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Author Archives: Christian Pedersen
10 Signs of a Toxic Relationship
Have you ever found yourself in the kind of relationship where you’re asking, “Am I in a toxic relationship?” or “Is this relationship really good for me?”
We’ll offer 10 signs of a toxic relationship, plus some actions you can take to change your dynamic if you are in a relationship like this. Mind you, you don’t have to be in a relationship that can be classified as “toxic” in order for you to want to make serious changes.
Some of the signs we share, like #1 (physical violence) by themselves shows that you’re in a toxic relationship, whereas others, like #7 (blaming, etc.), can also show up in healthy, functional relationships, and it becomes a matter of degree or persistence of these patterns. In other words, your relationship isn’t necessarily toxic because you blame each other occasionally, but if you have a consistent, pervasive pattern of blaming and refusal to take any sort of responsibly, then it does point to a toxic situation.
Dr. Lilian Glass said back in 1995 that a toxic relationship is “any relationship [between people who] don’t support each other, where there’s conflict and one seeks to undermine the other, where there’s competition, where there’s disrespect and a lack of cohesiveness.” There are of course other definitions too, but in order to help you determine if you might be in a toxic relationship, see how you relate to these 10 signs.
#1 Physical abuse, pain, or violence
This one doesn’t have a lot of wiggle room. If you’re experiencing physical violence, pain, or abuse in any shape or form, it’s a toxic situation, and you should get out. Or at the very least get help. No one deserves to be physically harmed in their relationship, period.
#2 Name calling, belittling, demeaning
Do you feel like an “emotional punching bag” in your relationship? Are you being put down, belittled, constantly criticized? Which leads directly into #3 …
#3 Public humiliation, spreading of negative gossip about you
#2 above pertains to your private relationship and communication. #3 is outward-facing behavior. Does your partner humiliate you in front of friends or family? Spreads negative stories about you behind your back?
One of our hallmarks for building trusting relationships is that we always represent each other well in public. Even when we’re mad at each other or we think the other person is wrong about something, we still speak well of our partner in public.
This extends to separate families where kids live in two (or more) households. We hold it as a standard to always speak well of mom or dad in front of the kids, even if you disagree with that person about everything. You know you want your ex to speak well of you to your kids when you’re not there, right?
#4 Lies, secrets, withholding
Deliberate holding back of information, affection, or resources is a sign of a toxic relationship. In terms of the impact it has on you, there are different degrees of lying. If I say I’m not going to eat sweets anymore, but I still go to the bakery and eat a cupcake, and don’t tell you about it; that’s technically a lie but it’s different impact on you compared to a consistent pattern of lying about money, sex, and many other aspects. Sometime you have to be your own judge about the severity of lying and withholding, although that can be tricky, hence our suggestions to get help and reach out to friends. Another aspect of withholding affection or resources points us to the next sign, which is about control.
#5 You feel controlled, coerced, manipulated
Withholding resources or financial support can be a means of exerting control which especially women have experienced since forever. If you have a sense, or direct knowledge, that your partner is trying to control your movements, your behaviors, or your freedom, or you feel emotionally coerced or pressured to do or not do something, it’s not a good sign. Granted, in a relationship, you might have different roles and responsibilities from your partner, but if you don’t have the same power or the same rights, you’re in toxic territory.
Sometimes, these signs are subtle and hard to tell, so it’s useful to listen to your own intuition.
#6 When you feel “crazy”
Anyone who’s been in a toxic relationship, knows what it means to “feel crazy”. When the signs of toxic behavior are hard to pin down, but you consistently have a sense that something is “off”, and that your partners nice words and assurances don’t match up to his or her actions. Your partner might be talking a good game and showing up caring and present in public, but when you come home, the tone changes. Or whenever you try to confront your partner, he’ll say it wasn’t really like that, or that you misunderstood, or perhaps that you’re overreacting. No matter how the discrepancies show up, pay attention to your own sense of “feeling crazy”.
#7 Blaming, refusal to take responsibility.
When your partner is consistently blaming you, unwilling to apologize, refusing to take responsibility, refusing to deal with conflicts, unwilling to learn or grow, it becomes extremely difficult, or impossible, to make any sort of progress. It is one thing to get mad at each other and blame each other, that’s common in almost any relationship, but if you come back together, apologize, and use the breakdown to learn or grow, it can be turned into a real strength. But if one person refuses to deal with conflicts, to admit any sort of wrongdoing, or to take responsibility and use it to learn and grow, then there’s pretty much no place to go.
#8 Your concerns aren’t listened to.
We always say that in a healthy partnership, your concerns are as important as mine. Not more, but also not less. If your partner refuses to listen to you and dance with your concerns and needs; if your needs and concerns aren’t being listened to or taking into account; and if your partner is satisfying his or her own needs at the expense of yours, it’s a sign of a toxic partnership.
#9 Walking on egg shells
If you’re tiptoeing around the house, afraid to be yourself and speak your mind, you know it’s a bad situation, the classic “eggshell walk”. If you’re afraid for your physical safety, then it’s most certainly a toxic sign. When you’re walking on eggshells, it typically means you’re living more in fear than in love, which is the antithesis of a healthy, loving relationship.
#10 When you feel bad more of the time then you feel good.
This sign is a sort of summary of the first 9. If you spend more time feeling bad than good, afraid than safe, criticized and controlled than loved and appreciated, it’s a sign that something needs to change. If this is you, do something about it now rather than later, because pervasive patterns in relationship don’t change themselves or get better simply by time passing. Don’t wait for your partner to agree with you that you need help. If they’ll get support with you, wonderful, there’s hope. But if not, you get help on your own.
What’s “good” about these signs is that they’re meant to motivate to you to make a change. Sonika had a significant battering relationship early on in her relationship journey, and whereas it was a scary and hard experience, it also motivated her to get therapy, to learn about violence and abuse, to change her circumstances and never go back to a toxic relationship.
Toxic relationships are often complicated by being combined with a powerful attraction. We’ve had clients who one day are desperate to get out of an abusive situation, but the next day can’t wait to get back to their partner. It becomes like an addictive behavior where the “drug” of choice is the strong love/attraction you also feel. Remember, there are lots of people you can have strong attraction to who don’t make good relationship partners.
Here are some things we suggest you can do to begin to make some change:
Get help, outside support. You don’t have to go this one alone. Get help from coaches like us, a local therapist, group of friends, your extended family, or all of the above.
Learn about cycles of violence. One of the actions that helped Sonika never again put herself in a toxic relationship was learning about the cycles and dynamics of violence and abuse. It can be tricky to figure out on your own when you’re enmeshed the toxic relationship, which as we mentioned, also often has a powerful pull on you to keep coming back.
Learn about your own role in perpetuating the dynamic. For instance, choosing to stay in the relationship might be one way you help to keep it going, or choosing not to get help.
Become aware of where you might be in a victim mindset. Find a way to change into a powerful mindset.
Change your victim story to a story where you become the hero/ine, where you prevail, grow, change, and become a stronger person from your experience. Perhaps you can even help others who have been in similar situation.
