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Monthly Archives: October 2019
A couple we met with reported that they had been fighting for months. She was sleeping downstairs on the couch and he was sleeping upstairs alone in their king sized bed. They both felt angry and hurt, yet truth be told, they missed each other terribly. They wanted to get back to feeling connected and in love again, but each was too afraid to make the first move back to each other.
A single woman wanted to begin dating again, but she was so afraid of being judged for not being beautiful and young enough that she was reticent to put herself out there. She was sure she wouldn’t be able to handle rejection from potential suitors. While she wanted to be in a relationship, she opted for the safe sanctity of solitude over the discomfort of meeting new people.
Why do we sometimes choose loneliness over connection?
Because relationships are risky.
Every time we reach out to connect, vulnerably share our feelings, make a request for support, initiate a date or an intimate conversation or a night of lovemaking, ask forgiveness for a mistake we made, we enter into unknown territory.
Will we be loved? Received? Met? Accepted?
Or will we be judged? Shunned? Rejected? Pushed away?
The possibility of rejection and pain sends most of us slinking back to our comfort zones. We would rather stay safe in our known but lonely worlds than risk feeling hurt by the people we love. Unfortunately, this means we don’t have the connection, passion and intimacy we long for in our relationships. The safer we play in our relationships, the more disconnected and dull we feel, and the more dissatisfied we are.
Creating great relationships – growing, learning and developing skills in love, intimacy and sex – all require that we courageously and repeatedly risk fully stepping forward, going for what we want and vulnerably expressing ourselves.
Passion arises from breaking patterns, taking risks, stepping out into unknown territory and embarking on new adventures. Intimacy arises from uncensored honesty in both words and action. In order to create intimacy and passion, we need to make peace with discomfort, because risking like this in love is uncomfortable sometimes.
We need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
When I dare to share my fears, a wild sexual desire, some lofty goal, or a weird wayward thought in the middle of thinking it, I expose myself. When I express my doubts and insecurities, reveal my judgments, get triggered by something you said or did, I reveal the unacceptable parts. I am splayed out, open for you to see it all – the good, the bad, the crazy, the wild, the ugly, the beautiful, the profound, the innocent, the wicked, the brave, the fearful …
The more I reveal, the more vulnerable I am. Sure, the more you know of me, the more you have to love of me. But the more you have to judge of me as well. That is a scary prospect when I love you and want you to love me forever. So many of us resort to sharing less and less of ourselves to ensure our partner will love us forever.
But this creates another problem, summarized in this saying, “Every over-determined effort produces its opposite result.”
The more I try to protect myself from rejection and judgment by staying safe, the less alive, in love and connected in relationship I feel. I quit initiating conversations, because you never share anyway. I don’t ask for sex, because you said no the last 20 times. I don’t ask for a fun date night out at a hotel, because you will judge me for wasting money. Before we realize it, we have both quit initiating any kind of connection, and have devolved to living like roommates tending to logistics barely noticing each other. The retreat to safety, while intending to keep love alive, actually kills off the very love and passion we are trying to protect.
Many couples who call it quits are often surprised at the depth of intimacy and hot sex they experience amidst their divorce conversations. Declaring their marriage over eliminates any need for playing it safe – the worst imaginable fear has already happened. They are now free to unleash pent-up feelings, share their deepest desires and regrets, to openly and authentically reveal themselves. This has them feel closer to each other, intimately connected, compassionate and even appreciative. Their newfound intimacy, combined with their now unknown future, fuels their sexual passion, and they find themselves making love with a fervor that has been missing for years.
But we don’t have to wait until love has soured and we are sleeping in separate beds and contemplating divorce, before we risk in love. And we don’t have to wait until we are crying ourselves to sleep alone every night. We can take risks now.
Ask yourself, “Where do I hold back? What am I not saying? What would I do if I weren’t afraid of rejection? What risk would I take if I knew it would turn out? What do I really want to do that scares me to even think about?”
These types of questions will point you to areas you might want to change and take risks around.
One way to make it feel safer for yourself to risk is to be upfront and vulnerable about the risk you are taking or are about to take. “I have never gone up to someone I didn’t know and asked them to go on a date with me before, so I am feeling pretty vulnerable right now.” Or “I am definitely stepping outside my comfort zone on this one, but I just want to say that I would really love to have sex with you tonight.” Or “I notice I am scared to tell you that I miss being close to you and I just want you to hold me in your arms right now so bad.”
