Five Steps to Intimacy: Creating Yours, Mine and Ours

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Do you ever think relationships would be easy if the other person was like you? We may not actually say that but often we act like it, especially when our partner is excited about something that we have absolutely no interest in.

When this happens we must choose a response.

  1. Act like we enjoy it: (ie. Fake it)
  2. Decline to participate: (ignore it)
  3. Negotiate for something you want:  (Leverage it) This becomes a “tit for tat” arrangement, something like saying, “if you’ll see the latest superhero movie with me I’ll go shopping for shoes with you.”

So how are these solutions working? Not so good ugh?

This is why …

1. Act like you enjoy it:

The first solution of acting like we enjoy it doesn’t work … unless we’re going for sympathy. This is because everyone knows how much you are hating what you’re doing and you’re probably so unhappy that they’re probably wishing you just said no to it in the first place. If that’s what you're going for you’d be better off just saying no. Which leads us to the second option.

2. Decline to participate:

So you’ve successfully avoided the hated activity but now you’ve got another problem. You’re missing out on something your partner is passionate about. Why is this a problem? I have found that it is one of the major complaints of that troubled relationships I work with because if you can’t appreciate the things that your partner loves it is very hard to convince them that you appreciate them. That’s right, the things we love are intricately tied to us so that if you are rejecting the things your partner loves they see this as a de facto rejection of them. John Gottman the renown research Psychologist has found that developing a culture of appreciation for your partner's interests and activities is fundamental to maintaining a good marriage.

3. Negociate

Now I hear you saying, “isn’t this just creating a good compromise?” Yes, I believe in compromise, in fact, compromise is at the core of being able to deal with perpetual conflict. In many cases, we need to compromise in order to maintain a healthy balance in a relationship. But if we ever find ourselves creating a relationship based upon, “if you do _______ then I will do ________” then we are headed for real problems. This is because healthy relationships are built on unconditional love and when we create a “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” attitude then we find that our back never gets scratched enough and we begin feeling that we are scratching theirs too much. In addition, all the time we are “compromising” we are very likely slipping into the “faking mentality” which will end up making everyone miserable.

Let me share some illustrations that I have find helpful when working with my couples.

INDEPENDENCE

 
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This is where the couple finds little or no involvement in one another’s life. It is characterized by the phrase, “they have their life and I have mine”. There is very little interaction, except in areas of necessity (paying bills, dealing with children, etc.) Often, I see couples at this stage when the children have left the house and now they are wondering why they got married in the first place since they have no mutual interests. They have become strangers to each other.

DEPENDENCE

 
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This is a state where one partner can’t move without the other. They are living in each other’s world even to the denial of their own uniqueness. Psychology calls it “enmeshment” and it is often caused by a fear of rejection or poor self-image. These relationships are suffocating because they don’t allow for the individuality and creativity of the other person and instead attempt to make it wrong for either partner to have an opinion or interest outside of the approval of their partner. When I see a couple like this it is often because one party is making a desperate attempt to find freedom and is pushing them into an “all or nothing” approach.  When this problem is not addressed it often leads to divorce.

INTERDEPENDENCE

 
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This is where both partners maintain their unique personalities and interest but find ways to share in the passionate pursuits of each other's world without the need to isolate or become enmeshed. It is where we acknowledge individuality (viva la difference) but also recognizes the beautiful contribution that this difference brings to the whole. The challenge is:

  • Develop a way to both maintain individuality without becoming independent.
  • Create interdependence without becoming dependent.

The five steps

1.       Celebrate the Difference: We have a saying in Marriage Counseling, “opposites attract and then they attack”. Basically, this means that we are drawn to our partner because of the unique attributes they possess that we find fascinating. But then as time goes on we no longer find these characteristics fascinating but irritating. One of the most common pairings I find is an extrovert marring an introvert. Here is how they become attracted and then attack each other:

When an introvert meets an extrovert they say, “wow, I love the way you connect with people and feel so at home in a crowd. When I’m with you I feel like I’m with a rock star!
When an introvert lives with an extrovert for a while they may say, “why do you always need to be with people … can’t you just stay home more often?”
When an extrovert meets an introvert they say, “You are so deep and thoughtful, I love your calmness and wisdom, I find it very peaceful.”
When an extrovert lives with an introvert for a while they say, “ why do you spend so much time alone reading your books, what’s wrong with you?”

