Date Nights Improve Communication, Sexual Satisfaction, and Commitment

As Valentine’s Day approaches couples around the world began thinking more about setting up the perfect romantic date.  Flowers, chocolates, Jewelry, dinner, theatre, or a bed and breakfast all are traditional ingredients of great dates.  Others prefer much more simple and low key options like taking a hike together or sharing a cup of coffee.  What really matters is not the activities or the amount of money spent but the quality of the time spent together.  Do you enjoy one another’s company?  Do you listen deeply to one another?  Do you show up to each other with vulnerability and respect?

Research from social-science studies supports the importance of couple’s taking one on one time on a regular basis.  According to a 2012 report by The National Marriage Project from the University of Virginia, the literature suggests that date nights may improve communication, increase fun, create more romantic feelings, strengthen commitment, and reduce feelings of stress.  Furthermore, taking couple time together at least once a week has a positive correlation with happy relationships.  The study also found that women who went on weekly dates with their husbands experienced a higher rate of sexual satisfaction.

Date nights are catching on in interesting ways.  Religious and community organizations around the US are supporting initiatives to promote date nights as a way to strengthen marriage.  For example, a local park district is offering a date package that includes snow shoeing followed by hot beverages and music.  In Norway, the minister for children, equality and social inclusion has encouraged couples to go on dates in order to rekindle romance.  I also see an increase in dating activity in the couple’s I work with as a strategy for improving the quality of relationships.  When it comes down to it, who doesn’t enjoy a great date with a significant other?

Sometimes it is important to have no agenda and no expectations other than to just enjoy spending time together.  Other times, date nights provide a great opportunity to talk about things that are important for deepening connection, knowing each other better and working through conflicts.  That is why I wrote a book for my clients called Date Night Conversations: Recapture the Magic with Great Couple’s Communication Tools.  In honor of Valentine’s Day you can get a FREE copy of my book for your e-reader on February 14-16.  Go to Amazon.com and download your copy and have some wonderful conversations with your loved one.  I hope you make date nights a regular part of how you keep the spark alive and that you find this book helpful.  Happy Valentine’s Day!


A Day of Peace

On December 25, 1914 the guns of British and German soldiers fell silent, and soldiers sang carols in No Man’s Land. The Christmas truce during WWI happened spontaneously as soldiers on both sides heard their enemies singing carols. A few brave men climbed out their trenches to exchange Christmas greetings and then began to exchange food, sing carols together, tell jokes, and even play soccer. The unauthorized truce spread along the 500-mile Western Front, including more than 100,000 men. It was a day of peace in the midst of war.

I think that is an extraordinary story that reveals a deeper truth known instinctively by these soldiers that only love and peace are real and sane and it is how we are meant to live. War, poverty, crime, pollution, and other forms of fear and destruction are distortions and indications of our collective wandering off of the path of love.

Today let us focus on what is real, pure, good, and true. Let us remember we are meant to manifest love in the world and especially in our own homes. Regardless of your religious beliefs, may you receive the light and love that is revealed in the story of Jesus at Christmas and experience the peace that belongs to all of us, not just for one day but for all time.

Season’s greeting and peace!


Do You Long to Feel Significant?

A number of scholars and authors have written about our primary human needs. Perhaps the most well-known is Abraham Maslow who wrote about the hierarchy of needs. Another related framework that I find useful is described by Chloe Madanes in her book Relationship Breakthrough. This framework of core need has also been used by Anthony Robbins in his teaching and coaching. According to Madanes, the premise of human needs psychology is that each individual is a self-determined entity able to make choices about how to get his or her needs met. Biology, chemistry, and early life experiences are all influences that we can choose or refuse to be effected by.

In order to make conscious choices about meeting our needs we need to have some level of self-awareness. I used the following simple exercise from my book, Date Night Conversations, with some clients and it led to some surprising revelations:

Exercise

Core Psychological Needs
Adapted from Relationship Breakthrough by Chloe Madanes

Definitions:

Certainty: The need for predictability, security, and safety.