Claim your own value. People who’ve been in toxic relationships often stay there because they feel they don’t deserve any better. They take it upon themselves, consciously or unconsciously saying, “If I’m being treated this poorly, something must be wrong with me”. Take a stand for your own value. Ask yourself, “If I knew I deserved to be loved, what would I do?” or “What would a person who really valued themselves do in my situation?”
Back up your new mindset with action. Changing your mind is great, but action has to follow. You can take actions such as:
> Setting very clear boundaries
> Reinforce that you are a valuable person. For instance by making self-care a priority
> Get support! Because you’re worth receiving support, right? Suffering alone sends the message to yourself that you don’t deserve any better. Getting support sends the opposite message.
Finally, be gentle with yourself. Wanting to change the dynamics of a toxic relationship, or getting out altogether, might take some times. It took time to develop the patterns that got you and your partner into this situation, so don’t get down on yourself if you don’t change overnight.
I remember coaching a woman who wanted to get out of an abusive relationship because she knew it wasn’t good for her or her kids. She also had powerful love and attraction with her boyfriend, so for a while it was a back and forth process of “one step ahead, two steps back”. It took some months before she was able to finally cut the ties and begin to stand firmly on her own feet and develop a true sense of self worth. She did it, and created a much healthier relationship. And it took some time.
So go easy on yourself!
During my years of relationship coaching, I can’t tell you how many men have said something like this to me: “If only I had a bullet point list of what to do to make her happy”.
In this brief post, I’ll give you just that, a bullet list with 6 points for what to do to make your wife or partner happy. Of course, you have to actually DO it to find out if it works, and not just once, but as an ongoing practice of relating.
With no further ado, we’re jumping right in.
#1 Engage in the relationship.
We men have a tendency to think that once we’ve gotten into a relationship, or once we’ve gotten married, we’re done. In the back our minds, we say, “Mission accomplished”, and give our attention to the next accomplishment. Nothing could be further from the truth, and the attitude of “I’m done” is responsible for countless love stories turning from sizzling hot to lukewarm to ice cold.
When there’s a kerfuffle, a conflict, or some sort of tension and upset, don’t back away or shut down. Instead, engage. Step in, even though your natural instinct might be to get the heck out of there. Engage and participate actively, both in the fun and sexy parts of the relationship, as well as the tedious or tense ones.
#2 Connect. Talk. Share.
One simple way to accomplish “connection” is to talk. Share about yourself, your day, how you feel, what you dream of, and what you’re afraid of. When she asks you how your day was or how you’re doing, answer in more than one word. To this day, I still sometimes have to remind myself of this, because it is so ingrained in me to just say, “Fine. Great. I’m good”, or another one-or-two syllable response.
It’s not that I’m trying to withhold information, it’s just that to my practical brain, “Fine” is a satisfying answer to “How are you doing?”
But it does not produce a sense of connection for my wife. Connection is produced by the back-and-forth passing of something, in this case words. It’s like throwing a baseball with a friend. Imagine you throw it to your friend, he catches it and then just keeps the ball. Boring game, right? To have a game, you have to keep throwing the ball between you. Same with connection and conversation with your wife. Catch the ball, then throw it back to her.
#3 Listen. Without taking stuff personally
The other side of talking and sharing is listening. Particularly, listening without taking her words personally. Granted, when she’s talking, your name might appear frequently in the content. When it does, don’t take it personally, and don’t jump to providing solutions to what you think her problem is.
If, for instance, she comes home after a long day at work, starts sharing about her challenging day, don’t jump to providing solutions that would make her feel better. Just let her talk and she’ll take herself home.
If during her share she says, “That guy at work is just like you …”, don’t jump in and defend yourself (or the guy at work). Don’t do anything, other than listen. The vast majority of times, she will sort out anything that needs sorting out and your listening helps her do that.
#4 Tell her she’s beautiful and special to you.
Not just with your words, with your actions too. For her to know that among all the people you could be in relationship with, you choose her to be your wife or partner, produces a tremendous sense of safety in her. It helps her relax, let her guard down, open up to you, and be with you.
Actually, this is great advice for anyone in relationship. Making your partner feel actively chosen basically confirms what our soul is longing to hear, and what our demons are always trying to convince us that we’re not.
#5 Give of yourself
When she asks you to do something with her or for her, either do it, or if you can’t or aren’t willing to do it, at least acknowledge that she asked or ask her questions about why she’s wanting you to do it. If you’re saying no to her, tell her what you would be willing to do, or when a better time is. Don’t just say no, ignore the request or turn away, because that will surely build a barrier between you.
Give your time and attention to her. Give your touch and adoration. Give your praise and encouragement. Not just for special occasions. Always. And especially when you’ve landed in a tense situation, or you haven’t been connecting much. Be the first to break the deadlock by giving of yourself.
#6 Hear her criticisms as a desire for more of you.
This relates to not taking her statements personally. Rather than arguing with the surface criticisms, respond to the deeper meaning of her communication. For instance, if she says, “We never do anything together! You never want to do anything with me!”, it’s easy to take it personally and want to defend yourself.
The deeper communication here is, “I miss you. I want to spend time with you. I love you. I want to be with you. I want more of you”. Those are good intentions and they basically tell you she loves you. If you’re skeptical about this interpretation, think about this way: If she didn’t give a shit, she wouldn’t even bother trying to get you to spend time with her! The logical conclusion, then, is that she cares about you.
There you have it, a short bullet list for how to make your wife happy. If you do these steps, there’s an excellent chance she’ll be really happy and think you’re a fabulous man for her. Don’t take my word for it, though. Try it out and see what happens. Show her this list and ask her about it.
And if you want to make her REALLY happy, take a small initiative that pertains directly to your relationship (per #1: Engage in the relationship).
Invite her to join you for our upcoming 90-minute mini-workshop, How To Stay In Love. It’s super easy, you do it from your couch or kitchen table. Takes the same time as a standard movie, so you still have your whole weekend.
Some of what you will learn and experience:
• Deep connection with your partner
• Insight into what has you feel love, loving, and loved
• Ideas for how to recreate that in-love feeling
• A powerful process for finding love in anger
• Concrete practices for how to stay in love
More info and register: https://loveworksforyou.com/how-to-stay-in-love
How often do spouses wonder how to make their partner happy? Do you ever wonder how to make your husband happy? Does it sometimes seem that what you’re doing must not be working, because he doesn’t seem all that happy?
(Next week, we’ll publish a post about making your wife happy)
Making your husband happy is one of those instances that often seem difficult, but at its essence is quite simple. I’ll give you a brief 4-point list for how to make him happy. Don’t take my word for; try it out and see what happens. I use all four as a permanent part of my marriage and I have a very happy husband (editor’s note: Christian here, she’s telling the truth:-)
Without further ado, here we go:
#1 Tell him he’s a good man!
I have seen countless men burst into tears when they finally get to hear this from their wife/partner. Men are working so hard to make us happy and to do the right thing, so when they get to hear “You’re a good man”, it touches them deeply.
Men often have a very hard time believing their own worth, so it really helps when they can hear it from you, the person who’s opinion they care about the most.
#2 Give him points for effort.
Giving points for effort means to appreciate him for what he does do, instead of pointing out all the things he doesn’t do. It means to give appreciation even when he makes a gesture that doesn’t turn out the way you wanted it to. Give appreciation for trying.
