In my last blog post, on emotional labor, I cited the work of renowned couple’s therapist, speaker and author Terry Real. Real’s work is important, and it has the potential to change your marriage, so I wanted to tell you more about him.
This is an intense read. The couple, Peter and Jenn, struggle with problems that affect many marriages. Their early passion for each other has fizzled. She’s tired of trying to build intimacy, while Peter seems incapable of it. He feels she’s undercutting his authority with their children, while she worries about his toxic temper, especially with their son. To top it all off, Peter has also been unfaithful.
Take a few moments to read and reflect on this case study. As you do, here are a few key points I especially want you to take to heart.
In our culture, we still raise boys to be “hard, logical, independent and stoic,” as Real says. This creates men who are “emotionally distant, arrogant, numb to their own feelings and unconcerned about everyone else’s, as well as contemptuous of vulnerability and weakness.” Real points out something else important here: Men who were raised this way are the norm, not an aberration, especially when we look at older generations.
It might be easy to interpret Real’s work as man-bashing, but that’s not accurate. He emphasizes that men struggle with intimacy not because they’re bad people, but because of the way they were raised and cultural messages. Real believes that, with hard work and bravery, men can change what they bring to relationships. He’s been through such a transformation himself.
Real is not saying that women are perfect. In this case study, he’s clear that Jenn has her own issues to address, but that the most urgent need is for Peter to make changes.
Real believes that what looks like men’s fear of intimacy is really the fear of subjugation. “Many men read emotional receptivity as an invitation to be run over,” Real says. This comes from raising men with an overemphasis on being strong and competitive.
Nurturing and understanding, whether from their partners or through therapy, won’t change men like Peter. Instead, Real believes such men need to “feel proportionately ashamed for (their) bad behavior and yet still manage to hold onto (their) essential worth as an imperfect human being.” Appropriate shame isn’t spending the rest of your days in obsessive self-loathing. It’s about realizing who you have hurt and doing your best to make amends.
Real breaks from the common practice of the therapist not taking sides. “I side with the woman,” Real says. Again, he’s not against the man. He just believes that “business as usual” in therapy doesn’t work. This is because the skills and expectations men and women bring to a relationship can be extremely different.
If you’d like to delve further into Real’s work, there’s a great archive of articles on his website. You may also want to check out recent media coverage of Real in Forbes and AlterNet. To further your understanding of how your relationship is affected by the way you were both raised, enjoy this complimentary chapter on gender expectations from Strong Women, Strong Love.
Do you know much about your husband’s past? What challenges did he overcome before he met you? What’s going on at his job that he hasn’t told you about?
Finding out the answers to questions like these is hardly a trivial pursuit.
Getting curious about each other is one of the most powerful things you can do in a relationship.
You may remember one of my earlier blog articles about questions that can make people fall in love. That post was focused on building intimacy. This week, I want to look instead at how curiosity can be a tool for cultivating compassion and understanding to work through trouble spots in a relationship.
We’re pretty good at realizing the stories behind our own behaviors. You may be aware, for example, that you’re hesitant to speak your mind because your mother never supported you when you did, or that you’re working more lately because your boss hinted about cutbacks, and you want to make sure your job is safe.
But we’re not as good at realizing there are stories behind other people’s behaviors, too. When your husband gets defensive at your asking him to take care of the dishes while you deal with the kids, your first reaction might be to assume he’s just lazy or that he doesn’t care about the imbalance of housework in your relationship. That’s what we’d guess based on the fundamental attribution error, a natural bias we all have to assume someone else’s actions are because of their personality, not circumstances.
You might be right, but it’s also possible there’s something from his past, or something happening in his life right now, that’s driving this behavior. Getting curious about that story is much more effective than slapping a label like “slob” on him.
Let’s be clear: Finding out the real story isn’t a free pass to get out of doing the dishes. Instead, it gives you a better sense of what’s truly going on with him so that the two of you can work out this dispute in a kinder, more effective way. And it’s a reminder that your husband is a whole, complex person, not just the behavior that’s pushing your buttons in this moment.
This week, look for times when you make assumptions about why your husband does something, and then push yourself to get inquisitive about what’s really behind his actions. Also notice when he reads you inaccurately and see if you can help him come to a better understand of your life stories too.
Today’s blog has marriage advice especially for busy couples — and which couples aren’t busy these days, right?
It’s easy to let the daily maintenance of your marriage take a backseat to all the other demands and obligations in your days. But it is possible to infuse your relationship with love and care even when your schedules are tight. Here are five quick, effective and research-backed ideas for building intimacy quickly.