Variety: The need for change, adventure, playfulness, and stimulation

Significance: The need to feel important, valued, and respected

Love and Connection: The need for emotional bonding and intimacy

Growth: The need to develop, learn, advance, and evolve

Contribution: The need to make a difference, have a purpose, and leave a legacy

Rank order which needs are most important to least important to you.

Certainty: ______

Variety: ______

Significance: ______

Love and Connection: ______

Growth: ______

Contribution: ______

Both the husband and wife who did this exercise ranked certainty as most important and significance as second. As we discussed the reasons why these were most important some important information came out. The wife talked about a period of time in their marriage when her husband had been unfaithful. She revealed how this shook her confidence and trust in him and the stability of their relationship, even years after the event. Additionally she was able to describe how this also made her feel insignificant and without value.

When discussing his core needs, the husband talked about how feeling he has control and predictability in his life was very important for managing his anxiety. He also talked about feeling a lack of respect from his wife over the years because she doesn’t seem to value his opinions. He learned to shut down and keep his thoughts and feelings to himself because he felt he couldn’t be honest without his wife getting upset. Her anger or even disagreement felt like an attack or a rejection.

This couple, like many of us, developed a pattern of avoiding honest communication, acting out their pain, and pulling away from one another because they didn’t know what else to do. These are complex concerns and have roots all the way back to what they learned in childhood. What they are beginning to learn are some skills in talking about these difficult issues and new ways to understand themselves and each other. The sensitivities about their needs for certainty and significance show up in many ways in their relationship and they are beginning to be able to acknowledge them and work through them. Fortunately they are making the commitment to put in the time and energy to renew their marriage and create a better future together. For more guidance and tools please check out my book and recommit to creating the marriage you desire.


It is Finally Here!

I am pleased to announce the publication of my new book: Date Night Conversations: Recapture the Magic with Great Couples Communication Tools.  The following is an excerpt from chapter one.

What is the story you tell yourself about your relationship and your partner?  When couples have difficulties they often create a story to explain what is going on.  Most often, in that story the other person is responsible for the problems.  You know how it goes:

  • If only she would stop doing that everything would be fine
  • If only he would do more of this then I would be happy
  • I would – fill in the blank- if he would – fill in the blank

This is called projection and you fail to recognize your own issues being reflected back to you in your partner.  You are being triggered by your partner, but what is being triggered are areas of sensitivity within yourself, areas that you do not yet see clearly and have not resolved.  In order to break through your roadblocks each person must assume responsibility for his or her own growth and be willing to look in the mirror.  These conversations, starting with conversations with yourself will help you do just that.

You see, the stories you have told yourself about your marriage and about your partner have colored your perception of reality.  What is even more seductive is that whenever you hold something to be true, you will naturally find evidence to support your point of view. So step one in resolving problems in your relationship is to suspend judgment and be open to seeing what is really going on.

To help couples understand these dynamics more clearly I created the Dynamic Marriage Map.  This is a four quadrant framework which describes the interaction of two dynamic forces that determine the quality of every marriage or significant relationship.  One of these forces is the level of optimism and connection you feel towards one another.  This is influenced by your relationship skills or your capability to be emotionally intimate.  The other force is the level of development or differentiation that each individual brings into the relationship.  Your level of personal development is influenced by how well you worked through your life-conditioning and the places where you are emotionally stuck.  This reflects your own capacity to be a mature and loving person.

I have found it to be critical for couples to understand how these dynamics work and what is driving the conflicts in their particular situation.  Insight is the beginning of knowing what to change and how to change it. To read more please claim your copy of the book.

 

P.S.  If you do not own a Kindle you can download a free Kindle reader for your PC or a Kindle app for your mobile device.


Is Your Father Ruining Your Marriage?

A client of mine thought he had resolved his troubled relationship with his father by putting distance between them and deciding to not expect anything from his father.   He told himself that it didn’t really matter and he didn’t care that his father never seemed to care about him or what he was going through in life.  The problem is that was not the truth.