Many men have a strong internal critic, so whenever they hear even a tiny bit of criticism from you, it’s as if it invalidates everything they did do, and they end up feeling inadequate and unappreciated.
The more you appreciate your husband for what he does do, the more it inspires him to want to do more, give more, because men are motivated by the reward of appreciation and the result of you being happy.
Appreciation is more effective than criticism, only 100% of the time!
#3 Respect his choices
How often does your husband do something you simply don’t get? Where you might be shaking your head?
It’s crucial to realize that everything he does makes sense from his point of view. There is a reason for everything he does, even if you don’t understand or approve of that reason.
At the very least, when he make a choice you don’t understand, get curious about his motivations, ask him about it instead of condemning it. You can even be his sparring partner and constructively challenge his choices and decisions, but make sure your challenge is delivered in that spirit, and doesn’t become a polished way to criticize.
When you respect his choices, he feels respected and will in turn have much higher regard for you.
#4 Share your physical affection and appreciation
When we lead our sex workshops, one of things that surprises and touches me every time is how poetic, loving and spiritual men become when they talk about what sex and physical affection gives them.
In stark contrast to the stereotype that men only want sex to “get off” or that they just want you for your body, they will describe how profoundly it touches and resets them when they get to share sex and touch with you.
So when we say yes to sex and touch, it fills them up in ways we might never understand. Plus, it feels good to us when we make love too; to get in our bodies and enjoy our sensual connection. Of course, this doesn’t mean you are somehow obligated, but say yes whenever you can. I do, and I appreciate it every time I do.
That’s it for now … if you take on these 4 simple steps you will definitely see results in terms of a happier husband.
Let me know how it goes for you.
PS. Here’s a chance for a deeper connection with your partner:
We all know how anger and hurt can take us out of love. And we all know how better it feels to be in love. So how do we stay in love? How can we get back to love when we get hurt or angry?
In this mini-workshop for couples, uncover what produces that “in-love” feeling, and discover how to get back to love, even when someone gets hurt or angry.
Some of what you will learn and experience:
- Deep connection with your partner
- Insight into what has you feel love, loving, loved
- Ideas for how to recreate that in-love feeling
- A powerful process for finding love in anger
- Concrete practices for how to stay in love
Find out more here: https://loveworksforyou.com/how-to-stay-in-love/
If you have the experience that your husband/BF/partner doesn’t value you, you probably feel hurt, angry, sad, or all of them in combination.
Feeling unvalued impacts your own self esteem and spills over into the quality of your entire relationship, and you might be questioning yourself, the future of your relationship, and whether there’s something wrong with your partner, your relationship, or yourself.
Feeling unvalued by your partner can show up in a myriad of ways. Perhaps he …
– Doesn’t listen to you
– Doesn’t tell the truth
– Doesn’t prioritize you
– Gives you the silent treatment
– Offers little or no connection and communication
– Gives romantic or sexual attention to other people
– Belittles you, uses demeaning comments
– Doesn’t spend time with you and/or your family
– Speaks poorly of you in public
– Ignores or doesn’t honor your boundaries
– Doesn’t include your opinions and concerns
– Offers little or no appreciation, affection, or loving gestures.
And that’s not an exhaustive list.
If this describes you and how you feel about your partner, what can you do?
Our first tendency when we’re not getting what we want in relationship, is to get the other person to change their behavior. In this case, you might find yourself criticizing and nagging at him way more than you like, in an attempt to get the message across that you want something to change.
When we’re unhappy with our partners, we often come at them with lists of rules for how they should behave. Whereas it’s perfectly understandable that you want his behavior to change, this approach will not give you what you want. Even if you’re 100% right about your complaints and all your friends agree with you. If that approach worked, all we needed to do to have perfect partners was to tell them exactly what they’re doing wrong and how they should behave, and we’d be done.
His part and your part
In any less-than-ideal relationship situation, there’s an element of co-creation. When you don’t feel valued by him, there’s his part in that and there’s your part in that.
We like to start with your part. Not because you’re the one who “needs” to change, or that you’re doing something wrong, simply because that’s the only place where you know you have some control and influence. As we all know, that’s not always the case with our partners.
You don’t have to share this with your partner (although you can if you so choose), but for starters, ask yourself:
- What am I doing that’s contributing to this experience?
- How can I call you, inspire you, to move better with me?
Granted, if you do your own part and he still doesn’t engage in a process of change and growth, you might very well find someone else to be in relationship with.
Take a stand for yourself
One of the first way to inspire him to value you more, is for you to value you more.
Take a stand for yourself. Cultivate a sense of yourself as a valuable, deserving person. One of Sonika’s most valuable personal lessons from being in relationship with an abusive partner, was for her to get out of her victim mindset and craft a mindset of power.
To do that practically, you can be clear about what you’re up for and what you’re not up for. “I’m available to talk about anything but I’m NOT available for being called names or yelled at”. “I’m available for so-and-so, but I’m not available for so-and-so” or “I’m willing to do so-and-so, and I’m not willing to do so-and-so” are good ways to communicate that.
Often, your part in a situation where you don’t feel your husband values you, is that you let it happen and don’t communicate clearly what you want, what you’re willing to do, and what you’re not willing to do, in good ways he can hear.
Takes up all your “mental real estate”
When relationships are strained, perhaps even for long periods of time, the negativity ends up taking up more and more of your “mental real estate”. It’s as if your entire field of vision is filled with all the places where he doesn’t value you, doesn’t respect you, and don’t care about you.
More often than not, there are places where he values and respects you. You just have to focus a bit on finding them.
So begin to look for where he does value you, even if it’s in small ways. Perhaps he brings you a coffee from Starbucks, makes a meal for you, picks up the kids on your day, or asks if you want to make love later on. All those are examples of him expressing that he values and cares about you. Maybe he does ask what you think sometimes. That’s an example of him respecting you.
When you find these instances, thank him for it. We call this approach “Providing what’s desired”, and it’s useful for both partners in relationship. Whenever you’re missing or desiring something, you start by providing it. You want more appreciation? make sure you don’t just rail on him to appreciate you more, but also offers him appreciation.
This is not to stroke the guy’s ego, but simply to use an approach that might work. Plus, it really helps your mental and emotional wellbeing when all your focus is not on what’s not working, and you deliberately notice where you have some of what you want.
He wants to be successful
When you feel unvalued by your partner, it’s easy to make the assumption that he doesn’t want to value you and simply doesn’t care. In our experience working with thousands of men and women, that’s pretty much never the case. Quite the contrary, men are desperate to be successful with you, they want nothing more than to win with you and to make you happy. And … they often have no clue how to accomplish that result. And when men can’t accomplish their result with you, they feel defeated and inadequate, which in turn makes them stop talking and stop trying. Which in turn has you feel unvalued. Bad cycle!
Sometimes you just have to coach and guide him for how you feel valued. If you assume, as we’re suggesting, that he wants to make you happy, you can offer feedback and guidance to him in the form of “appreciation sandwiches” (so named by a man in our workshops).