Instead of celebrating our partner's difference we want them to become more like us because that’s more comfortable. But good relationships are not always comfortable – sometimes they require us to stretch. Healthy relationships have this ability to be both totally accepting of our unique peculiarities and also challenge us to grow to experience our full potential. So for an introvert living with an extrovert, there is a challenge to broaden their world of relationships and touch more lives. And for an extrovert living with an introvert, there is a challenge to develop a contemplative life and deepen their inner world. This growth requires that we learn how to appreciate the other’s gifts, abilities, and interests even if we have no desire in those areas.


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Getting to We

This is when we become aware of an interest in our partner's sphere and choose to find something in that interest we can authentically be excited about. That interest is then pulled into our sphere and we then share it in the "we" sphere.


2.       Identify your partner’s passions: You may know what they are or you may not. Sometimes when one partner has been hearing negative things about what they love they lose hope of ever pursuing them. This is a sad state where they live a hopeless unfulfilled life that offers no joy. We need to kindle our partner’s interests rather than dampen them.  A truly happy relationship is where we are the wind under their wings and they are encouraged to become all they were meant to be. So during this step, we need to sit down and take an inventory of our partner’s interests. Ask questions like:

  • If you could do anything, with no limitations, what would it be?
  • What have you always wanted to do but just never got around to it?
  • As a child, what did you like to do that never lost it’s fun?

Okay, I can hear some of you saying, “how is just doing what they want to do going to work for me?” Here are three thoughts about that.

Encouraging the loves and interests of your partner gives you a partner who is more fully alive and who, in turn, has the capacity to help encourage your passions.

Encouraging the loves and interests of your partner produces a deeper and more intimate relationship. We feel close to those who truly know us and to know and appreciate our unique passions is one of the best ways of feeling known.

Our partner will never feel truly loved if we do not appreciate those areas of interest and passion that is the expression of their unique self
— James Tillman

Encouraging the loves and interests of your partner opens you up to a new and expanding world of adventure that offers you a fuller richer life. This leads us to the third step.

3.       Find something in your partner’s interests that you can authenticly be excited about.

Here’s an example from one of the couples I work with.

The wife is passionate about all things fashion and loves to follow the latest fashion bloggers who have enormous influence in the clothing industry. The husband is a numbers guy and has no interest in the fashion industry. There seems to be no way that he will be able to find something that interests him in his wife’s fashion passion. But he did! He was able to look past the clothes and see that there are a few power bloggers who are able to move people to purchase clothes simply by using influence. He found this fascinating because he is in a company that would be greatly enhanced by applying some of the same principles to their product. So when his wife is looking at the latest trend in clothing on her smartphone he is looking over her shoulder at the way the clothes are being presented and the power of influence.  

You may need to get creative and expand your palate of colors but this is an opportunity to grow if you are up for the challenge. Because when you do you accomplish step four.

4.       Pull your partner’s “my interest” into a “we interest”: Finding something that interests you in your partner's passion will create an opportunity for you both to grow closer and experience a more enjoyable life together. Examples:

We both have a “we interest” in amusement parks: I like the rides, she likes the shows
We both have a “we interest” in taking vacations: I like exploring new and unusual sights, she likes finding new and interesting restaurants.
We both have a “we interest” in visiting museums. She likes learning about ancient cultures, I find the artwork fascinating. When you do this you accomplish the fifth step.

5.       Go for the win, win, win as much as possible: Let’s face it, we’re not always going to find something that peaks our interest in everything our partner loves. Sometimes we’re just going to need to love that our partner loves it. This kind of attitude says, “I can appreciate something simply because it gives you pleasure and that makes me happy.”

I like Disneyland … it must be because it holds some of my happiest memories when I was growing up. My wife has really no love for Disneyland (grew up in Kansas) and in fact, it would not be a place she would ever choose to go even if someone were to pay. But the other day she surprised me by planning a date to the Magic Kingdom. We had a marvelous time and she authentically enjoyed the park. This was because of seeing it through my eyes. One moment stands out as a precious memory. We were in the Enchanted Tiki Room. This is one of the most outdated but beloved attractions in Disneyland and definitely an acquired taste. During the show, she leaned over to me and gave me a tender kiss. I asked her what that was about and she said, “because I love to see you in your happy place.”

