerts together; or you liked the theater, and went to many plays; or you had meals at favorite spots, or you cycled, hiked, walked, worked out together, sailed or went out for happy hour and these turned into whole evenings of conversation and fun.

Whatever you did, you did things together. Doing so allowed you to deepen your knowledge of each other, mostly noticing and emphasizing the similarities and ignoring or minimizing the differences between the two of you. This process greatly contributed to the development of an emotional bond between you two that grew deeper as you continued to come up with ideas of doing things you both liked, and enjoying the experiences of engaging in activities together.

Fast forward to now: what have you and your partner been doing together lately?

Chances are you both have been so busy that you may not have had much time to do things together; assuming other priorities came first for one, the other or for both of you, and no longer being sure that what you liked to do your partner would like as well. In fact, you may be convinced that your partner has changed since those early days. While you see yourself as having stayed basically the same, your partner in your view is like another person. You no longer can guess what he or she likes or doesn’t. And, actually, it looks to you like your partner is moving further and further away from you and who the two of you used to be in those early times together. It almost feels like your partner is doing this progressive distancing on purpose, to upset you, or to give you the message that he no longer sees you as the attractive, intelligent and fun person you used to be in his or her eyes. He or she doesn’t seem to be making any effort, these days, to let you know how much you are valued, appreciated and loved… so what’s left?

Let me offer an alternative view to yours, that your partner no longer loves you because he or she has changed so much that the two of you no longer share much anymore.

Is it possible that your partner may be exactly in the same situation you find yourself in. Perhaps he or she is convinced YOU are no longer interested in the relationship; YOU have changed and are now a different. Do you know that this is actually what often transpires when couples go to couple counseling, each partner stating that his or her position is based on what he or she thinks is going on with the other partner?

Of course, in such a situation neither partner can get their needs met, as each feels insecure about the relationship and the other partner’s feelings.

What is there to do? Invite your partner to go for a walk with you; send him/her a text in the middle of the day, with a suggestion about setting up a date for a movie, or a dinner out to one of your favorite places. When you reach out to your partner with openness, love and interest, an invitation can go a long way toward beginning to heal the rift and web of miscommunications and fears that enwrap your relationship like a spider web preventing your relationship to grow and expand. Be the first one to reach out: you will be surprised by what you might discover!

Daniela Roher, Ph.D.

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Managing to Hide

Secrets. Difficult. Can be deadly. What do they do to the psyche? How do they harm love? Are they a necessary part of a relationship? Does this help us become ourselves?

To the all the above questions we can conclude that secrets indicate that we are caught in shame, self blame, confusion, complexes and self-denigration. We feel if we show who we are we will be shunned, rejected, be too much, too difficult, too messed up. Our personal assessment is dimmed and do not feel we deserve or can maintain love.

So, we begin to hide the one thing and then we have to hide others. All those hinting at the secret have to be hidden and the ones that are tangential to it as well, leaving us caught in huge inner roadblocks and webs of deception. We feel our thoughts and actions have to be watched and we become good, too good, at dodging and making up small and then ever larger lies and inner deviations from our being. The inner world, which is where we love and share intimately, becomes walled off. We feel too vulnerable to let on to our partner who we really are. Barriers against spontaneity become more and more pronounced.

This describes how it is to manage to hide. However it uses so much of the inner resources and all the life energy goes into subterfuge. Hiding is based on fear, a basic rejection that is assumed and to be stemming from our very core of who we are as a person. We become convinced we cannot tell anything about these secrets and life shrinks into one detour after another, all aimed at making sure no one knows. So, how does this affect intimacy?

The answer lies in the fact that once the forbidden information can be shared we gradually make inroads into accessing our personality. The secrets keep us closed, while opening them widens a relationship and makes the world safer and an easier place for connections.

The secret usually is about oneself and involves some betrayal in love, just by virtue of it being kept secret. Usually it involves some sexuality, shame about that, a compulsive pull to self or another but not to a partner. It is made more difficult to share as the person thinks the problem is only sexual. The partner may also. Actually, it is often a bigger problem because it is more than personal and is relational. Once explored, people can come to understand more about themselves. Held within, the energy saps all relationships.