In fact, this is a great way to deliver feedback to anyone. If you want him to clean up after himself in the kitchen, instead of saying, “Why can’t you clean up after yourself; you’re like a child!” (nagging, criticism, and contempt), you might say, “I appreciate how focused you are getting back to work after dinner. Would you be willing to help clean the kitchen before you start working again? I really like working with you:-)“
In the same spirit of kind guidance, it’s useful to ask for what you want in a clear and specific way that supports him to give it to you. For example, if you say, “I just want you to connect with me!”, he might have no idea what “connect with me” actually entails. We know, to you it might so obvious as to require no explanation of any kind, but that’s not true for everyone. Men and women are different, and people are different. So you might say, “I love it when you take my hand and tell me you love me … would you be willing to do that?”
We also know you might think, “Well, that’s not very romantic when I have to ask for it!” To which we say, yes, it’s nice when we just get what we want, but would you rather ask clearly for something or get nothing?
Our final idea to beware of the tendency to think “he should know this already”, and instead to get curious. Inquire about his experience, and share your own. That kind of communication is, in and of itself, a good way for you to feel valued. Instead of judging and criticizing how he goes back to work after dinner, instead ask him, “I notice you like to go back to work after dinner. I’m curious why that is? Would you tell me about that? I know I’m toast after work and dinner, and I just want to curl up on the couch … how is that for you?”
In summary, take a stand for yourself, look at your part in the dynamic, provide what’s desired, ask clearly and specifically for what you want, appreciate where he does value you, and get curious about why he does what he does.
That’s a really good start to a relationship where you both feel more valued!
Why does intimacy and passion die over time in relationship?
In the beginning of relationship, we are open and in a mood of wonder about who our partner is. We delight in discovering who this amazing being is, eager to uncover the wonderful aspects of this marvelous person. We highlight our partner’s strengths and virtues with our attention.
We focus on what we love about him or her – their beauty, intelligence, caring, sexy, sweet qualities. We tell our beloved what we love about him or her, what we appreciate, all the things they do and give that we are grateful for, and we tell them several times a day. We talk for hours, touch and make love often, give heart-felt gifts – enthralled in the deliciousness of how absolutely wonderful and perfect we are together. We are wrapped up in a positive glowing story of who our partner is and who we are together.
As time passes, however, our focus generally narrows to what doesn’t work about our relationship and what we don’t like about our partners. Our view of our partner as being wonderful and perfect in every way begins to slowly change as issues arise. Perhaps they are not as open to sex as they used to be, or not as attentive or thoughtful, or perhaps they appear more controlling or fearful or jealous than we had previously experienced.
At first, we are able to see through their weak aspects to their virtues, seeing them as still fabulous with a little “garbage”, and we are more patient and understanding as we look for ways to support them. But as breakdowns and problems recur and disappointments mount, we begin to change our perspective about our partner. We invent unbecoming stories about them and highlight what they do that we don’t like. Before long, our beloved partners seem to be more like “garbage people” with a little bit of fabulousness.
Often, after years of partnership, we quit seeing our partner with fresh new eyes. After all, we know who she or he is now. There is nothing much new to discover about them. We know how they are in the morning, how they are when they get angry or moody. We know how they have sex and how they get dressed up and how they eat and what they eat and drink. We know where they get stuck and upset and fearful. We know what makes them laugh. We know how they sleep and how they look at all times of the day. The longer we know who someone is, the more we can say that we know who someone is.
This knowing sense of your partner comes with lots of stories and labels. If I asked you to describe your partner to me, you would have a descriptive list of their qualities and activities. You would be able to tell me who they are.
Eckhart Tolle said that the second you label something, you quit really being with it. When you label a tree “a tree”, you quit seeing the intricacies of the tree. You don’t delight in the discovery or in the experience of something the moment you label it. It is a little bit like, “been there, done that”.
The same is true of our partners, and this is the quickest way we kill intimacy and passion. Our labels and stories of who our partner is begin to take over. We no longer see our partner as a mysterious being that we are eager to discover. We no longer delight in discovering who they are in this moment, and in this moment, and in this moment. We long ago discovered and labeled and categorized and invented a story about our partners, so much so, that now, when we look at our partners, we see our story of them, our labels of them. We do not see them in this moment afresh at all.
Intimacy: Into Me You See. I do not see into you when I label you. I do not feel you, hear you, smell or taste you. When I move with you like you are a certain way, there is no presence, no discovery, no magic, no creation.
Labels prevent you from seeing into me too. Your story of me prevents you from being present with the ever unfolding of who I am.
Intimacy: Into Me You See. Not only do I not see you when I label you, but I don’t see you when I avoid looking into your eyes.
Over time, as we become accustomed to interacting with our partners like our story and labels of them as opposed to the miracle of them, we quit making eye contact. We look “at” our partner’s briefly throughout our days and nights, or close our eyes altogether, especially in lovemaking. It is easier, more comfortable to escape into the darkness of an unlighted room or closed eyelids rather than feel the discomfort we feel being really seen by our partner.
Truthfully, making eye contact with someone, extended eye contact, will bring to the surface rather quickly any places that are out of integrity or presence anything that hasn’t been said. Eye contact will rather quickly reveal if anything is in the way of pure connection – ie.. negative beliefs, incompletions, unsaid truths. If anything is in the way, discomfort will arise from eye contact, forcing the one looking to quickly hide again behind closed eyes, to avoid being found out .
Lack of practice is also a key factor. When we are accustomed to not looking into our partner’s eyes, uneasiness is common when we re-visit this practice. We will want to turn away, talk, giggle, divert attention away from our discomfort by avoiding eye contact and silence. Overall as a culture, we are unaccustomed to being present to our uncomfortable experiences and to telling the truth about our experiences in the moment. We have embodied a whole host of un-intimate relationship practices that we can’t see – they appear so normal that we remain unconscious to how we keep ourselves from experiencing intimacy.
We all have an idea that intimacy and passion is a “feel good” proposition. It is a yummy, delicious blending of two bodies and souls in union.
While this certainly is one aspect of intimacy, it is not the only aspect.
Sometimes deep intimacy comes from sharing our fears together, our stuck places, our anger – being vulnerable. Some of my deep experiences in lovemaking have come from my partner and I stopping in the middle of our experience to reveal our lack of presence, our pre-occupation with some thought, our belief that we should be doing something in particular or an arising insecurity or doubt. This honest revelation in the middle of lovemaking brings us closer to each other, and actually heightens our experience of intimacy – rather than taking away from it as you might think.
Intimacy – into me you see – is about sharing authentically who we are with our partner in the moment. The closer our communication is to our actual experience of it, the more connected we are to ourselves and the more moving and freeing our truth is. You cannot experience deep connection and intimacy and passion when you are not fully expressing yourself.
We all have areas where we don’t fully express ourselves. We don’t say how we really feel about our partner working late hours, or forgetting our birthday, or rushing through sex. We all have reasons for not saying what we feel and want and can easily talk ourselves out of communicating potentially difficult feelings and desires. But each time we don’t say something that needs or wants to be said, the more we put a wedge between us and our partners and the more we affect our intimacy.
Love is what is present when there is nothing in the way. Therefore, the more we don’t say, the more there is in the way between us and the less we will feel love and intimacy. The more distant we are, the less we will look at each other. We may go through the motions of sex and communication, but without full disclosure and full self-expression, there will be little true connection in our activities and we will feel more and more empty in the process.
