Improving Your Communication and Increasing Your Connection
When Jan and Andy came to see me for marriage counseling they were, like many couples, coming to me for different reasons. Jan wanted them to get out of the loveless rut they had been stuck in for several years. She wanted them to be in-love again and not just roommates. But Andy wanted out of the marriage and his goal in coming to me was to get help splitting up in the least painful way. He respected Jan and cared for her and did not want to hurt her more than he already had. But he had no interest in being romantic, affectionate, or “in-love”. He just wanted Jan to understand him and why it was best for them to separate. They had done a good job of raising their children who were now independent adults. After thirty-eight years of marriage, Randy wanted to live the rest of his life on his terms. He had moved out of the bedroom and was strongly inclined to move out of the house.
When a couple comes to see me I sometimes have different goals for their relationship than they do. If they have children, if they are not physically abusive, sexually unfaithful, or addicted to harmful substances or situations, then I strongly favor working to improve the relationship even if one or both partners think it is best to go their separate ways. But ethically I have to work with the couple’s goals.
In cases such as Jan and Andy’s, in which there are conflicting or different goals I have to work with the goals of whoever seems to have the least interest in continuing the relationship. And in Jan and Andy’s case I started with Andy’s desire to be understood by Jan.
As therapy progressed, several important things were happening in our sessions together and in Jan and Andy’s interactions at home that turned their relationship into a loving, affectionate, friendly and even passionate partnership with a secure and exciting future together. But Jan and Andy both identified one thing that helped them to turn the corner and reconnect as lovers. It was a simple communication exercise that I gave them. It is an exercise that I give to most of my couples and I want to give it to you.
It works for couples that are stuck in a rut and seemingly unaware of how to escape. It doesn’t matter if the rut is one of silence, meaningless small talk, or recurring conflict. This simple exercise, used several times per week for 10-20 minutes each time, will help a couple get out of the rut and into conversations that connect them as lovers.
The exercise consists of fifty-two questions that range from mildly personal to quite personal. The questions can be asked in any order and each of you can “pass” on any question you prefer not to answer. Take turns choosing and asking questions of each other. Whoever asks a question is the designated listener. When you are the listener, focus all of your attention on your partner, ignore your own thoughts and feelings, and respectfully paraphrase what your partner says until s/he is satisfied that you fully understand what s/he said.
What will happen is that you will open up your hearts and minds to each other and if you really listen to each other, two important aspects of intimately connecting with each other will grow. One, you will increase you acceptance, understanding and care for each other more, and, two, you will increase your sense that you can count on each other to listen, respect, and understand you.
1. If I told you that I secretly diverted $1,000,000 from the bank account of a large wealthy corporation ito the bank account of a charity that feeds starving children, what would your thoughts and feelings be?
2. Who is one of your favorite relatives and what do you like about that person?
3. In what ways would you like to be similar to any of your parents or grandparents?
4. What is one of your fondest memories of elementary school?
5. What has been one of your favorite vacations and what did you enjoy about it?
6. What do you enjoy about your daily work?
7. What is one of the best dates we have been on and what did you enjoy about it?
8. If you had twenty-four hours to spend $10,000 on tangible objects or services for yourself, what would you buy and why?
9. If you had to trade lives with anyone in the world for one month, who would it be and why?
10. What is one of your hopes or dreams for your future?
11. What do you think you would miss the most if we had to live in another country?
12. Who is one of your closest friends and what do you admire about that person?
13. What is an important quality that you have learned from our relationship?
14. In your opinion, what are the purposes of sex in marriage?
15. What do you hope people remember about you after you die?
16. What qualities does a person need to have in order for you to trust them?
17. Why do you think having children is an important part of life?
18. How do you want your life to be different in five years?
19. What was your parents’ relationship like when you were young?
20. How do our differences strengthen our relationship?
21. What advice do you think one of your siblings or parents need to receive and heed?
22. What do you like and dislike about the way your family of origin relates to each other?
23. What is one of the biggest risks you have taken and how has it worked out for you?
24. If you had to start your life over from any previous year, what would it be and why?
25. What do you recall about your earliest awareness of sex?
26. If your life has been a lesson what is something that you have learned?
27. When you were a child which one of your parents was easiest to talk to about personal feelings and what was is about that parent that made him/her easier to talk to?