Facing the fear and apprehension is difficult. Opening oneself to another demands vulnerability. Both are ingredients for love and intimacy. Being our total self is a life work and a relationship can push the process for us to become all we are meant to be. Is the path without rocks, stones or obstacles? No. But remember the landscape also contains the flowering of new plants we never could even dream about when trapped in the dark world of secrets.

Susan E. Schwartz, Ph.D.

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GREAT NEWS!!!

GREAT NEWS!!! Two main names in the field of relationship sciences, Drs. Harville Hendrix and Marion Solomon, have agreed to write testimonials for our book. We are deeply grateful for these endorsements and greatly encouraged and sustained by their faith and trust in our work and its value in helping couples in pain.

“Couples at the Crossroads is a valuable book for couples who are wondering if they can “make their relationship work. Drs. Roher and Schwartz have integrated the latest in relationship science with understanding and compassion, and produced a book that can help a motivated reader to look within, while connecting with what is important within a partner, and begin together to develop a deeply satisfying love that endures.” Marion Solomon, PhD., Co-author of “Love and War In Intimate Relationships”

“Couples at the Crossroads is a remarkable book; it’s a must-read for couples who are wondering if they can “make it work.” Drs. Roher and Schwartz have melded the latest in relationship science with understanding and compassion, in a way that will help you look within, reconnect with your partner, and create a love that’s deeply satisfying.” Harville Hendrix, Ph. D. Author of “Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples.”

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Did You Know That Two Out of Three Divorces are Initiated by Women?

It is part of popular knowledge that in romantic relationships women want commitment from men, and at some point push, openly or subtly, for a marriage certificate. Men, on the other hand, are assumed to want to explore and experiment, but “cave in” to women’s pressures at some point or another in the course of a romantic relationship.

So, how come women, who allegedly want the commitment and security of a stable relationship, are also the ones who are more likely to initiate divorce procedures and give this commitment up?

On the surface, these facts seem contradictory, as one would expect women, once they got what they wanted, to hold on to it whereas men, who may have felt pressured to make a lifelong commitment, might at some point or another want to regain their freedom again… Yet, data show a different picture.

Is it because younger women are becoming more independent, so less likely to want commitment from men as in the past? After all, a lot of women today can take care of themselves financially and otherwise, so they no longer need a man to provide, take care and protect them. And yet these data seem to be constant even among women who are dependent on men. When we look at divorce data of couples in their 50s and 60s age range, for instance, which is reflective of more traditional marriages with men being the providers and women being housewives, we discover that this is the age range where divorces are not less common, but they actually are increasing at a faster pace than at any other age. Here too, women initiate two divorces out of three.

Is it because men are more likely to be unfaithful than women, so wives get fed up and divorce them? While on the one hand infidelities are increasing among women and, in the younger generation they are starting to catch up with men, male infidelity is still more prevalent that female. However, infidelity typically accounts for only about a quarter of divorces in this country.

Is it because men are more likely than women to engage in domestic violence? Recent surveys show that domestic violence accounts for about 20% of all divorces, so it cannot be singled out as the number one reason for them.

So, while all these elements contribute to a decision to file for divorce, none of them seems to be the main reason.

So, what is the main reason?

The main reasons women report for divorcing are affective reasons. They feel their partners are no longer communicating openly and deeply with them; they and their partners have drifted apart; they feel emotionally neglected and ignored; and the companionship and friendship that were there before are now gone.

It is when women feel emotionally alone, disconnected, devalued, unappreciated, and unsupported that they want out.

So, whether you are a man or a woman, please take a look at how you interact with your partner and how he or she may feel about it. Reconnecting – emotionally, physically, socially, and spiritually – can rekindle the love that was there and bring hope that it is not go.

Daniela Roher, Ph.D.

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Care and Response

How do we know we are heard and attended to in the ways that are personally fulfilling? More, how do we convey to our partner what we want and need?

Care and response are some of the most difficult and necessary ingredients of love. Usually people expect a partner to just know. How? Do they tell the other? Do they express? No. Usually, there is an idea that someone who loves should just get it.