Or you can just go for it. Jump. Be brave. Take that action. Get off the couch and march upstairs and climb into bed with your husband. Ask your partner to chase you around the house or jump your bones. Give that person you are attracted to at work your phone number or ask him or her out for coffee. Lean in and plant a passionate kiss on your partner’s lips. Share something about yourself to your partner that he or she doesn’t know. Plan a weekend getaway to a place you have never been before. You just might be surprised by how refreshingly welcome your risk-taking advances are!
Now, we are aware that not all risks are lovingly received. So, what if the worst thing happens, and you get a rejection, a judgment, or a No?
Stay in there. Lean in. Don’t be so quick to give up and back off. Stay in there and take the next risk!
Share your feelings. Be transparent about your experience without blame or make wrong. Share what matters and why something is important to you. If you can’t do it with one person, do it with the next one.
And hear them out. Give them a chance to come forward, to meet you. Elicit any concerns or conflicting desires they might have. Ask them, “What would it take for you to be a Yes? Let them know you care about them and their needs too. “Is there anything you need to be able to give me what I need?” Keep exploring options when they back away or decline. “What would you be willing to do?”
In other words, keep risking! Over and over again! And if someone takes a risk with you, reaches out to you, asks for your time, connection, or phone number, receive the risk kindly (even if you say no). That way, you’re rewarding someone taking a risk, just like you’d like to be rewarded when you reach out.
All relationships start with someone making a first risky move that ignites a spark. So whether you’re wanting to start a new relationship, or re-start an existing one, risk reaching out to connect.
PS. Literally in the middle of writing this, Christian came over to my chair, got down on his knees, looked in my eyes and said, “I love that I can still say after all these years that you are my best love story.” And then he kissed me passionately. I kissed him back. I rewarded his risk.
Last week, I sent out a video about men losing power with women (here ).
Seems to have struck a nerve. In response to that video, Brian sent me this email …
“Wow, what timing! I was just telling a friend of mine, “I want my power back!” Just like in your video, we talked about exposing my vulnerable spots and my emotions to her.
It’s a scary spot to go with my partner. Feels like if I go there she will use that against me in some way that will hurt me or the relationship. It will get out that I’m really not a man; I’m a wuss that can’t even stand up to his woman!”
Boy, could I relate to that! For the larger part of my life, I did not show a shred of vulnerability to my woman partners, for exactly the reasons Brian stated.
I thought it would make me look like a wuss! That I’d lose all my power and be totally humiliated.
This was probably the biggest reason I crashed and burned relationship after relationship.
Now, I know you might be thinking …
Isn’t that just because Brian (or me) are old-fashioned and haven’t caught up to the new Times of Equality? I mean, c’mon, men today know about feelings and being vulnerable and embracing their feminine side.
Yes, many men are certainly a lot more comfortable with emotions, vulnerability, and sharing openly than our fathers or grandfathers ever were, no question.
But I have a theory – based on work with hundreds of men around these issues – that even though we are in “new times” where men can be sensitive and feminine, as well as powerful and strong …
That deep in our psyches, there is still a strong voice that says to not get too open, too vulnerable, too feminine, with our partners, or with anyone, for that matter.
I think we men have a built-in, ancient, protective mechanism that has us either clam up or get pissed when we feel questioned, threatened, unappreciated, or put on the spot in our intimate relationships.
Now, I’m well aware that lots of men are highly conscious and engage in diligent self-discovery, shadow work, relationship work, you name it. I happen to know that Brian is such a man. I’d like to think I am, too.
Men like that now find themselves in the historically ironic situation that it’s easier for them to be real and open with other men, for example in their men’s groups, than it is with their woman at home.
Which sounds kinda crazy. According to stereotype, she should be able to be empathetic and understanding of our fears and vulnerabilities, right?
Those same stereotypes would suggest it should be way more risky and difficult to be vulnerable in a group of men than with a woman we’re intimate with.
Brian even said as much: “Crazy thinking for sure but then again sometimes I’m not too far from that craziness!:)”
In other words, he knows it’s crazy, but finds himself doing it anyway.
So back to the question about losing power with women …
If you or me or Brian, or any man, is afraid to show his vulnerability and feelings to his woman, and thinks to himself: She will use that against me. It will get out that I’m really not a man; I’m a wuss that can’t even stand up to his woman!”
What impact do you think that would have on his relationship with his wife/girlfriend/partner?
Well, for one, he would have to protect himself from his own partner. NOT a good situation, to say the least.
And even more importantly, what impact would it have on himself? On his sense of worth? On his ability to be a powerful, whole man?
You bet. Detrimental. Self-sabotaging. Painful. Fucking “ouch”, man!
Food for thought, I hope …
And if you’re interested in diving into your own dynamics around your power as a man, how you deal with your partner, and how you find your own authentic way to be a man, check out the small-group retreat I’m hosting, Power And Heart
To my thinking, it’s not so much about standing up TO your partner, but rather finding the power to stand up FOR your own worth, for connection, for equality, and for what you know to be true.