Wouldn’t it be great if we could get to that place more often in our relationships? Enjoying an activity simply because it brings joy to our partner. This requires that we are willing to cultivate a caring, giving and unselfish relationship with our spouse. This commitment will reward us tenfold in not only a more satisfying relationship but even more importantly a more beautiful character which, in the end, produces greater wholeness, wellness, and joy.

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This workbook  is a step by step guide to help a couple discover their individual areas of interests and bring their partner into these areas so that they become something they mutually enjoy. 

 
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How Not to Compliment Your Wife

I have seen a great many men go down in flames by answering seemingly simple innocuous questions answered poorly.

Okay, here are the absolutel worse ways you can answer these questions …

“Does this dress make me look fat?”

No, you look fat without it

“Do you think I lost a few pounds?

Nope … there they are on your hips

“Do you think I’m still pretty?”

Pretty what?

“What do you think of my new hair style?”

What new hair style?

All of these questions are like IEDs and have the potential to blow you up if answered wrong. And obviously, I gave you the worse possible answers … but most of us have answered these questions with best intentions and still got blasted to smithereens. What are we doing wrong?

We live in an externally focused culture that prizes form over substance external beauty over inward character. We would rather look good than be good.

When our focus on the externals these questions take on greater significance because our love and acceptance have been made contingent on our partner’s looks. When that happens we are in a losing battle against time and the inevitable comparisons with other younger, and more externally attractive people.  

So, do you quit complimenting your spouse and never tell them that they are beautiful?

No, not if you want to stay happily married. Partners need to be attractive to one another – it’s in our DNA. But external attractiveness must not be the basis for our attraction to our spouse. We must base our attraction on something much deeper and more sustainable.

Physical beauty can only be maintained for a few years before the inevitable effects of time begin to show. That is why, if we want to be in love for a lifetime, we must focus our attention on what time can not diminish but can only improve – our character.

Men, if you are only complimenting your wives on their looks and continually making comments about other woman’s looks guess what they will think is important to you? That’s right, how they look. So what happens when the wrinkles begin to show and the gray hair begins to appear? They will believe they are losing value in your eyes. If you think this is ridiculous then just take a look at what she is spending on beauty supplies. She is not doing that primarily for others but for you!

The 5/1 Rule

Should you totally quit complimenting her on her looks? No, rather, I propose implementing the 5/1 rule.

For every one compliment you make on her looks you make five on her character? Why? Because character trumps beauty every time! Here’s why –

  • Beauty is a result of youth and good genes – character is a consequence of good choices and godly priorities
  • Beauty fades over time – character shines over time
  • Beauty is fueled by vanity – character is fueled by integrity
  • Beauty is temporary – character is eternal

Fall in love with your partner's character and their external beauty will become irrelevant. And in the years to come, you will be blessed beyond measure by the inner beauty of your spouse and see her for what she truly is - a glorious gift.

Here are five character compliments to get you started (I challenge you to come up with your own originals.)

  • Thank you for being so faithful I can always count on you.
  • You have such a beautiful loving spirit, I love the way you reach out to those in need.
  • I can see your kindness and patience with the children and me and I really appreciate 
  • I love that you are so tender and empathize with others pain
  • You have perseverance – even through the worse of our trials. You just never give up!

Try these out and see how it brings life into your relationship!

As always if there’s ever anything I can do to help you don’t hesitate to reach out.

Love you;

James

This Article Will Rock Your Relationship

 6 principles that can put your relationship back on track

If you’ve been in a serious relationship for any length of time there will be times when you feel alone. But for some, the feelings of disconnection has become more the norm than the exception.

You may have made attempts to connect but they have failed to produce the closeness that you’re hoping for. The results of living in this kind of relationship will produce feelings of ...