We not only withhold truths through the course of daily living, we quit saying what we feel and want in our lovemaking too. We quit asking for what we want and settle into playing out old patterns in our sexual encounters. When we don’t ask for what we want or risk initiating honest communication or sharing some new sexual desire, we put what is not said between us. Love is not so easy to experience when there is much that is not said in the space.
Similarly, when you squelch your words, you are also, most likely, squelching your sexual expression. Passion is most felt when we surrender to sexual energy moving through us and allow it to take us where it wants to go. When we can let go of our preconceived notions of lovemaking, tune into desires as they arise, and move in concert with these desires minute by minute in the sexual dance, passion is inevitable. Sexual energy is best expressed and experienced when it is spontaneously allowed to flow in whichever way. If we have beliefs that certain practices are not welcomed or permitted, or that there is a prescribed order to sexual activity, these beliefs will inevitably inhibit our sexual expression.
Additionally, when we move with our partners like we already know them sexually and intimately, we quit being in exploration mode. It is another way where we bring our mind into activity and prevent ourselves from entering a no-mind zone – fully being present to our experience in the body realm. We are in “do” mode instead of “be” mode. We are in “knowing already” mode instead of hanging out in a world of discovery and wonder with our partner.
I remember the first time I saw a Tantra video, of long time lovers talking about how they wanted to be touched by the other in exquisite detail, how shocked I was to not only see people talking to each other that frankly and honestly about sex, but how open the person listening was – how much he or she moved like they didn’t already know. The intimacy and connection and creativity in the moment was astounding to me. It required that both partners be present and open and honest and receptive and unassuming.
Most of us, are needless to say, not accustomed to such frankness and openness in our sexual expression. We wouldn’t think to take an hour to focus on pleasuring just one of us, sharing every detailed experience along the way. Most of us wouldn’t think to talk that openly and detailed about other subjects way less charged!
There are many other ways we get in the way of experiencing intimacy and passion.
We resist the natural cycles of relationship. All things have a cycle. The moon, the seasons, plants, the waves upon the shore. Relationship also has it’s own cycle. The heart opens and closes. We experience intimate times and distant times, times when we are together and times we are apart. Each partner may have different needs for togetherness and closeness, and so resist one or the other cyclic aspects. Navigating these contraction and expansion periods can be tricky – especially if partners interpret the contraction periods as being bad or wrong. Both are an important part of the relationship growth process.
We are unaware of what has us and our partner really feel loved – some of us feel loved when touched, some of us when spoken to a certain way, some of us by being shown – flowers, cooking, gifts. We begin by doing everything and accidentally “hit” on our partner’s love strategy, and then over time do what has us feel loved, not necessarily what has our partner feel loved.
We have incompletions from the past that we have not forgiven or released. Incompletions that are difficult to let go of are accompanied by beliefs we don’t find it easy to let go of. To forgive someone and release them of some negative experience, often requires that we look at this situation anew. Sometimes it means taking responsibility, owning your power and taking charge of how you want things to be different in the future. Completing incompletions from the past can remove huge obstacles to intimacy and passion in relationship.
We have unrecognized negative beliefs about ourselves and our partner. The quality of our intimacy in relationship is directly related to the quality of our beliefs. If I believe I am unworthy of love, for example, I am not likely to be able to take in that you love me and that will have a direct impact on how intimate I feel with you. It is an important part of intimacy work to examine and shift limiting beliefs.
All of these breakdowns in intimacy and passion are caused by conditioned relationship practices that keep us from creating the closeness and freedom of expression we all desire. Most of us long ago learned dysfunctional relationship beliefs and practices, and we re-create these patterns every day without our conscious awareness. Until we learn new ways to approach relationship, until we learn new ways to think and interact, we are doomed to keep repeating patterns that don’t work – frustrated by the lack of transformation and change in our relationships.
But the good news is we can learn new ways to be in relationship!
You are invited to join us for a 90-minute virtual mini-workshop, How To Revive Your Intimacy, on June 7th at 10:00 AM. $40 per couple.
In this mini-workshop, you will engage in several practices to promote connection, relaxation, depth of sharing, and lighthearted playfulness in your relationship.
In this experiential mini-workshop, be prepared to:
- Melt into each other
- Go deep fast
- Step into love
- Play and have fun
- Learn tools for reviving and recreating intimacy
- Discover how to slow down and sync up when stressed or busy
- Create a safe space to be vulnerable and real
- Discover how to keep the connection alive day after day
Learn more and register here: https://loveworksforyou.com/how-to-revive-your-intimacy
My wife doesn’t respect me! What I am going to do about that?
This is a refrain we often hear from husbands.
Obviously, we would all hope that our partners would treat us with kindness and respect, but sometimes that’s not the dynamic we have established. If we were talking directly to your wife, we’d be giving her her own coaching, but assuming we’re talking to you, the husband, we’ll focus on what you have some control over, namely your own behavior and how you communicate with her.
Not being respected can show up for you in a myriad of different ways. You might experience that she …
* Belittles you
* Emasculates you
* Puts you down
* Withholds affection, touch, love, sex
* Doesn’t appreciate you
* Doesn’t acknowledge the things you do do
* Questions your choices
* Doesn’t trust you
* Talks down about you to other people
* Tries to control or micro-manage you
Or perhaps it’s something else for you?
When you have the experience that your wife doesn’t respect you, there’s her responsibility in that situation, and there’s your responsibility. It’s not all on her, nor is it all on you. It’s a co-created dynamic. When we coach couples, we help each person take their share of ownership. As mentioned above, we’ll focus on what you can do to change this dynamic and in effect encourage her to respect and appreciate you more.
Is there a grain of truth?
For starters, look at what she’s judging you for. What is she criticizing you for?
Then, take an honest look at yourself and ask, What’s the grain of truth in what she’s saying about me? Notice, we say “a grain of truth”, i.e. it’s not the full story about you.
For instance, if she’s judging for you always being late, look at where there’s a grain of truth to that? Are there times when you don’t show up when you said you would?
If she’s nagging you about not following through on commitment, take a look at that. Are there times you say you will do something, but then don’t?
If you can see a grain of truth to her judgments, you now have an opening to change those behaviors, if you so choose. But there’s no question that doing what you say will do, or showing up when you say you will, contributes to her respecting you. If you don’t, you feed into her judgments about you.
Now, I know when your wife says stuff like, “You never clean up after yourself!”, my default reaction is to either get defensive – “I DO clean up after myself. Stop talking to me like that!!” – or to just get the hell out of there so I don’t have to listen to that.
Next time that happens, try telling yourself, “Ok, hang on a second, let me just see if there’s any grain of truth to that I don’t clean up after myself”.
If there is a grain of truth to it, just own it. Just say, “Yeah, sometimes I don’t clean up after myself” or “Sure, there are times I don’t finish my projects”. Owning it without explanation is a way for you to respect yourself more, to restore your own integrity. In the process, it’ll help her respect you more, too.
Respect is an earned privilege, so in order to be respected we have to show up respect-worthy. And that goes both ways, of course!
So take a good hard look at this: Do you respect yourself? Do you value yourself?
