intimacy in marriage

How would you define intimacy in marriage? Friendship? Connection? Spiritual closeness? Sex? All true. All good things. And yet…I think I can define it simply.

Intimacy is knowing.

A facebook friend posted a comment recently that made me smile. She was bragging on her husband for buying her lavender and vanilla scented trashbags. She went on to say that it may not seem like a big deal, but that he knows her. And it feels good to be known.

Ah yes, it feels good to be known.

Sadly, I would argue that this seems to be one of the fundamental things missing from so many marriages. Couples barely like each other, let alone take the time to know one another.

What turns her on? Makes him laugh? What is stressing him out right now? Who are her best friends? How does she act when she’s nervous? Lonely? Hungry? What was his childhood like? Her biggest fear?How often do we take the time to enter each other’s worlds? To really know each other with our bodies? To really see each other? How often do we say the words, “what can I do to help?”

Unfortunately, many men and women don’t experience this kind of intimacy in marriage.

So then we begin to withhold our love from each other. We don’t offer because we feel we aren’t receiving. Our unmet needs and hurt feelings leave us violated, sad, and vulnerable to more pain. So we use anger as a defense to protect ourselves.

Anger can take many forms: impatience, a quick temper, depression, jealousy, or suspicion. Or passive aggressive forms: procrastination, silence, sarcasm, or avoidance. Our unmet needs make us feel fearful and rejected. The fear can take several forms: perfectionism, control and addictions (from the book, Intimate Encounters).

“What’s on the inside is what comes out when we’re squeezed.” – Dave Lewis

Steps toward healing and greater intimacy:

  1. Accept responsibility for your part in causing the hurts as well as your part in the healing.
  2. Show understanding. Your partner feels hurt. Do you care?
  3. Confess and repent. If you are a Christian this means agreeing with God. What does God say about being selfish, critical, dishonest, disrespectful, etc.?
  4. Talk to each other! Reconnect. Seek to know each other. This often requires making sacrifices to have time together, taking time to check in, and being honest about your feelings.

Ultimately, healthy couples will fight. They will get their feelings hurt. They will take out frustration on each other. I believe that a couple is in a good place when they can give each other the benefit of the doubt and seek to build each other up. I want couples to be in a relationship that is safe enough for both partners to feel free enough to be “naked and unashamed.”

So that they can be known, because it feels good to be known.

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friendship matters

The other day I received an unexpected gift in the mail: the October issue of “Psychology Today”! There are several wonderful articles in the issue, but the highlighted article is called, “Life Lessons: 5 Truths People Learn too late” by Elizabeth Svoboda. And one of the truths in particular really hit home. Thus, the purpose of this post: I want you to know the truth because I think you might need to hear it as much as I did. So, without further ado…here it is:

“Lesson #4: Social Networks Matter: The strength of your friends is as critical for your health as the lifestyle choices you make.”

The highlights you don’t want to miss:

  • The higher the quantity and quality of your relationships, the longer you live.
  • People with active social lives were 50 percent less likely to die of any cause than their nonsocial counterparts.
  • Low levels of social interaction have the same negative effects as smoking 15 cigarettes day– and even worse effects than being obese or not exercising (from study by Julianne Holt-Lunstad of Brigham Young University).
  • The more social connections you have, the greater your ability to fight infection (from study by Sheldon Cohen of Carnegie Mellon University)

The takeaway?: “Stress has potentially negative effects on health and well-being, but knowing your friends have your back can prevent such fallout” (Cohen).

 

my dear friend Dana with our babies!

Wow! I knew supportive friendships were important, but I didn’t realize just how much! Here’s to reaching out, making time, and enjoying a friendship today!

To read the full article (and the other 4 life lessons!) click the following link: http://www.psychologytoday.com/collections/201209/life-lessons/lessons-loving

 

affair prevention

I tell my clients, “Affairs don’t begin in bed.” What I mean is this: there are often a series of poor boundaries and bad choices that happen long before the affair. They are preventable and here’s how:

  1. Realize that you are capable of having an affair. We all are. You need to realize this or else you will not enforce boundaries like you should. I hear this a lot, “I never thought I would do something like this.” And we never do. Good people do bad things. all. the. time. You are not immune.
  2. Talk to your spouse. Are you unhappy in your marriage? Feel as though something is missing? Angry? You are vulnerable to making decisions based on your (conscious or unconscious) desire to fill that missing piece and be happy. If talking doesn’t work, try counseling! Ignoring a problem will not make it go away. In fact, it will most likely get worse.
  3. Get healthy. If you have an untreated addiction or mental illness (particularly bi-polar disorder), please seek treatment. You are more vulnerable to having an affair.
  4. Set clear boundaries. Decide with your spouse what is acceptable behavior with the opposite sex. I can’t make my clients be as conservative as I am in my own marriage with this, but I have one rule that I am adamant about: do not complain about your partner with someone of the opposite sex. In fact, be very wary of who you complain about your partner with in general. Choose one or two trustworthy friends of the same sex when you need to vent on occasion. Also, use facebook wisely. I don’t think you need to be friends with the “one who got away.” Block the person or get rid of your account if you are struggling with this. I have seen too many affairs begin on facebook. Not worth it!
  5. Be accountable. You will feel attraction to someone other than your spouse at some point. That is normal. What is not ok is keeping this a secret (although you do not need to tell your spouse about this unless you have acted on the attraction). Hiding things and trying to push them down has a way of making them get bigger. Find that trustworthy same sex friend and say something like this: “there’s just something about him /her that I find attractive. I will have extra boundaries with this person and if it continues to grow I will remove this person from my life to protect my marriage and family.”
  6. Learn about love. Love is a choice. You will always feel something is missing if you believe love is the same thing as the “in love feeling.” Hollywood and fairy tales set us up to believe that love is always supposed to be exciting, easy and make us happy (affairs are exciting…that is much of the draw). See my blog on love for more about this.

If this blog is too late, please know that I have seen grace and forgiveness in sessions with clients. It will not be an easy road, but there is hope and healing is possible. I hope you’ll seek wise counsel and begin the process, friend. You are not alone.

practical ways to reconnect

Check out my last post on how to know if you and your spouse are friends.

As promised, here are some practical ways to reconnect with some examples from my own marriage:

1.   Talk! 

And by talk, I mean about more than scheduling and the kids. Try the rose and thorn game at dinner. Share one disappointing or difficult part of your day and one positive or pleasant part of your day. This is great for the whole family.

— Josh and I make it a point to talk for at least 15-30 minutes a day sans baby and TV.

It’s also important to continue learning about and getting to know each other on a deeper level. Here are a few questions you might try to get the ball rolling:

  • Would you keep working if we won the lottery? Why or why not? If not, what would you do instead?
  • What are the top 3 places in the world you’d like to visit? Why?
  •  What is your hope for our marriage in 5 years? 10? 20?
  •  When we met, I first noticed…What did you first notice about me? What were you thinking when we first met?
  •  I am attracted to your…(this can be a nice mix of physical and emotional qualities). What qualities do you admire about me? 

**note: you will most likely feel a little silly at the start of these conversations, but stick with it! You will hopefully feel more known, loved, and appreciated afterward!**

2.    Do stuff together. Anything! It can be a shared hobby or something mundane, like grocery shopping. If you are a person of faith, worship and pray together!

—  Josh and I try to do our grocery shopping and cooking together, if possible. We also have a few shows that we both like to watch together (DVR, you are the best invention of all time!) It’s so simple, but this is one of the highlights of my day!

3.    Notice how hard your spouse works. And thank him/her. A lot.

4.    Act like a team. You are on the same side! Support and encourage each other! Tackle your marital, financial, discipline, kid problems together!

5.    Touch and kiss without it leading to sex every time.

6.    Have sex. Decide together a reasonable goal and try (aka schedule it, if you have to!) to meet it.

7.    Make your marriage a priority. If this list sounds too hard…resolve to do something about it.

“Action expresses priorities.” -Ghandi 

What do you and your spouse do to stay connected?

are you friends?

My last post was about the secret to a happy marriage. If you read it, you learned that it’s a deep friendship based on mutual respect and honor!

You know that your positive feelings about your partner outweigh the negative ones when:

  1. You want to spend time together.
  2. You want to share your hopes, dreams, and secrets with your partner.
  3. You treat your partner with respect.
  4. You do not intentionally embarrass your partner.
  5. In the middle of a fight, one of you can do something silly and make the other one laugh or smile.
  6. You are able to recover after a fight.
  7. You do not have feelings of contempt or disgust in your partner (note: actions can disgust you, I’m referring to disgust in who your partner is).
  8. You usually are able to give the benefit of the doubt.
    1. You know that he or she didn’t hurt you intentionally.
    2. You give your partner a chance to explain before you assume the worst.
I do not pretend that any marriage is perfect. A marriage is made up of two imperfect human beings. I’m only suggesting that even when mistakes are made, couples who share a deep friendship are able to recover from those mistakes (like hurt feelings, disrespect, etc.) and continue feeling positively about each other.

Stay tuned for my next post on practical ways to reconnect with examples from my own marriage!

the secret to a happy marriage

Ok, the moment you’ve all been waiting for… you suffered through reading alarming divorce stats. And why most marriage therapy fails. Now, you are ready for the secret.

And here it is: happily married couples share a deep friendship. This means they enjoy each other’s company and share a mutual respect for one another. They like each other.  In other words, their positive thoughts about each other override and outweigh their negative ones.

“In the strongest marriages, husband and wife share a deep sense of meaning. They don’t just “get along”– they also support each other’s hopes and aspirations and build a sense of purpose into their lives together” (Gottman, p.23).

Does this sound like your marriage? If it does, awesome! Keep on doing the things that keep you close and feeling mostly positive about each other!

If it doesn’t sound like your marriage, I pray you’ll consider doing something about it. Now, it doesn’t have to be therapy (although I’m sure you have picked up on my not-so-subtle hints that good therapy can help). It can also be through a group, classes, and workshops or even reading this book (the “Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work” by John Gottman) together.

Life is hard. Raising a family is even harder. And it’s just a darn shame when you and your partner don’t feel like much of a team. The good news is, there are a lot of resources out there that can help. Let me know if you’d like help finding them.

I wish you blessings in your journey, friend. Good luck!

why most marriage therapy fails

I introduced my favorite marriage book, “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work” in my last post. I love this book because it’s based on scientific research. There are a million and one books on marriage and some are very good, but very few are based on actual empirical data.

I'm really enjoying reading this book again!

There are many reasons why marriage therapy often fails. I won’t bore you with a long list since I’m ultimately trying to make a point: I believe that good marriage therapy can work.

What often goes wrong is that therapists can get caught up in each individual fight and ends up refereeing this week’s drama. So, they teach communication and conflict resolution. You learn active listening techniques (nothing wrong with teaching it, it can be a helpful tool). BUT, successful conflict resolution isn’t enough to keep a marriage together. Communication is not the secret to a blissful union (gasp!). Believe it or not, happily married couples can have screaming matches (Gottman, p.11).

So, what is the secret to a happy marriage?

the state of the {marital} union

Summarized from “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work” by John Gottman:

  1. The chance of a first marriage ending in divorce over a 40 year period is 67%.
  2. Half of all divorces happen in the first 7 years.
  3. Some studies say that the divorce rate for second marriages is 10% higher than first marriages.

Yikes. With this in mind, I tend to agree with Gottman when he says,

“The chance of getting divorced remains so high that it makes sense for all married people – including those who are currently satisfied with their relationship – to put extra effort into their marriages to keep them strong” (Gottman, p. 4).

People who are happily married live longer, healthier lives than either divorced people or those who are unhappily married.

I’m sure that these statistics are not new to you, and yet…I would argue that our marriages tend to be what we neglect more than anything else. What do you think?

stay tuned for my next post on why most marriage therapy fails!