28. How would you like our relationship to be different from your parents’ relationship?
29. How would you like me to comfort you when you are feeling hurt or sad?
30. How would you like me to respond to you when you are feeling angry at me?
31. What was a challenge that your parents had in their relationship and how did they deal with it?
32. How do you feel about getting very old?
33. How would you like for us to prepare for old age?
34. How do you think I feel when I cry around you?
35. How do you feel when I cry around you?
36. What is a challenge you are dealing with and how can I be more supportive to you?
37. How open do you want us to be with each other about our sexual relationship?
38. At what point in your life have you been closest to giving up?
39. How do you feel about the passing of your childhood innocence and idealism?
40. How would you like our sexual relationship to be better in one year?
41. What did you think were the attitudes of your parents about sex when you were growing up?
42. What personal shortcomings are you most interested in changing in yourself?
43. What hopes or dreams have you had the easiest time giving up in life?
44. What hopes or dreams have you had the hardest time giving up in life?
45. What hopes or dreams would you like to resurrect?
46. What do you suggest that I do to enjoy our relationship more?
47. What is something new that you would like to add to our relationship?
48. If you were to talk more openly with me about your thoughts and feelings, what is one thing that you might say?
49. How do you think our relationship would be affected if we had to give up sex for a year?
50. What do you recall about your earliest feelings of sexual arousal?
51. What topic would you like for us to discuss more openly?
52. What would you like for us to do so that we can feel more connected when we are apart?
How Do We Keep Marriage Fun Around the Home? Part 1
This question was posed on our Growinlove Facebook page at the beginning of February and the best idea was to receive $100. As you will see, from the following entries which are only three of the best submitted ideas, there is a great deal of wisdom and a great deal of variety.
Fun as part of our home life… Well it only took the first half of our marriage for me to figure out, “don’t sweat the small stuff!”, which is hard when you’re newly married and then add children. You want things “perfect”, uhh… not gonna happen!
I found and Von found, laughter is the best medicine. Things are gonna happen, you’re going to argue, but what’s more important?… getting the dishes and laundry done or snuggling up together watching a movie, remembering funny stories and just enjoying each other?
There are always going to be dirty dishes and dirty laundry, there won’t always be the two of you laughing and enjoying each other so take the time to love each other. That’s what we try to do on a daily basis. A quick kiss, a hug, a compliment. When you feel the love you don’t sweat the small stuff because you have so much bigger and better things to enjoy and look forward to.
Jodi’s observations are packed with the wisdom that she and her husband, Von, have accumulated over years of experience. It’s the kind of wisdom we wish had had from the beginning. It’s the kind of wisdom that other people might have tried to convey to us in words but that we could only gain through experience. From Jodi’s entry I get the following (and maybe you’ll get more):
- When she says, “it only took the first half of our marriage for me to figure out…”, she’s acknowledging that when we get married, we might have fallen in love, but we didn’t really know how to love.
- When she says, “for me to figure out”, it’s obvious that Jodi takes a lot of personal responsibility for the quality of the relationship, as opposed to blaming Von, her spouse, for the quality, or lack of quality, of the relationship. Real positive change in a relationship happens only when the partners take personal responsibility for growing in love and becoming the most loving people they can be.
- What Jodi figured out was, “don’t sweat the small stuff”, and don’t expect things to be perfect. “Small stuff” is inevitable and it conflicts with our wish that things could be perfect. That’s really frustrating and disappointing for us as we learn that, as much as we want our marriage and family life to be perfect, small stuff is going to get in the way. And add to that harsh reality the fact that our idea of perfect usually conflicts with our partner’s idea of perfect.
- Jodi and Von discovered that “laughter is the best medicine”. If you read Jodi’s and Von’s “Bingo Night” date idea, you might have gotten the impression that I got. Jodi and Von are fun people. They are naturals at having a good time, being playful, laughing and kidding around. Playful, light interaction and activity while tolerating disagreement or disagreeable circumstances, helps to affirm the fact that, as tough as things might get our marriages are still more important than whether or not the house is as clean as we want, or whether or not all the bills get paid on time.
- Jodi makes it clear that there is always going to be more work that needs to be done than can be done in a day and that there are always going to be disagreements. She also makes it clear that none of those things are as important as taking the time for a quick kiss (I actually recommend long kisses), a hug, and a compliment.
- Jodi also lays it out there. We won’t always have the opportunities to snuggle, to play, to show love and affection. Now is the time to do what is most important, to prioritize love over our fantasy of perfections, to accept personal responsibility for becoming more loving as individuals and for making our marriages the best that they can be by choosing to initiate and create loving situations.
“Small stuff” and disagreements are inevitable. They don’t preclude love and affection. By tolerating the small stuff and disagreements AND proactively initiating affectionate words and behaviors, we affirm the relationship, we affirm the importance of our partners, and we nurture and even create the feelings of love. Keeping the feelings of love alive and well, actually choosing to nurture feelings of love by initiating loving actions, makes life more enjoyable and helps us not to “sweat the small stuff”.