Still to this day, despite my many years of growing and developing, I can still find times or areas of my life where I don’t really respect or value myself. It’s hard to admit, I don’t want it to be true, but it is.
How can you respect and value yourself more? As a man, there are several ways to go about that process which involves you getting clear about questions like …
* What am I about as a man?
* What kind of man am I?
* What is my mission?
* What is my purpose?
There’s more to that process, but that’s the topic of another post.
Step in with presence and power.
Often, women get stuck in complaint, criticism, and blame when they don’t feel their man with them. That’s not to justify blame and criticism, but to give you some additional insights and options for actions.
It’s as if under her complaints and criticisms, she’s saying, “Where are you? I can’t feel you! Come be present with me!”
In the face of criticism, it’s natural to want to get out of there, but instead, try to lean in, come closer, and tell her with your entire presence, “I hear you. I’m here for our relationship”.
Make a boundary.
Drawing a line in the sand can be done with presence and kindness and still be firm. By doing so, you’re taking a stand for yourself, for you deserving to be treated kindly.
As you step closer with presence, you might say something like, “I request that you speak to me with appreciation. I request that you see what I do do around here. I’m available to have a conversation with you – I’m not available to be yelled at, I’m not available to be called names. I’m happy to hear what’s going on for you and what your experience is; I’m not happy to stay here and have you put me down”.
Go for what you want
When you feel not respected there’s always something you’re wanting in the background. You can go directly for that “something” by making a direct request to her.
“Would you be willing to speak well of me right now?”
“Would you be willing to lower your voice?”
“Would you be willing to tell me three things you really love and appreciate about me?”
For me, when I’ve felt not respected, it’s typically about me not feeling that my partner is trusting the choices I make, or that she’s not appreciating and acknowledging the things I do do, whether it’s around the house or around career and money. In those case, what I really is for her to trust the choices I make, so I can go straight for that. “Hey, I hear your questions about how I’m going to take care of this project … would you be willing to just trust me on it? I got it and I’d like to demonstrate that to you”.
When your wife is going off at you, not only can she not feel you but she doesn’t really know what’s going on inside of you. The more you can be vulnerable about sharing your feelings, your needs, your thought process, and what has you do certain things, the more you can help her step inside your world and understand you; the more she’s going to know you and the more she is going to respect you.
In relationship, we often expect our partners to be like us, but they’re not. We’re different people. We have very different ways of approaching things and thinking about things. You can help your partner understand how you move and how you think, and what’s important to you. When she understands you better, she has more compassion and feels more connected to you. Do your best to be authentic and vulnerable about even how hurt you feel when she speaks to you in a certain way or moves with you in a certain way.
I personally used to be a man who communicated very little in my relationships. I would have a lot of stuff going on in my mind but I didn’t say much of it out loud. I wasn’t very skilled or comfortable talking about how I felt and what was going on inside of me, so I just didn’t talk. I often felt she wasn’t respecting me because she always wanted to know what was “going on in there”. I felt nagged at.
What I realized (probably much too late!) is that when I’m not sharing about how I feel, it’s an invitation to her to fabricate conclusions; basically to make shit up on her own! If I don’t tell her anything, I’m basically telling her to go make up her own conclusions, and often those conclusions aren’t in my favor.
You can significantly improve the playing field by sharing genuinely about what you want her to see you as.
Provide what’s desired
You know the experience when you feel disrespected, you want to disrespect right back? When you get criticized, you want to strike back? Which makes for two disrespectful and disrespected partners.
Providing what’s desired is a powerful relationship idea, and it takes “the bigger person” to get it started (as opposed to both people waiting for the other person to “do the right thing”).
It means be the person you want to be. It means offer the respect you want to be afforded. You want her to speak well of you? You speak well of her. You want her to appreciate you? You appreciate her. You want to her not question your choices in front of the kids? Don’t question her with the kids.
Of course, you would hope she would do the exact same thing for you. Since we’re talking to you, the man who says, “My wife doesn’t respect me”, we’re talking about what what’s in your power. Providing what’s desired is in your power. We know, it takes two to create a kind and respectful atmosphere in your relationship and in your house. By doing your best to improve how you behave and show up, you contribute to a better dynamic between you.
You might need support in this process. We have coached hundreds of couples about how to stop a disrespectful cycle and establish better, kinder dynamics. There’s no shame in not knowing, and in needing help. Often, your patterns of interaction have been established over years or decades, so don’t feel bad if it’s not changing overnight; and don’t feel bad if you need professional facilitation to work through issues like these.
Show this video post to your partner and your friends and start a conversation about how you’d like to be treated, and how you’re committed to showing up!
Is he “The One”? Is she “The One”?
As a single person, that’s a really big, important questions. As it turns out, sometimes it’s too big. I still remember from all my single years how much that question was on my mind, even haunted me.
The search to find “The One” is exhilarating and full of so much hope. But sometimes, like for me, the “quest” also caused a good deal of anxiety and when I went dating, I did that thing so many singles have tried on dates: Meeting someone and instantly passing judgment as the whether the person in front of me was “The One” or not (they never were). I kinda wish someone had shown me this video back then.
In this post, we’ll offer you important tips for what to pay attention to in order to answer that question, Is he/she the one?
The first thing to do to make your own journey more enjoyable is to make it ok that the “big question” just sits there, unanswered, for a while. No one can put a timeline on finding the love of your life, and if you add a deadline of your own, you’re likely to also add a bunch of stress and pressure. So see if you can relax into the uncertainty. Tell yourself it might take a while, and that’s ok, because you’re going to have a good time as you go.
For Sonika & I, it took over two years before we could answer the question, before we knew for sure we wanted to commit and be together. We couldn’t have done it any faster, and during that process, we paid attention to all the factors we’re sharing with you below.
Second and equally important, throw out the whole notion of “The One”. We know that might sound like odd and contrary advice, but think about it. The idea that among 8 billion people there is one and only one person for you is just not very likely, to say the least. Instead of looking for “The One”, look for someone who’s a great fit for you, someone you can make a wonderful relationship with. Thinking there is only one just puts more pressure on yourself to find a needle in a global haystack.
But what about attraction and chemistry, you might wonder? Attraction and chemistry are great; they feel awesome, and makes for hot juiciness! And attraction and chemistry are not enough to build a relationship on, or to decide if someone is the right fit for you.
There are lots and lots of people you can feel attracted to and whose bones you’d love to jump. But it’s not just if you’re attracted physically. You also want to notice if you’re attracted to them emotionally? If you feel intellectually stimulated?
Other essential factors to pay attention to are:
Trust. Do you feel you can trust this person? Do you observe him or her moving with integrity in their lives? When he says he’ll show up somewhere, does he? When she says she’ll do something, does she? And not just with you, with all their friends and family.
Personal growth. Is this someone who is committed to growing? Is he willing to learn, make adjustments, admit wrong doing? Sonika always said that was more important to her than almost anything else, because if he’s willing to grow, learn and look at himself, then you know he’ll be growing with you and can learn what he doesn’t know already. Don’t get hung up on whether she’s done as many workshops as you, or masters the same non-violent communication skills you do, but do pay attention to his willingness to grow.
