Category Archives: Relationships

Dating, relating, cohabiting, marriage and divorce. Includes tips for creating and maintaining healthy intimate relationships.

Real Men Hate the Word Love

Happy young couple playing in hotel room while laying on bed in

Have you ever noticed that I talk about relationships all day long and I only rarely mention love? And when I do, it is usually to caution that it is a delusion intertwined with sexual attraction. Or, I remind you that love is a verb, not a noun. An action word. Not a state of being. Long term love is an intellectual commitment, I say.

Could I sound any more unromantic?

Hey, and speaking of romance, I normally dismiss flowers, chocolate, fine wine, and high heels as  simple accoutrements to delusion. I should also tell you that my “brainy” ideas about love have garnered me a group of male readers who say, “finally a woman who gets it.” Men do love to make rational sense of things that are so irrational. And men love to hate the word love. It feels weak to think feelings for a woman might disempower them.

But do I really get it?

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I certainly have some textbook notions about how biology and psychology get all tangled up and sometimes make people do things they shouldn’t be doing. Running off with a paramour when a perfectly good spouse is right in front of you. Staying with an abusive spouse because of love. Jumping into bed with a Casanova because you will be the one to change him. Thinking that a loss of sexual energy is a loss of love. And, my favorite transgression of love’s delusion: Dragging children through our delusions.

Could love really be that dangerous? Must it always involve some form of heartbreak, dysfunction, boredom, loss, or even violence? And if that is the case, why do we march right back into the fire when we should know better?

I have some of the answers. But only some.

Psychologists would say that love is a seeking out of early womb experiences and infantile bliss. A baby’s play and cuddling becomes an adult sex life. Parts of our brain consider a lover a kind of mother, a nurturer, a protector, even an executor of boundaries. We feel safe and cared for in a love relationship.

We do it, that is, fall in love because it is the single best chemical high in our lifespan. At least, the best high that both genders can experience. We women, also get to do childbirth, which is pretty darn close to experiencing heaven and hell at the same time. But love is different. It is shared with an adult.

Both genders can experience love together. Love. An unconscious handshake between too souls who agree there is more to this world than work, play, and food.  It is an exchange of mutual projections that when executed well, is better than any Academy Award winning movie. Love may be a delusion but it is one of the best ones we have. And sometimes it’s all we have. With so many people losing faith in old religions, I wonder if love is becoming our new religion. And what is faith after all? Merely a belief in something that we have little scientific proof of. I would venture to say that we have far more proof of love’s power than many religions do in their folklore. The selfless acts of love that happen every day are real, observable, and can bring us to our knees in awe of the God-like powers within humans.

Now I will really go out on a limb and say that Love (look, I’m using a cap now!) can feel like a spiritual experience. All we can hope for, is that each new love relationship will bring us different challenges. We hope that as we grow we will not become trapped in familiar, unhealthy patterns that get us stuck. Delusion or not, love is something we should all sign up for. It’s an antidote to fear, horrific TV news, sickness, and other suffering. Love is the answer. And when life gets us down, when we feel, shame, loneliness, victimized, pressured, indecisive, or angry, love is the only choice that will work every single time. It won’t always have an instant result and it won’t always come back directly to us with the precision of a ping pong ball, but a loving act will change our biology and change the world. One selfless act at a time. Don’t fear love, nor waste it thoughtlessly. It is the biggest gift you will ever receive. Ya listening guys?

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How Do You Respond To Your Spouse?

Couple Fights in Bed

I like to say that relationships are more often about the elephant in the living room than the tiger in the bedroom. That elephant can be ignored all day long, but he’s still in the living room. And his name is emotional intimacy. But couples indirectly do talk about the elephant all day long in metaphors, gestures, touch and facial expressions — round about ways of asking for love.

Drs. John and Julie Schwartz Gottman, marriage researchers and therapists would probably agree with me. Their ground breaking work on couples communication styles and partner’s bids for connection shows that long term marital happiness can be connected to the husband’s ability to respond to his wife’s bids for closeness. In recording data from an “apartment” laboratory, psychologist Gottman discovered that mundane conversations contain many bids for emotional connection — sometimes as many as 100 bids in ten minutes. “These bids can be a question, a look, an affectionate touch on the arm or any single expression that says, “I want to feel connected to you,” says Gottman. “A response to a bid can be a turn toward, away or against someone’s request for emotional connection.”

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For example, consider a man who comes home from work and his wife says, “How was your day?” There are many ways to pose the question that run the gamut from sarcastic “How was YOUR day (implying that hers was worse) to a sweet, earnest inquiry to know more about a lover. And there are many ways to respond. From a curt “Fine,” to a “Great, honey! How was yours?” Add to that simple exchange, body language, facial expression and physical touch, and you can see that couples, even when they are saying nothing, are often saying a lot.

And an ability to turn toward or away from a request can even predict divorce. Research from Gottman’s apartment lab showed that husbands who eventually were divorced ignored the bids from their wives 82 percent of the time compared to 19 percent for men in stable marriages. Women who later divorced ignored their husband’s bids 50 percent of the time while those who remained married only disregarded 14 percent of their husband’s bids.