Occasionally, my wife flashes me. (What she flashes me is between her and me.) Sometimes it’s during one of those rare moments when we are the only ones in the room, occasionally it’s during an argument, and sometimes it’s after we’ve said our good-byes and I’m on the way out the door. I really love it. It reminds me of our sexual connection. It also gives me a nice visual to remember throughout the day.
Thank you, Gabriel for sharing that idea. You address such an important subject that so few people are willing to talk about. It’s hard enough for people to share ideas about their own experience with love and relationships, but to bring up something to do with sexual intimacy is even more difficult. You make some very important points in your observation.
- Sexual intimacy between a committed couple needs to remain alive and rich in order for their relationship to continue to grow. It certainly changes over time but that doesn’t mean it fades. It’s a myth, or perhaps a self-fulfilling prophesy, that sexual intimacy fades with aging.
- You appreciate that your wife enjoys being a sexual person. Unfortunately, too few women enjoy being sexual beings but only view sexual behavior as a duty, an obligation and one that they would actually prefer not to do.
- If she flashes you during an argument she’s saying something very profound. She’s saying ,”even though we disagree and I might not even like you right now, you are my lover, we will get past this disagreement by agreeing or agreeing to disagree, and you and I are more important as lovers than this disagreement is.” Actively disagreeing and simultaneously choosing to be loving is a great ability that few people develop without years of experience.
- You like that she is playful and spontaneous in her sexuality with you and that she initiates sexual behavior. When she initiates she shows that she appreciates you as “her man” and that she’s sexually attracted to you.
- It’s clear from your description that you enjoy sexual interplay between you and your wife and that you don’t require that every physically intimate affection lead to “going all the way”. Many more women would be more spontaneous and playful if they didn’t fear that they were obligating themselves to more than a momentary enjoyment of sexual chemistry.
Apparently your sex life is not something that is confined to an occasional ten-minute ritual that only occurs under limited circumstances, e.g., between the sheets, in the dark, man on top, etc. Instead, you and your wife enjoy your sexual connection in playful, spontaneous, unpredictable ways that don’t necessarily involve someone having an orgasm. An ongoing sense of sexual chemistry helps set our marriages apart from all other relationships (assuming we are sexually monogamous). We have other close friendships and family relationships that can be intensely close. But when sexual chemistry with our spouses is kept alive it keeps us connected and connecting in ways that are unique to our marriage.
For the marriage– Every day write one note, from “I love you”, “you have sexy eyes”, “our honeymoon”, “how you bite your lip to concentrate” etc. It can be written on a post it or sticky note or even just a small clean piece of scrap paper. Then the fun… Put each one in a pocket or somewhere in their clean clothing. When they wear that pair of pants, or shirt, or coat they will at some point in their day find it. What a nice surprise?! And its takes a second to do, PLUS if you do it every day you get in on the suspense as you wonder which outfit they will wear that day, which note will they find, when might they find it? It is fantastic!
Elizabeth obviously has fun being a loving partner.
- It’s clear that Elizabeth chooses to focus her attention on what she enjoys about her husband and their relationship. Love sometimes requires focus and attention to what we like and enjoy. Obviously, this implies that there are things that are better ignored. Several things are clear from Elizabeth’s suggestion.
- Elizabeth views love as something we do, and, something we do daily. Love is not simply a state of being we fell into and will remain in “happily ever after”.
- Elizabeth adores her husband and lets him know in tangible ways–even if the tangible ways are simply words on pieces of paper. She doesn’t just assume that he knows she loves him. She literally spells it out.
- She mentions specific things about him that show that she pays attention to him and what some of the things are that she specifically enjoys about him.
- She chooses to remember happy times between them. All couples have good and bad times that they can remember. Couples who choose to remember the good times and express pleasure about the good times tend to create more good times and good feelings.
- Elizabeth gets pleasure and has fun wondering what loving message her husband will discover.
Whether she meant to or not, Elizabeth said that love is a choice. It is a choice to focus attention on the positive about our spouses and our relationships, on what we adore and appreciate, and it is a choice to show that love and appreciation in ways that effectively convey it to our spouses.
“How do you keep marriage fun at home? Part 2"
Lisa Koch Garner
I have an idea for "keeping marriage fun at home" - put on some country music and do some line dancing together, then switch it up and put on some slow music and slow dance, then maybe some Latin music and salsa - have a dance night together. It’s a good way to stay active and a lot of fun! And if you or your spouse isn't the best dancer and doesn't like dancing in front of others - this is the perfect way to still get to dance with them and be close - without all the eyes on you!
Though very few couples are actually going to follow through on Lisa’s suggestion (because very few couples are as skilled and uninhibited as Lisa and her husband are), this is an excellent suggestion for multiple reasons—
- Dancing is fun, especially to music you enjoy.