Do you feel free to express yourself? When we’re dating or in a new relationship, we sometimes hesitate to show all of ourselves, in an effort to to not wreck a good thing, or turn our partner off. But it’s way more important for you to express who you are and what’s on your mind and heart, for real. How your partner reacts to this, will tell you a lot. And in case he doesn’t encourage your full expression, you’ll know he’s not a good fit for you. You’d rather know this sooner than later, so don’t hold yourself back.
Can you handle and resolve conflicts? What happens when there’s a testy moment? Does she get all weird, back away, go silent, get angry in your face? We don’t mean just one time, everyone has less-than-stellar moments, but as a recurrent response to conflict.
How about their quirks and issues? Everyone has issues and quirks, so don’t look for someone who is somehow free of quirks and idiosyncrasies. More useful, notice if her quirks and issues are some you’re willing to work with? You might be totally fine with him being into Dungeons and Dragons, but you might not be willing to deal with someone who’s drinking too much.
What are their other relationships like? Noticing how she relates to her family, friends, and coworkers can tell you a lot. Does she have ind, loving, respectful relationships with other people. Or is she a loner with no friends? Does he create conflicts with lots of people in his life?
Pay attention to how you feel. We can give you lots of practical factors to notice, but at the end of the day, how you feel might be the most important factor.
Do you feel safe? Do you feel comfortable? Do you feel trusting? Do you have that sense of being “home”? Like all is right in the world?
On the flip side of that, notice if you frequently have the sense that something is not “quite right”. Are you trying to talk yourself out of something? Or into something?
Practice telling the truth about these feelings. Having open, honest conversations like this will either bring your closer and strengthen your bond, or will show if you he’s not interested in that kind of communication. Either way, good information for you.
Finally, make it okay that this a process and that there’s a question in the space. Remember, it takes time for two people to sync up and line up, not just their lives and circumstances, but their hearts and minds. Relationship are living creatures, they grow organically, if you let them.
Use all your dating experiences as an opportunity to practice being in relationship, practice showing up as the best version of yourself, as the kind of person you would like to one day find!
Here’s a great way to connect with other singles: We’re providing a safe, facilitated space for singles to connect deeply and meaningfully.
Singles Connecting in Corona Times, more here: https://loveworksforyou.com/singles-connecting-in-corona-times
It’s no surprise that personal stress spills over into our relationships, and to all other aspects of our lives. Stress tends to be contagious, too, so that one partner’s stress “transfers” to the other partner and sometimes kids.
Even in the best of circumstances, there’s a lot of stuff one can be stressed about. Just making a living, minding a job or business, raising a family and dealing with the myriad responsibilities of modern life can raise anyone’s blood pressure.
Personal stress can show up in many ways and have many side effects. Here are some of them …
- One or both partners withdraws
- We disappear into ourselves
- We quit communicating
- One person shuts out the other
- We become alienated and disconnected from each other
- We might become less affectionate, distracted, superficial
- We obsess about the things that stress us
- We get more sensitive and take things more personally
- Negative behaviors become more visible
- We’re less able to stop ourselves from reacting
- We get more irritable, hostile which leads to more fighting
- We have shorter fuses
- We tend to vent, we got less filters, we say stupid stuff that creates more problems
- We get depleted, tired, fatigued.
- We can’t think as clearly, we make more mistakes
And there are probably more (we didn’t even mention the physical health consequences of stress, which are legion!)
So what can we do about this?
#1 Break it down
First, break down your stressors. What specifically is it that you feel stressed about? It’s useful to break it down, because that opens the door to take productive action. As long as you’re in a generalized state of “I’m so stressed”, without getting clear about the stressors, you can’t do anything about it, it just festers inside you.
So break it down. Is it that you got a pink slip? That you have too many responsibilities at work? Is it that there are problems in your marriage? Or that your kids are growing up and leaving the house?
Make a list or talk it out with your partner or a friend.
#2 Determine what you DO have control over
Because there are so many things in life we don’t have control over (Covid, anyone?), it’s easy to just feel victimized.
So what CAN you take action around?
What DO you have some control over?
Where DO you have power?
It’s always useful to shift your mindset to one of opportunity and agency instead of problems and victimization. So you look at the stressors in your life and ask yourself, What if this was a challenge for me? What if (for some unknown reason) this was somehow happening for me? What could I learn here?
Call us hopelessly insistent on optimism, but Sonika & I have always used that mindset to help us turn around stressful situations, the external causes of which we had no control over. Our favorite question is, How are we going to use this to our benefit?
And it’s never failed to galvanize and invigorate our hearts and minds. Remember, the goal here is to do something useful to alleviate and transform your stress, not necessarily to change the whole world.
#3 Take action
Once you break down your stressors, and look at what you can control and have some influence over, then it’s time to take action. No matter how stressful the situation, there are always a host of productive actions you can take.
Some ideas …
- Reduce your workload. Take on less tasks. Say no to stuff.
- Create better self-care habits, such as sit in silence for a bit in the morning, or watch the sunset, or take a hot bath.
- Get other people to take some work off your plate
- Pay someone to do stuff around the house
- Talk to a co-worker to help you with some of your projects
- Ask for help. We sometimes forget we don’t have to do everything solo.
- And as I always like to remind myself, “Chill the f*** out and stop worrying about stuff that’ll probably never happen” (being someone who’s prone to doing exactly that!)
#4 Create and cultivate empowering daily routines
Today I started my day with 45 min of Tai Chi on our deck, just me and the birds. That’s a daily routine I’ve started in Covid times to help myself feel better. Sonika started the day by envisioning how to best support the clients she’d be meeting with later.
The key here is “feel better”. What routines could you cultivate that would make you feel better? Not just once, but every day, or regularly (hence “routine”, not just a one-time action).
In the face of stress, some people fret, some obsess, some get angry, and some get depressed. Either way, stress is depleting, so by having daily routines that help you reinvigorate, you alleviate your stress.
#5 What can you do together?
How can you help each other? How can you leverage your relationship to ease your stress? So often, we respond to stress by isolating and carrying the whole burden internally. That’s when you know it’s time to use each other; to come up with what you can do together.
We always start by connecting and sharing openly about whatever it is that stresses us. Speaking it out loud, getting it off your chest to someone who will listen without correction, is a time-tested winner for de-stressing. If you feel like you should be able to handle this yourself, maybe you even feel ashamed that you even need to talk about it, then say all that out loud.
Remind yourself that you’re in this together, that you’re on the same team. In times of stress and frustration, who do most people take it out on? Their partners, who becomes an adversary instead of an ally. So use each other, lean on each other, connect, and keep talking. The very act of being vulnerable can help you shed some of the tension, stress, and worry that you carry.
Or, sometimes even better, stop talking all together, go snuggle up or jump in a hot bath and just feel your bodies. Give each other a massage or make love, and see if your stress doesn’t evaporate, at least for a time.
Here’s one super effective and connecting action you can take together for your relationship, which will definitely help with your stress.
We created a 90-min mini-workshop for couples to deal with stress and disagreements, How To Be More Understanding During Disagreements.
In this workshop-from-your-couch, we are going to help you:
* Find understanding
* Relieve tension and stress
* Discover common ground between each other
* Get on the same page
* Learn techniques to de-escalate during conflict
* Get back to connection
We have helped thousands of couples navigate crisis and stressful times, and we’d be honored to help you, too.