After his wife discovered he was having an affair she confronted him with her perception of this truth: “you are just like your father”!  This is the last thing he wanted to hear or acknowledge but in truth his behavior was a replay of what he saw his father do to his mother.  Those carefully compartmentalized feelings about his father were being acting out unconsciously.  As his marriage fell apart so did his defenses and he now started to confront the reality of his choices, painful as it was.  He started to heal as he allowed himself to feel his pain and regret.  However, the presence of his father still loomed.

Emotional healing happens at different levels as you are able to access compacted areas of pain stored within.  It took a while for this client to get to this layer because his immediate need was processing the loss of his marriage.  As we began to explore the relationship with his father he realized he had been lying to himself since he was a child in order to protect himself from further disappointment.  His task now is to tell the truth and give himself permission to feel what he really feels about this primary relationship he long ago rejected.  This will open up possibilities to release previously unrecognized pain and to redefine his relationship with his father.  He most likely will still not get what he would like from his father but he will be able to relate to him and to himself differently.

You cannot find emotional freedom by simply pushing aside the experiences and parts of your life you don’t like or don’t want to face.  Freedom lies on the other side of your pain and fear about whatever it is that you have avoided.  Begin by looking in the mirror and being honest with yourself.  You don’t need to force anything, simply give yourself permission to feel what you feel.  As feelings get stirred within, notice yourself noticing them and be aware of how you choose how to respond to them.  As you become more aware and experience your own feelings you can choose to respond with compassion, forgiveness, and release, first to yourself and then also to the others who have hurt and disappointed you.  Then you can decide how to redefine these key relationships and integrate your experiences in new ways.


Intimacy and Beauty

Intimacy is created through sharing all of yourself with one you love.  There are many expressions of intimacy and we all have different levels of awareness and willingness to share who we are.   Some, maybe most of us have lost sight of the light and the beauty within and it feels as if we never really knew ourselves at all.  How can we reveal what we do not know?

 

I do not think, as one often hears, that we cannot love someone until we fully love ourselves or that we cannot create intimacy without fully knowing ourselves.  It is in honestly coming together with another admitting we don’t fully know and love ourselves that helps to reveal our essence.  Saying “I don’t know” is a position of honesty, humility, and vulnerability that allows learning and connection to take place.  Evolutionary growth is an interactive process between an organism and its environment.  We can help another grow and mature. We shape and influence one another for better or worse.

 

Yet we still must take full responsibility for our own development.  I have observed that women learn to hide their light and beauty from others and from themselves in particular ways.  Beauty is hidden because of fears, beliefs, and assumptions.  You are taught to believe that it is not okay to shine too brightly for fear of what others might think of you.  You have come to believe that you need to compete with others and so you compare and judge and often find yourself lacking.  So you hide your beauty in various ways; through negative emotions, through behaviors that keep you too busy, through excess focus on appearance, or through neglect of your bodies, minds, and souls.  Men, of course have the same struggles but it plays out in somewhat different ways, such as the quest for power, and accumulation of possessions that you hope will earn you respect and admiration.

 

Please spend some time reflecting on the following poem by Derek Walcott.  When you cultivate ways to feast on your life you will become full and find you have much greater depth to share with the one you love.

 

 

Love After Love

The time will come

when, with elation

you will greet yourself arriving

at your own door, in your own mirror

and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.

You will love again the stranger who was your self.

Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart

to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored

for another, who knows you by heart.

Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes;

peel your own image from the mirror.

Sit. Feast on your life.

Derek Walcott


Updates and Milestones

Updates and Milestones

  1. Some of you have been wondering how my son-in-law is doing.  I’m pleased to report that his third and final surgery to eliminate the need for an ileostomy bag was successful.  Now his body is in the process of recovering and learning how to properly digest food and eliminate waste again, which we are told may take a full year.   So the journey continues but we are grateful he now has a chance to regain full health and we are so thankful for all the various forms of support from so many people.  Thank you and please continue to send your powerful thoughts and prayers for full physical, financial, and emotional abundance.
  2. Today, March 20th, my wife and I celebrate our 37th wedding anniversary.  It is hard to believe how quickly time passes, especially as we get older.  We, like many of you, were young and naive when we got married and we didn’t know what we didn’t know.  We were just in love and wanted to be together.  So we set out to make a life together and found our way by literally growing up together.  As I describe in my Dynamic Marriage Map, this is the one relationship that forces you to confront your own developmental needs and at the same time offers the perfect context for growing forward as you grow up, individually and as a couple.  So I am sincerely grateful to my beautiful wife for being the love of my life and teaching me so much about myself, about her, and about life.
  3. I am putting the finishing touches on a brand new website that is designed to be a source of information and encouragement to couples around the world.  This is the website where I will now feature blog posts, products, and resources about healthy relationships.  Please check it out at www.reimaginemarriage.com and let me know what you think.  Also please tell me if you find any glitches in any of the systems.  I will keep you posted on additional developments or products as they are ready.

