Category Archives: Marriage

Hello? Are You There? Can you Hear Me?: The Art of Connecting in Relationships

23 Oct 14
anonymous

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Recently, I purchased a set of walkie talkies for my nine-year-old son. Instantly, he wanted to try them out to see how far he could go before there was no connection. He would go to a different room in our home, press the button on his walkie talkie and say, “Hello, are you there, can you hear me?” Hearing this question on my end of the walkie talkie made me think about hundreds of calls I have answered as a volunteer suicide intervention call worker. While the people calling the hotline may not say it outright like my son did, I know that many callers are wondering, “Will she judge me for my pain? Will she be there for me? Will she understand me? Will she care for me? Will she hear me?”

As a graduate student in marriage, couple, and family therapy I have repeatedly heard the phrase, “We are hard-wired for human connection”. Human connection is just as vital to our well-being as food and water. We need human connection to thrive. This is just as true for adults as it is for children.

When my son went in the other room with his walkie talkie, he wanted to know if I could still hear him. Don’t we all want to know that we are heard, seen, accepted, and valued? Garry Landreth, noted play therapist, suggests that there are four healing messages play therapists must strive to communicate to a child. The healing messages are: “I am here, I hear you, I understand, and I care” (Landreth, 2012, p. 209-210). We don’t ever outgrow the need for these healing messages.

It fact, Sue Johnson, world renowned couple’s therapist and EFT pioneer, is saying something very similar about the needs of adults in relationship. She says that emotional connectivity has three main components:

  • Accessibility: Can I reach you?
  • Responsiveness: Can I rely on you to respond to me emotionally?
  • Engagement: Do I know you will value me and stay close? (Johnson, 2008, p. 49-50).

How do we create this kind of connection in our relationships? It comes from a deep respect for self and our partner. When we know, and accept, our own weaknesses and vulnerability we are more accepting of our partner’s vulnerability and weaknesses. As a result, we become more open to our partner’s experience as a human being. When we are open to our partner we are less judgmental and are not as threatened by perceived differences. Then we are able to enter our partner’s realm more fully. Once we have entered that realm, we show compassion and understanding for their world and experience. When we remain fully engaged, and show our acceptance, we let our partner’s know that we deeply value them.

While training to take suicide intervention calls, I was instructed to, “sit in the muck” with my callers. “Sitting in the muck” means that I “get” the caller by understanding the caller’s experience to the best of my ability and then I reflect that understanding back including the caller’s emotions. Just by understanding the caller’s experience I show that I can be reached by their story, and can respond to their emotions. I also let them know that I value them as a person and what they contribute to the world. Letting callers know that, “I am here, I hear you, I understand, and I care” helps them to heal.

Sounds fairly easy, right? It’s not always easy to create healthy connection in our relationships. Sometimes life gets busy, and there is too much distance between our walkie talkie and our partner’s walkie talkie for them to connect. The good news is that a temporary disconnect in the relationship doesn’t matter as much as what we do to repair the relationship when there is disconnect. As long as we acknowledge our mistakes and move toward connection, our relationships will grow and remain healthy. A lifetime of showing that you are available, emotionally responsive, and value the relationship, can cover a multitude of connection mistakes.

References:

Johnson, S. (2008). Hold me tight: seven conversations for a lifetime of love. New York, NY: Little, Brown, and company.

Landreth, G. L. (2012). Play therapy: the art of the relationship (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge .

Physical and Emotional Intimacy: Before and After Recovery

09 Oct 14
anonymous
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good things comeMy wife just got back from an out of town retreat with her mom and sisters. I found her on the couch studying and I came and sat by her. I made sure that I could lightly touch her arm. I observed the emotional and physical state that she was wrapped in. I understood she was feeling tired, worn, and needing to get back to life. She was overwhelmed with trying to catch up with a busy schedule after taking a couple of days for herself. I expressed my connecting emotions to her with accuracy, allowing us to connect on an intimate level. Knowing where she was, I knew my part, and how better to love and accept her. I haven’t always been this way; I have reformed my behavior over time.

Sitting there, I realized that that there would have been many times in our marriage where similar circumstances would have triggered me. In our old dance, I might have said something like this (and would have thought all of it):

“Okay, it’s time for some sex fulfillment tonight. You know that tomorrow you are leaving me. That means I won’t be able to have any sex until you get home, and maybe not even then, cause you will be tired like always. I mean, you get home at midnight. So that shoots the return night out from having any physical intimacy. So we’d better be able to do something tonight.