  • Worthlessness – Why am I not important enough for you to connect with me?
  • Frustration – I’m tired of being the only one who cares about our relationship
  • Fear – I’m afraid this is going to lead to separation or divorce
  • Hopelessness – I don’t want to live this way and I don’t know what to do

When we get to this place of discouragement we don’t know where to turn, so we reach out to books, counselors or advisors for help. But our partner is comfortable with the status quo and refuses to participate. What can we do? Should we threaten them? Or should we get used to a less than fulfilling relationship? After all, a bad relationship is better than no relationship, right? We conclude, if they don’t want to change the way things are then there is nothing I can do.

Yes, in an ideal world, when both parties commit to making a change, growth comes quicker and easier but you and I know we don’t live in an ideal world. Often, only one person in the relationship is motivated to grow.

But a relationship can grow even if you’re the only one willing to work on it!

It’s not easy, it requires a willingness to look honestly at the way you are currently managing your relationship which really means that you need to be willing to change the way you see you’re your partner and even the way you view yourself. In short, it will take more than just learning a few communication techniques - it requires true transformation. And that is exactly why you should consider taking on this adventure, not simply because you want a better relationship but because you want to be a better you.

Below I have a link to a quick five question quiz to see if you are in the kind of relationship I have described. And if you are, I don’t want to leave you without offering a real chance to see the transformation happen. So take the quiz and then I’ll share a short video about a new six-week program designed just for those who want to grow in their relationship even when their partner is indifferent or resistant.

I sincerely hope you enjoy it … it is truly a labor of love that I hope and pray will help many transform their own lives and their relationships.

Crazy Fighting

Ever been in a fight with your partner and suddenly realized that you didn’t really know what the heck you were fighting about?

That’s because few people are truly aware of why they have such strong feelings about certain things. We think that the argument is about stuff like …

  • She spends too much money!
  • He doesn’t listen to me!
  • She never picks up after herself!
  • He never wants to go out and have fun!

There are all sorts of stories about people getting divorced for seemingly unimportant reasons. Here are two examples from a Reader’s Digest article entitled “12 Crazy-But-True Reasons People Filed for Divorce”

Rashida Lucas divorced her husband, T.P., because, as she said on national television, he was just "too nice." Chief among Lucas's grievances were that T.P. said "I love you" too much and that he was such a good cook that it had caused her to gain weight.

For one Japanese couple who had been married for six years, the movie Frozen was the deal-breaker. After watching it, he made the mistake of asking her, "Did you really think it was that good?" Well, apparently, she did, and the fact that he could even ask that question made her question what sort of person he was. And she couldn't seem to "let it go," moving out of their marital residence soon after.

So why the overreaction? Why do we get so crazy over things that are not “craze-worthy”?

It’s primarily because we are not in tune with our own emotions and instead look outside of ourselves for solutions that only internal examination can heal.  The term for this inward examination is emotional intelligence.

Emotional Intelligence is the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one's emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.

It means that when we experience an emotion we are able to do three things:

  1. We are able to accurately define what we are feeling
  2. We are able to determine the true source of that feeling
  3. We are able to express the feeling in a healthy way

This isn’t easy folks, especially when we avoid self-examination.  But the truth is …

The unexamined life is not worth living
— Socrates

Some of us have been working a lifetime trying to master defining what we are feeling, understanding why we are feeling it and learning how to express those feelings in a way that doesn’t do harm to ourself and others. But until we do, resolving conflicts will always be a mystery because all we can do is make a vain attempt to control our environment and reduce whatever is triggering our emotional wounds. This means we either retreat from anything or anyone who causes us problems or we rigidly force our will upon them. Both strategies do not promote healthy relationships.  

And to a great extent, this is why we fail to resolve our arguments and why we keep having the same battle over and over again. We are really battling ourselves and until we discover that fact we are doomed to repeat it over and over again.

“WE HAVE MET THE ENEMY AND HE IS US.”
— Walt Kelly

Now, I’m not saying that we are the enemy – that attitude would be incredibly counterproductive. But what I am saying neither is your partner the enemy. The real enemy (if you must have one) is the unrecognized and unexamined emotional trigger that is empowering your arguments and making it so difficult to connect with your partner.

And that means we all need to take responsibility for our own emotional reactions and begin to develop the Emotional Intelligence to choose a different way of resolving our conflicts.