In the lab and in the therapy room, Dr. Gottman has discovered that many people are emotionally aware, that they lack emotional literacy in being able to read the emotional message in facial expressions or voice tone. And this handicap leads the other partner to feel rejected. The good news is that Gottman believes these skills can be learned, and even couples on the brink can find ways back into love.

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Get the love life you deserve in my new online workshop, 10 Secrets of Mindful Relationships! I’m excited to share the steps you need to incorporate mindfulness in your current or future relationships. Sign up now on popexpert.com: http://bit.ly/1GOwq3v

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How to Criticize and be Heard

criticize_and_be_heard_pm-thumb-270x270There it is. That giant silence between you and your partner. You know you want to tell him what’s bugging you. But will he tune you out, respond with a wall of defenses, or might you actually be heard?

Criticizing in a healthy way is a delicate business. It’s so easy for the recipient of your “gentle shaping” to perceive it as an attack, and shoot back with a strong defense before the full value of the words sink in. It’s also really hard for the communicator of a criticism to use kind enough language. Too often, our criticisms come in the form of an angry explosion after a buildup of irritation. Or, perhaps you have been taught not to express your needs, so that when you finally do, guilty feelings cause a kind of confrontational tone — as if you are trying to convince yourself that it’s okay to criticize.

Continue reading How to Criticize and be Heard

The Art of Forgiveness

women_sex_11161There’s no way around it, when someone has wronged us, it hurts. It often hurts a lot for a very long time. The injury could be minor, though profound, like a betrayal by a friend, or it could be major, like a physical assault. The point of the saying is that, no matter the injury, we can’t truly move on until we learn to forgive. And that’s a very tough walk. Here are a few thoughts on the art of forgiveness and how we can all learn to cultivate it.

First of all, think of forgiveness as a gift to yourself, not a gift to your offender. When a deep injury is done to us, we’ll never recover until we forgive. It is a way to clear a blockage in our minds and move forward with new knowledge and new growth. We are a more evolved person after we forgive, and that’s our gift to ourselves.

Forgiveness requires empathy. It is essential that you begin the forgiveness process by putting yourself in the shoes of your offender. Imagine that pain and fear are behind his or her anger. Imagine a small child inside your enemy who is as confused as you are about the injury. Imagine what it must feel like to walk with the guilt of having hurt someone. It doesn’t matter if your offender will ever actually get to the conscious place of feeling guilt and remorse. He or she need not seek your forgiveness in order for you to have a transformation. This process is about you. But it is helpful to come up with some explanation for your offender’s heinous action that feels rational to you. This is your mental journey. So, whether you imagine their bad childhood, their feelings of racial or gender persecution, or their feelings of envy toward you, find a reason for their bad behavior.

 

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Now, from that place of understanding, make a conscious decision to forgive that person. Create a private action that supports your decision. Write an unsent letter to them, light a candle and say a prayer in their name, or simply stick a post-it on your bathroom mirror that says “I forgive (insert name) I have feelings of love for (insert name).” This is a secret act but it’s a powerful action for brain change. For a few weeks, return daily to these private actions of forgiveness. Reread that letter. Relight that candle. Say the words on the post-it out loud. This is a way to rewire your brain.

The biggest step toward forgiveness is to express it to your offender. Whether you do it in an email (easiest) on the phone or in person (best, if possible) it must be done so that you can move on. And the tricky part of forgiveness is this: to express forgiveness without expressing blame. Your words should focus on your own feelings of hurt rather than the act that caused the injury. So, instead of saying, “I forgive you for stealing from me, you jerk,” you might say something like, “I felt so betrayed when I lost that money. But now I am letting go of those feelings. I want the best for you.” This is your journey and this higher level communication will speak to the highest level of your offender’s personality.

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And, be reminded that forgiveness in not a magic trick to change someone else. Even if you change, the other person may not. And that’s okay. And finally, know that forgiveness takes maintenance. During future life stresses, old feelings about this injury may bubble up again. Each time they do, quietly walk those feelings back to bed with the same techniques. Eventually enough time will pass that those memories will lose their emotional punch. Forgiveness is the most mentally freeing experience. I encourage you to try it.

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How to Make Your Relationship Happier

Research has led some couples astray. Couple Fights in BedIn plenty of studies, couples who are happier also have more sex. Knowing that finding, it would make sense that having more sex should lead to increased feelings of happiness. But it turns out that having sex specifically to improve feelings of well being in a relationship more often back fires. Instead unhappy couples were left feeling tired and less interested in sex.

The truth is, happy people have more sex, and if you want to know how to make your relationship happier, there are many factors, unrelated to the bedroom, that can help. To name a few:

• A firm work/life boundary (cell phones off at home)

• Regular exercise (love those endorphins)

• Less isolation (more friends and family at the table)

• Music

But are there things that science tells us couple can clearly do more of to increase relationship satisfaction? Turns out there are two big ones: Frequent kissing and hugs of long duration. Surprisingly, frequency of kissing is linked to better relationships even more than frequency of sex. And, long bear hugs, the kind where bodies melt into each other, seem to help us release a dopamine in the brain.

So, if you’re relationship is in the doldrums, forget about high-pressured sex. Instead, turn off technology, and snuggle together for a cozy hug.

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