Milestones mark the stages, accomplishments, and struggles of life and often are a great reminder to celebrate the important moments of life.  Please feel free to share your own milestones with me and post your comments and questions on the website.  Thank you!

 


Loving the Messiness of Life

On the journey through life we all have the potential to be fully awake, alive, and learning how to be a complete adult.  It is a journey without a destination and our potential is never exhausted, yet we are compelled forward.

Some choose to simplify life as much as possible in order to reduce anxiety.  This may be done by choosing a particular belief system to explain the unexplainable and putting on blinders to anything that does not conform to thatview of life.  Others focus on control and live under the illusion that if they fret hard enough they can control and predict the course of their path.  Still others assume a strategy of appeasement and avoidance, taking a stance of perpetual immaturity.

Most of the clients I work with are choosing to learn to embrace the messiness of life and to respond with as much honesty as they can muster.  The path to maturity involves choosing to confront the dilemmas of life and recognizing that you have choices to make.  Many times the choices involve pain, but if they are made with integrity and respect for yourselfand others you grow forward.  Avoidance and staying in a comfort zone keeps you stuck, whereas working through anxiety causes growth.

Relationships are often the crucible, as they show us where we are stuck, how we are hiding, and present dilemmas to us.  When we are able to assume responsibility for our growth, learn to speak the truth in love, and stand on our own two feet, we move forward.  Sometimes your partner may not be ready for this or will resist and try to keep you in line through manipulation or avoidance.  You must allow your partner to move at his or her own pace and remember you have no control or responsibility for his or her growth.  All you can really do is move forward and invite your partner to join you on the journey.

Meditation:

Challenge your default ways of responding to the stress of life and relationships.  They are remnants of childhood and do not help you.  Seek instead to respond with patience, honesty, and openness to learning what this moment offers to teach you.  When you embrace the messiness of life it somehow seems a little better.  When you learn from each moment you grow forward.  Growing forward as an individual changes not only you but your relationship as well.


Strength at the source level

A man I am working with is going through a divorce and is experiencing deep emotional pain.  I gave him an assignment to find three key words that define how he wants to be right now.  He landed on one word in particular and that is the word “strong”.  We talked about what that word means, what is looks like, sounds like, and feels like.  I encouraged him to immerse himself in it, and shift his meditation from “I want to be strong” to “I am strong”.   This subtle shift changes the mindset and makes a declaration of what is and what he is living into.

Many times when we go through hard times we want to stop feeling the pain and sadness and fear.  To do this it is tempting to fall back on tricks we have learned to disconnect from ourselves, such as using alcohol, work, people, and busyness to distract ourselves.  We try to convince ourselves that it doesn’t really matter.  However, to tap into our deeper level of strength we need to be present to ourselves and honest with ourselves.  This is often painful but in the midst of that we find strength on a source level.  This is at your core emotional and spiritual self that is aware that you come from and are a part of a higher source.  At this level you know strength is present in your vulnerability.  Connecting with this source of strength gives hope in the experience of pain.

How, in reality do you access this strength?  I think it is different for each of us but there are some practical things you can do for yourself:

  • Allow yourself to feel what you feel
  • Be as honest with yourself as you can about what you are experiencing
  • Be honest with others you trust about what you are going through without demanding or expecting any particular response
  • Invite the presence of Love into all of it
  • Avoid external distractions or things you think will fix your feelings
  • Accept what is
  • Focus on moving forward with integrity rather than on what is past
  • Meditate on being the strength you seek