Yeah, I know I will be home late from work. But it won’t be that late. So you will just have to be prepared for me. Never mind how your day might have been. (That consideration would not have been in my thoughts or caring). You knew you were to come home late from school, so you should have packed for your trip earlier today, that way when are both home, we can have some ‘goodbye sex’ time.”

After my wife would have returned home I would have thought:

“So now you are home, I know it’s late and you’re probably not interested in sex. But I am. Okay, so we can wait till the morning. You should be ready then, you know it’s been over a week now. I need to know that you still care for and love me. When we have sex at least we will be close and I will know you still want to be with me.” (Oh, the old erroneous thoughts with no consideration for her and her feelings!)

This is what I did in my new recovery dance:

I knew that my beautiful wife was busy with school work, volunteer work, house work, mothering, and more. So I figured she had not been able to pack herself for her trip. I asked our children to help any way they could. I showed my love and caring for her. I helped where I could; I even stayed home from my work the next morning to be with a sick child. I had not built up my self-centered thoughts of the need for sex. I knew that pushing physical intimacy the way I used to was not an expression of loving intimacy from her to me. I loved her with real love not lust.

I used to force sexuality upon her with unsaid (or even said) guilt trips. For her, sex became strictly a duty. I am now not interested in her giving up her body as a “wifely duty” to please my lust. I have come to understand that this is not the closeness I want. I was not noticing or making any effort to meet her needs before. I did not show caring and love for her.
As I sat on the couch next to my wife after her retreat, I became aware of my growth. I understood that being empathetic and not pushy would create between us a stronger bond of whole life intimacy. Sex would come and it would be better at the time she could be whole with me. Sexual intimacy would happen eventually because she felt secure in our emotional connection. I also knew that our sexual experience would be one where both of us were meeting each other’s needs, instead of just one person having their needs met.

This change happened when I learned and understood how to meet my wife’s needs first.

Forgiveness: The Ride of a Lifetime

15 Aug 14
anonymous
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amusement partAs a child, my favorite fall activity was going to local county fair. I loved the crowds, the smells, the sights, and most especially – the rides. My first stop was always the carousel, and then the Ferris wheel, followed by bumper cars. I loved all the rides but one – the funhouse. Every year I would stand in front of the funhouse wondering if I really wanted to go in. It always took some coaxing from my mom and friends, but would eventually go in. Trying to forgive during my husband’s addiction reminds me of finding my way through a funhouse. The process was full of distortions, uneven footing, and sometimes I was very confused and lost. I did find my way out eventually, but it wasn’t an easy journey.

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3 Building Blocks for Healthy Physical Intimacy

23 Jul 14
anonymous

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Couple1

When you think of healthy physical intimacy what images come to mind? Unfortunately, many individuals grew up with images of physical intimacy in the media that were diluted at best, and all too often completely warped. So, what does healthy sex look like?

Healthy sex is more than physical mechanics. It is whole-hearted and felt emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Healthy sex is not about receiving physical pleasure alone, it’s about conscientiously loving another. The best sex isn’t a duty to be fulfilled, and it is never degrading or exploiting. Healthy sex is a journey of respect, honesty, vulnerability, connection, and love. Healthy intimacy is based on what happens outside the bedroom, not in the bedroom. Here are three building blocks of healthy intimacy:

#1 Be there for each other. How well couples respond to each other outside the bedroom can be a strong predictor of what happens inside. A willingness to share in another person’s journey without defensiveness, criticism, and judgment is important. We all experience life differently. We all need comfort at different times. Take the time to respond to your partner in a way that works for them.

#2 Remember to keep friendship alive. Remember the good old days of dating when you would talk for hours like good friends? Do you know what your partner’s goals and dreams are for the future? Are you supporting your partner in those goals and dreams? If not this could be impacting your sexuality. Friendship in the relationship is essential to romantic life. Find out what your partner is thinking on a deeper level.

#3 Be trustworthy. The very foundation of healthy sexuality is trust. If partners are not able to share their most vulnerable parts because of broken trust, sexuality will be impacted. Gottman (2011) suggests that honesty, transparency, accountability, ethics, and alliance are ways we can evaluate trustworthiness (p. 336). Make it a point to show your partner that you are trustworthy.

You can have healthy intimacy. Remember to take the time to be there for your partner and build friendship. Being trustworthy makes all the difference. Enjoy the journey together!

Reference: Gottman, J.M. (2011). The science of trust. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc..