Archive for May, 2013

 A36W5JHave you ever found yourself in a fight with your spouse or significant other that was spinning out of control, and  you had no idea how to come back from it? Did you listen aghast as you each held on to your points so doggedly that you didn’t even sound rational anymore?  Perhaps the fight didn’t involve anything that truly mattered to you, but you had taken a stand and you’d be damned if you would “lose” the fight? All to often in these situations, we find ourselves unable to back down even when we want to. And now you must be wondering how to stop insane cycles like this, and just find a way to go back to being the loving, connected couple that you really are?

Well, here is a simple five step process Chris and I developed when we found ourselves getting caught in these crazy patterns that seem to have no purpose but to destroy the intimacy we work so hard to build.

1. Breathe. Seriously, stop and take a deep breath, or three. When people are upset they tend to hold their breath or breathe very shallowly. The lack of oxygen makes it harder to think straight and to get out of the fight or flight mode. You need to be able to think clearly in this moment.

2. Remind yourself that you love this person and that you want to spend the rest of your life with them. Say this first in your own mind and then repeat it out loud if possible. Don’t worry if your voice sounds tense or angry, or if you don’t feel emotionally connected to the statement. That doesn’t make it false. By reaffirming this intention to yourself and to your significant other you begin to shift from being adversaries to being partners again.

3. Ask yourself how you would feel if this were the last conversation you ever had with this person. If the action in step two wasn’t enough to bring you back to reality, this step usually is. For most people when they take this step any hardness or anger that is encasing their heart just crumbles and falls away and all they want is to make things right again. This opening gives you the chance to change the direction that you were heading in that moment.

4. Change your physical position. If you are sitting down stand up and move around. If you are already standing and moving go into a different room and sit down close enough to touch. This is a really important part of the process because we find that when people are arguing they may literally become “entrenched” in their positions. This is a form of state anchoring that we teach more about in our workshops but for now just try it out and see for yourself. Whenever you radically change your position, you change the way you are feeling. Once you have changed positions, and have found a place where you can be comfortable and close to each other move on to the last step.

5. Take turns telling each other what you are grateful for in the other person. Do this step one at a time alternating with a single statement each. Don’t stop until the internal feeling has completely changed for both parties involved into one of intense love. If you are having trouble with this step revisit steps 2 & 3. Remember you can name small things if that is all you can think of at first. One person we work with sometimes just starts with how grateful she is for her husband’s big shoulders and dark hair. Whether it’s something deep and emotional, a simple physical attribute, or a habit we find cute, be sincere and you are bound to learn something new in this step. Experiencing gratitude for each other in both big and small ways will always be a source of authentic, lasting connection.

In most cases disagreements don’t need to be settled in the very moment that the couple finds themselves fighting. Now that you have regained your balance and reaffirmed your connection and commitment to each other, you can take a break from the topic that was causing the controversy. Only revisit it when you are both able to be in a more resourceful state and when you do keep the feeling of gratitude for the other person foremost in your awareness.

Invest in your relationship by learning different techniques for handling disagreements that allow you to stay connected as a couple. And remember this is the person you want to spend the rest of your life with, treat them that way!

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I recently had a friend forward a very thought-provoking article; its stated aim was to increase the intimacy in a relationship. Naturally, I embrace such a goal, though having read it, I remain pretty skeptical as to whether its approach could accomplish anything of the sort. The notion was that a period of abstinence will allow a couple to get to know each other without the pressure of sexual intimacy. Now, many will think that is a good idea early on in a relationship but she was proposing this within the context of an established marriage. Now, our friend was actually more interested in what I thought of the idea of levels of intimacy, but this concept of withholding physical affection from a spouse, with a goal of increasing the emotional closeness in the relationship was really disturbing to me. Admittedly, the author of the other article didn’t drop it on the reader that abruptly, instead she put forth a rather interesting argument that seemed to be her own interpretation of the book The Seven Levels of Intimacy by Matthew Kelly.

The argument went something like this:

Science says that there are 5 levels of intimacy. Science also identifies hormones that foster attachment that are released during sex. God created these hormones to bond the family together. A relationship progresses through these levels of intimacy like a person on a ladder or stairway, moving from one level to the next. When you have sex outside of marriage you have gone against the divine plan that was put in place to help you and so you become stuck at whatever level of intimacy you were in when you had sex together the first time, and you will remain stuck there for the rest of your lives. This is the reason, so the argument claimed, that relationships have problems and people don’t continue to feel connected to their spouse. The only solution therefor is to stop having sex and progress through the levels of intimacy as God wanted you to.

Without any judgment of her, ours, or your spirituality, and what these may entail, there are some fundamental challenges with the above approach.

First, it would seem to be a perversion of the Matthew Kelly’s work. She doesn’t credit Kelly with the idea, and she reworks the levels to fit her definitions and structure (5 instead of 7, etc). This article had an agenda that was plainly stated at the outset, to prevent sex outside of Christian marriage. It is after all the author’s life work, and she has a right to pursue her beliefs. But this is a case of one person’s map being mistaken for the territory.

When a couple has sex is best left for the couple to decide based on their own needs, values, and beliefs. It is much more important that these things be compatible and that the couple is committed to meeting each other’s needs then the timing of their first sexual experience together. The old adage, “When it’s right, it’s right…” seems apt.

It should be noted that abstinence is a method the author herself has used to reconnect in her own marriage, and it’s good to hear she found something that worked for her! As she describes why she felt this was a good option for her, she identifies feeling put-off by sex and loss of desire for sexual contact with her husband because as she believes they had sex too soon. Interestingly, she also identified within herself issues that she had about men and sex. She took a period of time where she and her husband didn’t have sex and addressed her own inability to open up to her husband and heal from these past hurts.

She then did what many people do and mistook her personal map for the territory (that is, “If it is true for me then it is true for everyone”). She is dismissive about the “lower levels of intimacy” saying that she would avoid “true intimacy” by keeping conversations superficial, confined to things like bills and how the kids were doing in school. Further, on her intimacy scale, beliefs and values are mid-level intimacy and personal needs the deepest level of intimacy.

In NLP, we consider beliefs and values to be among the biggest, most powerful motivators for people. These are the things that are huge drivers that influence our entire lives, and these are things that take a great deal of effort to affect. This is identity level stuff, and there isn’t anything more intimate than that. Needs (particularly physical needs) are transitory, based mostly on circumstances that are happening in the moment. They change constantly and can be influenced by a myriad of things. Further, in one of the most important psychological breakthroughs in history (Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs) we are told that physical needs are the lowest most basic level of our development and that without that being addressed we cannot progress successfully.

Chris and I have talked about this extensively since I received the article and we agree that needs within a relationship are organized in a similar way. In this they should be addressed in conversation very early on in a relationship. The reason for this is that if the person that you are attempting to build a relationship with has conflicting needs, or conflicting values and beliefs, then it is best to discover that as soon as possible. Additionally, it is important to recognize that every intimate relationship cycles through all of the levels of communication on a regular basis. This is important and necessary for the relationship to function and for what we have termed the Relationship Map™ to be updated.

Deepening levels of intimacy have a direct correlation to deepening levels of commitment. It perhaps isn’t always going to be the popular answer, but it is simply true. The more certain you are that a person is with you no matter what, the more of your authentic self you will expose to them. When and how that happens is unique to the couple. And different parts of you become certain at different points in the relationship. Withholding physical intimacy from a partner rarely will have the effect that this article describes.

The exception is in a situation where one partner has a specific issue with sex (like past abuse) and is actively working on it with a professional. Then in love and with an eye to the long term well being of this person that they are committed to for life, the other partner may agree to abstain from sexual relations for a time while the first partner heals. But, in general to use abstinence as a tool to increase intimacy runs counter to everything we know about the way people function and what makes healthy, happy relationships.

We suggest that abstinence will not in fact make the heart grow fonder. It will freeze the organic and loving development of your relationship, robbing it of the hormonal tide that compels us to pull together, to love, to commit, and to face challenges with passion and resolve.

Without it, we are roommates and intimacy vanishes.

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