However, if you think about it, even a baby has to signal wants and needs. The parents do not just understand out of thin air. Anticipating needs does not give time for the baby to recognize its own being. Delaying tends to create frustration as the baby learns to put aside what is natural and the needs start to disappear without timely response. There must be a good enough emotional cycle that is not perfect, but that allows for expression and response in a satisfying manner.

Likewise, in adult love relationships, there needs to be a correct timing and an intuition that develops between people about how to satisfy each other. It is made up of the signals that are emotional, covert and overt, conscious and unconscious; and that convey to each other what is happening within each of them as well as between them.

When a partner cannot respond or does not pick up cues, the other becomes sad and hurt. Old emotional wounds are activated and small resentments develop. If this pattern of not being seen or attended to continues, partners begin to stand on opposite sides of an ever-widening rift. They become more and more divided by their unmet needs. The response becomes anger. Hurt takes over.

Yet, this cycle can be altered. The current can shift. It takes the consciousness of communicating and being specific in pointing out basic needs and wants. It helps to deliver messages with gentleness and reminding each other about kindness and attentiveness. This develops in the smallest ways like bringing home a favorite treat, making a special dinner, buying a unique blend of coffee, making the bed. All these represent going out of one’s way to listen to a partner and being willing to show care and response.

The smallest daily events turn into significant ways of communicating. It takes no time at all to be aware of your partner in minute detail. It takes an emotional stretch to keep this going and the rewards are boundless. Because, the intriguing thing about emotions is that they want to meet and be met. The cycle of care and response turns over and over in a wheel of love. One feeds into the other as each gets nourished on a healthy diet that is emotionally sustaining and growth producing.

You might try it out and see what happens as you look for what your partner wants and needs. How do you really care for each other, and are you being responsive to your partner and to yourself? These may coincide and they may be different. Either way, you will benefit as your personality opens to the actions and feelings inherent in care and response.

Susan E. Schwartz Ph.D.

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Eros and Relating Intimately

We more commonly know Eros, which is a name for the figure of love, as Cupid. This figure appears around Valentine’s Day looking like a cherub, a boy, a young one. However, Eros is actually a very powerful aspect of our personality and hits us as adults in many surprising and penetrating ways. We are always vulnerable to Eros and cannot resist. So, how will we know if he comes in a beneficial guise or is drawing us into a maelstrom of problems?

The erotic is a mind/body trip. It draws us in and brings us to heights of imagination and anticipation. Eros as the erotic is the foundational beginning and necessary glue of a relationship. When struck by Cupid’s arrow, we are blinded by love, smitten and taken over. Love in its erotic stages is strong and is an instinct that is basic to love and life. It leads us to seek pleasure, and sometimes even results in pain. Eros is more than physical body expression. It really is an expression of relatedness and leads us to seek comfort in intimacy. It reflects our secret fantasies and our innermost desires.

However, too often couples stop sharing their fantasies and desires with each other. When this occurs it is like a slow leak out of the couple system. They each gradually become bored and boring. The sparkle of sex based on lust and love erodes, weakening the ground of the relationship. The instinctual system for relating that comes through the erotic withers.

Why do couples fail to address this? What holds people back from opening up about what they each want and need? And, here is where Eros is the child. The adult needs we have for physical and sexual connection harken back to early needs that have been met; or more accurately, unmet in childhood. How we were loved as a child helps shape our erotic self. Herein lay the needs for closeness, warmth, love and affection. In addition, attention and attachment satisfaction are also significant aspects of sexuality.

The erotic is made up of the mind, body and soul. It is self-expression par excellence. It is where we reveal what we are connecting to. There is always someone else involved in any of our fantasies, even if it is our own self. The deepest recesses of our being are revealed through sexuality, if we feel safe and have enough trust in our self and the connection with our partner. Showing the basic needs contained in sexual expression brings us closer to each other. Yet, it can feel risky to be open and vulnerable. Intimacy is not an easy road, but can be a process of finding who we are with another. In essence; Eros and the erotic become the means we use for self-definition and relational development. Part of transformation involves facing inhibitions, fears and yearnings which reside within our sexual expressions.

So, in this short piece on Eros we can see that the story is complex and sex is usually more than sex. Honoring these many layers of feelings leads us into ourselves and into connecting in fulfilling ways with our partner.

Susan E. Schwartz, Ph.D.

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