If we can ever be of help to you or you have questions about Building Real Relationships don’t hesitate to reach out to us.

How to Live With Our Differences?

Real realtionships happen when two imperfect people find something in the other person that causes them to want to go deeper, become better and experience more than they could alone.  But that’s just the point, we are all conflicted people. We want the good feelings that come from relationships but we don’t want to put in the work it takes to get there. It’s called ambivalence and it is an entirely human condition often characterized by this statement, “opposites attract and then they attack”. Yes, that’s right we are attracted to something in the other person that is not like us. That something attracts us like nothing else and causes to say, “I’ve got to have that!” But when we get it the excitement wears off and the difference that we were so attracted to begins to become an irritation. So instead of celebrating the difference, we want to tamp it down and get them to be more normal – like us.

But real growth happens when we choose to celebrate the unique (and sometimes weird) in the other person and integrate their lives into ours. We then become more than we could possibly be without them. It’s a humbling process where we are continually challenged to love at our deepest level.

I admit this is hard – I’m just as addicted to my “comfort zones” as you are. I hate it when I have to put aside my cherished ways and accept that there may be different way of looking at the world.

But that’s how we grow, pushing past our limiting insecurities to become the best version of ourselves.

Sounds great but can anyone do that?

Try this, instead of focusing on the differences as a problem, focus on the difference in a positive way.

  • Are they not talkative? They're a deep thinker.
  • Do they take a lot of time getting ready? Call them fashion aware.
  • Do they talk too much? Call them socially adept.
  • Do they worry about money? Call them financially responsible.

We really do have a choice of what we focus on and what we focus on will determine the level of happiness we experience in our relationships.

We always welcome your comments and thoughts … let’s grow together!

Alone – In a Relationship

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Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the greatest poverty of all
— Mother Teresa

Every relationship goes through tough times where one or both partners feel isolated and disconnected from each other. We are complicated creatures and the ability to fit our lives together for any length of time will inevitably produce conflict. If that conflict is not handled well (and it usually isn’t) it will create hurt feelings. Those hurt feelings can turn to resentment and then grow into long standing bitterness. If this pattern continues the couple will gradually feel increasingly distant and loneliness will set in. Many times the externals of the marriage remain in place; the house is maintained, the kids are cared for and life goes on “normally” but without feelings of intimacy, affection or mutual admiration. What is left is a shell of a marriage with nothing inside.

Sometimes one partner will wake up and try to reconnect - trying to get the other to realize that there’s a problem. Occasionally it works and there is re-connection but often the efforts to communicate their unhappiness falls upon deaf ears and a hard heart. So the “enlightened” partner begins a series of attempts to convince their mate that the Status Que is not acceptable. These new attempts also usually end in failure. At this point the attempt to express their unhappiness is redoubled which is then fended off with even greater defensiveness or outright denial. At this point the slow downward death spiral of the relationship begins until there is neither the willingness nor the energy to resurrect the lifeless marriage. The marriage either ends in divorce court or it continues on zombie-like until physical death mercifully comes calling and liberates them from their unhappy union.

If this sounds depressing - well it is. But it is a reality. Studies show that 20% of marriages have one or more partners feeling isolated, disconnected and alone. Some are in the beginning stages of isolation and some have been experiencing aloneness for a long, long time. The good news is there is hope for creating a better outcome than the one described above. The challenge is most who find themselves in this kind of relationship end up making the chasm larger through their desperate and ineffective efforts to influence their spouse. What they end up doing is pushing them further away and making themselves and their partner more miserable in the process.

So I submit that there is a better way to reconnect in your marriage.

In the coming weeks our Marriage Monday blog will be devoted to sharing seven principles for effectively working on your relationship – even if your partner doesn’t want to. If your marriage is doing well right now these principles will help you develop a more intimate relationship and preemptively guard against isolation, disconnection and aloneness. I often tell my marriage counseling clients my goal is that someday, when you are very old and in a nursing home and they are wheeling you both down the corridors you two will be holding hands.

Join us on this journey as we discover ways to develop greater connection and intimacy in our marriages and overcome those inevitable times of disconnection.