Look into his eyes, not at your phone. Eye contact builds connection and helps your partner feel valued. Remember, though, that this has to be loving eye contact. No shooting daggers with your eyes! When you have four minutes, try more intense uninterrupted eye contact, like in this video, to deepen intimacy quickly:
Help when he’s stressed. Stress has a huge impact on our marriages. If your partner seems stressed out, ask what he needs from you. Maybe the answer will be unloading the dishwasher even if it’s not your night to or giving him a hug. Whatever the answer, just asking how you can help creates a sense of teamwork in your marriage.
Connect with texts. Texting is a busy couple’s best friend. You’re probably already in the habit of texting your husband when you get caught in a work meeting and need him to pick up the kids, or when you think of an errand that’s close to his office. But try sending a text when you don’t need something. Just let him know that you’re thinking about him. Make it as sweet – or as spicy – as you like. Creating a quick connection like this in your busy day helps maintain the health of your marriage.
Greet him warmly. We all have a need to be seen and heard by the people we love. It sounds simple, but just acknowledging him with a hug and warm smile when one of you gets home goes a long way toward making your time together emotionally positive.
Reach out through touch. Sometimes things are so busy that you don’t even have time to talk. Don’t forget the power of touch to help you and your husband connect. A quick, meaningful kiss, hug, or squeeze of the hand can convey deep caring. The more often you touch, even if it is brief, the closer you’ll feel to each other.
My book Strong Women, Strong Love has lots more marriage advice to help you keep your relationship healthy even when you’re tight on time. And I promise it’s a quick read!
We associate June with weddings. If you know any couples walking down the aisle this month, you’ve probably noticed that they’re starry-eyed with passion. And, no doubt, they wouldn’t believe you if you told them they won’t always feel that way. There’s a romantic ideal that once you’ve found “the one,” you’ll share passion that burns brightly forever. But it’s normal for passion to wane over time, even as your partnership grows deeper in other ways.
Social psychologist Elaine Hatfield explains that there are actually two types of love. Passionate love is physical and emotional longing. It’s what you feel when you first fall in love. Companionate love is characterized by intimate friendship, but it’s less emotionally charged. It’s tough to maintain passionate and companionate love at the same time because these two types of love thrive in polar opposite conditions. Companionate love will typically emerge out of the intimacy and comfort of daily interaction, but passion thrives on surprise, distance, and novelty, which must be cultivated more deliberately if you’ve been together a long time. Although it’s virtually impossible to maintain a constant state of passion in your relationship, incorporate these specific habits to keep the spark of passion alive in your marriage:
Put some more time into other relationships. When you spend time with other people you enjoy, you bring fresh energy back into your marriage and take the pressure off your spouse to meet all your needs. Giving your partner some breathing room helps him see you with fresh eyes.
Get out of your routines. Try something new on your date nights, especially if it jolts your nervous system or gets your heart racing. Think seeing a scary movie or riding a motorcycle.
Learn something new. Take a class or develop a new hobby. Besides making you happier, developing different aspects of your life makes you more intriguing to your partner.
In the following blog post from The Huffington Post, Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW, reveals the pivotal role of vulnerability in sustaining a marriage:
In my over 20 years of counseling couples, I’ve come to realize that vulnerability is the key to a lasting union and that shame and fear are two of the main reasons why couples get entrenched in power struggles that can lead to divorce. Opening up to our partner can make us feel vulnerable and exposed, but it is the most important ingredient of a trusting, intimate relationship. One of the biggest challenges that couples face is being vulnerable with a romantic partner. After all, with over 40 percent of adults growing up in a divorced family, healthy templates for intimacy may have been in short supply. In other cases, many of us were raised in homes where showing vulnerability was seen was a weakness.
What drives our fear of being vulnerable? Dr. Brene Brown, a distinguished author and researcher, informs us that vulnerability is often viewed as a weakness, but it’s actually a strength. In her landmark book Daring Greatly, she explains that vulnerability is the core of all emotions and feelings. She writes, “To feel is to be vulnerable. To believe that vulnerability is a weakness is to believe that feeling is a weakness. To foreclose on our emotional life out of fear that the costs will be too high is to walk away from the very thing that gives purpose and meaning to living.”
In Daring Greatly, Dr. Brown defines vulnerability as uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. Given this definition, the act of loving someone and allowing them to love you may be the ultimate risk. Love is uncertain. It’s risky because there are no guarantees and your partner could leave you without a moment’s notice — or betray you or stop loving you. In fact, exposing your true feelings may mean that you are at greater risk for being criticized or hurt.