During any given year, I engage with hundreds of men, in private life coaching, in our workshops, and in men’s work. And one thing I consistently find is this:
Men lose their power with women!
You can find the men’s retreat here …
Margaret Paul, PhD, makes a great distinction about power.
She says, “Our society often confuses personal power — ‘power within’ — with ‘power over,’ which is about controlling others.”
She continues: “Personal power comes from an inner sense of security, from knowing who you are in your soul, from having defined your own intrinsic worth.” (article here …)
It is in this respect I see men lose their power with their women partners. Even though most conscious men today have no desire to have “power over” their partners, but they definitely DO have a strong desire to keep their “power within” in their relationships.
I used to think that “losing my power” was exclusively about backing down, not following through on commitments, or taking orders from anyone (i.e. my partner); basically not looking like, and acting as, an ever-confident, invincible, man-hero!
But it’s a lot more nuanced and complicated than that. Losing power takes place along the entire spectrum of states a man can find himself in; from weak to strong, fearful to heroic.
Losing your power is just as much about not standing up for yourself as it is about not daring to share your softest, weakest spots.
This may show up in different ways …
1. When your wife/girlfriend/partner gets upset and emotional. Especially when it’s about you or something you did. Because you feel uncomfortable in the face of the intense emotion, you want to get out of there or make it stop. Further, when she gets emotional, you might feel it’s a statement that you’re somehow lacking. That’s why we men often jump to offering solutions, aka “fixing”, because we try to bring the emotionality to an end.
2. You don’t dare share your vulnerability, your fears and insecurities. So you have to “pretend” you don’t feel those things. When you don’t express the full range of how you feel, you are out of integrity with yourself, because your insides and outsides are not out of sync.
3. You say Yes when you mean No, or No when you really wanted to say Yes. In other words, you “bend” too much away from your own knowing of what is right and true. You either accommodate too much, or don’t go for everything you want. In either case, you shortchange your own desires to take care of hers, and you can only do that so many times before you get resentful.
4. You avoid engaging with her about emotional or triggering stuff. Instead, you keep quiet, you check out, you find reasons to be elsewhere, you stay busy with work or projects. This a favorite strategy of men (mine too, sometimes!), and whereas it might give the immediate “benefit” of avoiding trouble, it always comes back to bite you. Either because you feel shitty about yourself, or because she will make it unbearable to keep doing.
5. You don’t speak your truth. You feel you can’t say what’s REALLY on your mind. You don’t want to hurt her and cause another stir, so you keep it to yourself. Which ends up robbing both of you of your contribution. A man I worked with, who used to keep his thoughts to himself a lot, said it like this: “Before, I just didn’t think I had anything to contribute to the relationship … I didn’t have the tools to communicate to her what my needs were”
6. You’re afraid of her anger … or your own. Anger, hers or yours, is tricky in most relationships. Most men are – rightfully so – keen on NOT being like their angry dad or like the violent, dominant males they see in the world. So they try to keep their own anger contained and under seal. On the other hand, they are pretty sure their partner’s anger means they themselves screwed up somehow, and given how much self-criticism most of us men leverage on ourselves, we just don’t want anymore piled on top of it from her. I coached a man who said, “I’ll stand and face a gang of thugs any day, but when my wife, who’s 5-foot-1, gets angry at me, I get scared and I just want to run.”
I believe Margaret Paul has it right when she says, “All of us would love to have personal power — the power to manifest our dreams, the power to remain calm and loving in the face of fear, the power to stay centered in ourselves in the face of attack.”
And it is exactly this personal power that men often lose with their female partners.
When that man is you, there’s a very real cost to you. First and foremost, you don’t get to feel good about yourself. Every time you have an interaction where you don’t stay connected to your power, you feed the little voices in your head that says you’re no good, you don’t measure up, you’ll never make it, and you’re not good enough.
Secondly, by not being in your personal power, you inadvertently contribute to the breakdown and demise of your marriage or relationship. A healthy, loving, passionate, empowering relationship takes two people who not only stay connected to their power, but knows how to express it, in times of passion and love as well as in times of anger or conflict. When you don’t, the results are the “usual suspects” of less sex, less connection, more arguments, more distance, and so on. In plain language, it sucks! And it hurts.
A question for you …
Does any of this sound familiar? Do you recognize yourself in what I’m sharing?
I’d love to hear from you. Please send me an email and tell me where this hits home for you (or if it doesn’t).
Also, check out the private retreat I’m offering for a small group of men, which is all about your power as a man. Click here for more ….