- Dancing is physically active and consequently has many physical and emotional benefits.
- Dancing is a mating ritual. Such activity between Lisa and her husband involves playful, affectionate, and passionate physical contact.
- The activity is affordable provided you have the music and the means to play it.
- As Lisa points out, it’s in the privacy of their home. Neither of them has to worry about what other people think of them.
- Their dancing skill will inevitably improve and the two of them will enjoy dancing less selfconsciously in any setting.
Lisa’s suggestion reminds me of the song, “Wasted On the Way”, by Crosby, Stills and Nash. One particular line goes, “Oh, when you were young… did you envy all the dancers who had all the nerve?” How many opportunities to enjoy life do we miss because we don’t have the nerve? And then there’s Lea Ann Womack’s song, “I Hope You Dance” encouraging her daughters and any of us to have faith and live life more fully. All of us need to re-embrace the childlike playfulness and expressiveness we once had. With our spouses and in the privacy of our own homes is the best place to start.
Lisa J Campbell
An evening at home. Send the kids to friends for a few hours or better yet overnight. Plan a delicious meal for 2 or drinks and appetizers. Use the cozy places in your home to the greatest advantage. We build a fire in the fireplace, light candles, play music, maybe use the hot tub and, simply (key word here), share the time and space we have together. We remind ourselves of all we are grateful for and remember the best of times. Back rubs and foot rubs are always welcome.
It sounds like Lisa and her husband are pros at having fun and being “kids” together. Of course, as she points out, that sometimes requires that we, “send the kids to friends for a few hours or better yet overnight.” Getting out of parent-mode makes it easier to have fun as a couple. There is little more that needs to be said than what Lisa has said so I will simply list her ideas.
- Enjoy drinks, appetizers, or even a delicious meal together.
- Enjoy “cozy places in your home to the greatest advantage”.
- Build a fire in the fireplace
- Light candles
- Play music
- Hot tub
- “Remind ourselves of all we are grateful for and remember the best of times.”
- Back rubs and foot rubs.
Gratitude is a choice. It is a choice to turn our attention toward what we appreciate versus what we don’t like. It’s a vital element in enjoyment of life. Marriage and family theorists have observed that couples that choose to remember the good times, and, couples that have fun together are the happiest. It appears that Lisa and her husband are very happily married.
We came up with a system of using index cards. We each had two "decks". One was for basic activities we wanted to do together and the other was for intimate/sexual things we want. It helps remove shyness or fear of rejection because you write down what you want in privacy. It was also very educational to find out that when I said "romantic", that he and I had very different pictures in mind! We then used them in a variety of ways. For instance, a few days before date night, I'd pick one from his deck of cards and try to make it happen. Then the next week, he would do the same for me. If we had a special night set aside to be more intimate, we could do the same thing with the other decks. A few times, we played gin rummy and when one of us lost a hand, then they picked a card from the other person's deck. We never got through more than three hands of rummy. 8^).
Basic rules: it has to be specific - you can't say something like "be romantic", you have to say "light candles and put on soft music". It also has to be positive, you can't say "we never go out" but you can say "take me out to hear live music". It has to be possible, generally within your budget, and something you do together.
Betty’s idea of literally spelling out what you want is profound for individuals and for couples. Most people are more aware of what they don’t want than what they do want. And ironically, most people expect their spouses to know what they want without having to “spell it out”. Not knowing what you want, or, expecting your spouse to know what you want without expressing it is, of course, a recipe for boredom, frustration, and resentment.
This idea requires some thought and some time but there is very little that could do more to improve your ability to enjoy life together than to literally spell out on cards or on a list what you want. And I can imagine that Betty and her husband occasionally add to their decks as new ideas occur to them. To have such clarity about what you and your spouse want is crucial to making it happen.
Obviously, choosing one of these excellent submissions as the best will be difficult!
"Top Four Contenders for Best Date Idea"This month, since it's the month of Valentines Day, romance, etc., we at the Growinlove Facebook Page offered $100 for the best date idea. Falling in love is easy, it's almost automatic; growing in love requires more of a conscious decision and, at times, somewhat of a creative one. People who are obviously skilled at keeping their love growing submitted some excellent ideas.. Here are the top contenders. Click on the link just below this line to see four distinctly different yet effective dates.
"Twenty-five Elements of a Good Date"The most important event in a couple's week is their weekly date. Depending upon how you approach it, a date can be an event that helps a couple remember why they fell in love, create new memories, feel more in-love, and have fun. Or, a "date" can be little more than going through the motions to fulfill an obligation. Click the link just below this line to read "Twenty-five Elements of a Good Date".
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