When you have the experience of your partner being emotionally unavailable, you’re probably feeling that you’re not being “met”, that you’re not being heard, that you can’t get your messages across, or that he/she is always trying to fix you when you try to share something. You might find your partner aloof, stonewalling, or defensive. Or any combination of these.
It’s natural that you want to be more connected, more in communion, with your partner.
It’s important to understand that there are inherent differences between men and women, between personality types, and between … just people! We all have a different way of feeling, accessing and expressing our emotions.
For instance, we worked with a couple where the woman was vivacious, talkative, charismatic, and the man was stoic, unmoving, and only talked sparingly. She loved asking him questions, and he hated being asked questions. It’s easy to assume that she’s emotionally available and he’s not. But it’s not that simple. When we took the time to create the right space, he too shared profound insights and emotions.
Some people cry at movies, some don’t, but remember “emotionally unavailable” doesn’t (necessarily) mean they don’t feel or have emotions.
If you have the experience of someone being emotionally unavailable, and they feel judged by you, all that’s going to produce is have them clam up even more.
For starters, what you can do is accept differences and get curious about what those differences might be. Ask questions in a mood of curiosity. Ask your partner, “What happens for you when you watch that movie?” or “What happens for you when so-and-so happens in our family …?”
Some people have much quicker access to how they feel. Like Sonika and me, for instance. it seems to me she’s always in touch with how she feels at any given moment, but I often have to stop and “think” about how I feel; I have to tune in in order to know how I feel. From her point of view, it might seem as if I’m not feeling anything, but I just need time to access my feelings.
A great tip is when you ask a question, let the person explore for a little bit, give them some time before you ask another question.
On the flip side, if you’re the “unavailable” one, add a little more detail than you normally would. Instead of just answering, “Great!” when she asks how my day was, I can elaborate a bit and add, “I did have an interesting experience with John at work …”. This breeds emotional connection.
Ask yourself, if there isn’t a lot of talking, do you assume it’s disconnection? Another way to think about this, is to join your partner in the silence, and to enjoy the connection inside silence. That’s a different kind of emotional availability, beyond words.
When you’re with an emotionally unavailable partner, it’s easy to have all of your attention is on what your partner is not doing, what they’re not saying. You try to get your partner to be more vulnerable and available.
Instead, try turning it around and ask yourself, How can I be more vulnerable? How can I be more emotionally available? Because often, when you’re busy trying to get your partner to be more available and in touch with their feelings, you’re not in touch with yours.
When you can get more in touch with your own emotions, and share that with your partner from an open, vulnerable place, you invite your partner into your world, which invites your partner to share more deeply.
Granted, there are different degrees of emotional unavailability. Most often, the tools and tips we’re sharing here can help, but if your partner (or you) are completely stonewalling, refusing to engage, you might need a different level of intervention. You can reach out to us for private coaching or talk to a local coach/therapist.
In relationship, we have a tendency to talk more “about” our problems, or “about” our emotions, but the more we talk “about” it, the further we get away from the connection we’re longing for.
Instead of talking “about”, turn it around to explore what am I feeling? How can I be more vulnerable here? How can I be more curious about you? That creates a space for us to “drop in” to, a place of connection and feeling, the place we’re wanting in the first place.
Finally, look for any place where your partner does reach out, where they do share, and where they do connect. Then, once you see those places, appreciate your partner for it. Thank them for where they DO connect with you. That way, you find some small pieces of what you want, and you make them bigger.
Your partner makes eye contact (a mark of availability) for a few seconds? Say, “Thanks for looking at me … that makes me feel really good”.
Here’s a next-step idea that could really boost your sense of emotional connection:
We created a 90-min mini-workshop for couples to deal with stress and disagreements, How To Be More Understanding During Disagreements.
In this workshop-from-your-couch, we are going to help you:
* Find understanding
* Relieve tension and stress
* Discover common ground between each other
* Get on the same page
* Learn techniques to de-escalate during conflict
* Get back to connection
The most common issue couples present to us is Communication (or lack thereof). It is one thing to communicate about logistics and practicalities such as who goes shopping, who makes food, who picks up the kids, and when. It’s quite another to try and communicate about touchy issues, such as our different preferences or personalities.
All too often, our first communication is about what our partner is doing that we don’t like or find irritating. Basically our default, go-to strategy when we want something to change in our partner’s behavior, is we tell them about it. We point it out to them, so hopefully they’ll get the message and change.
The problem with this strategy is it always ends up sounding like complaining and criticizing to our partner, who then get’s defensive, silent, or complains right back.
#1 Shift your complaints to requests
When I say to my partner, “You’re not listening to me!” or, “You don’t respect me”, I’m hoping it will result in her changing to now listen to me and respect me. But when someone tells you, “”You don’t listen to me!”, do you want to listen more or less? Yeah, less. And you might want to add, “I do listen” (defensive), or “You’re not exactly the best listener yourself!” (complaining back).
It is much more useful to go directly for what you want, bypassing the complaint altogether. So you shift your complaint to a direct request instead:
“Would you be willing to listen to me for five minutes?”
“Would you be willing to tell me something you respect about me?”
Go directly what is wanted, namely listening and a sense of respect.
#2 Express appreciations to your partner every day
It has been shown that the more appreciations and the less complaining we have, the better our chances of keeping our relationship strong and stay together.
Plus, appreciations are to humans what water and sun are to plants. We need it to not wither inside.
Appreciation is the perfect antidote to complaining because in order for me to appreciate something about my partner, I have to shift my attention onto something I like, something I love, something that IS working in my relationship.
Find something your partner did today, or some quality about them that you like, and say it out loud.
“Thanks for making breakfast today”
“Thanks for doing the shopping, that was really nice”
“Thanks for being so responsible with our kids”
“I love how you make people laugh”
Anything will. We’ve kept up a routine for over ten years now. Before we go to sleep, we share at least three appreciations of the other person. Try it out!
#3 Talk about your own experience
You’ve probably heard the recommendation to speak in I-statements. It’s much easier for your partner to hear you saying, “I feel scared when we argue” as opposed to “You’re always arguing with me!”. Sharing your own experience makes communication a lot safer. We call it the “un-arguable truth”. No one can argue that I feel scared. But you can – and probably will – argue if I say, “All your yelling is making me scared!”.
#4 Expand to include
This is a central notion in the LoveWorks Solution. I expand my understanding and mindset to be big enough to include yours. In disagreements, we often think only one of us is right, can be right, but in truth, it’s possible that we’re both right. Expand to include the differences in opinions and styles.
If I love cilantro and you hate it (that’s Sonika and me:-), there’s no point in me arguing that you should love it too. Instead, I expand to include your point of view.
If you want to improve your ability to get on the same page, here’s a great opportunity to practice:
We created a 90-min mini-workshop for couples to deal with stress and disagreements, How To Be More Understanding During Disagreements. In this workshop-from-your-couch, we are going to help you:
* Find understanding
* Relieve tension and stress
* Discover common ground between each other
* Get on the same page
* Learn techniques to de-escalate during conflict
* Get back to connection
We have helped thousands of couples navigate crisis and stressful times, and we’d be honored to help you, too.