Doing Life Together

couple-168191_1920It’s an age-old problem, but not one we may not recognize. Gender matters when it comes to marriage. Needs differ in terms of their priorities and focus. Take a recent situation with Julie and Ray who have been married for 6 years. Julie is upset that her boss overlooked her for a promotion. She wants to talk to her husband, Ray, and be comforted. When she opens her heart to Ray, he begins to give her sexual attention. In his mind, physical intimacy will help Julie feel better and loved. But Julie does not want a sexual encounter. All she wants is a little hand holding with open and honest conversation.

Willard Harley, in his book, His Needs, Her Needs, conducted a survey with couples regarding their most important martial needs by gender. The survey results confirm the conflict in our story above. Women listed affection and conversation as top needs, followed by honesty and openness, financial support and family commitment. And the women did not define affection as attention leading to sex, rather intimate time together, talking about life and dreams. Women described a more Ephesians 5:29 type of affection that refers more to the need to be cherished by their husbands.

The men who took the survey had very different priorities. The womens’ number one need of affection and conversation didn’t even make their list. Instead, number one for men was sexual fulfillment. And this was an overwhelmingly popular first need, followed by the need for recreational companionship, having an attractive spouse, domestic support and being admired.

Yes, the lists do not match up! As you can see, they are very different.

The issue is to understand each other. One is not better or right. Our goal is not to get our spouse to think or act like we do. Rather, the goal is to understand that we come at things differently based on our gender. Much of this has to do with the differences in the wiring of brains along gender lines. Women have more nerve fibers connecting the verbal and emotional portions of the brain than do men. They often want to enjoy the journey of good conversation, whereas men want to get to the point. Men require much fewer words in a day, one reason women complain that they don’t get enough conversation.

So, rather than highlight our differences, let’s understand, communicate those differences to each other and negotiate ways to respond in order to meet each other’s needs. Hopefully, our heart is to meet the needs of the other. When this is our focus, we can ask, “What do you need right now from me?”

When Julie told Ray that she simply needed to talk for a few minutes about how upset she was at her boss. All she needed was Ray to be a good listener, hold her and tell her that he understands how upset she must have felt, all was good. Later, when they settled in for the night, Julie felt close to husband and initiated physically intimacy. Both felt the day produced a closeness they needed.





insecurity-1767736_1920It’s a common complaint, “I can’t be me in this relationship. Ive lost myself and don’t know who I am.”  But is it true that the other person defines you?

Balancing Our Individuality
Finding a balance between our individuality and our intimate connections takes some work. It requires getting a good handle on who we are in the relationship rather than focusing on how the other person makes us feel. The more we know who we are and have developed our identity, the healthier we’ll be when interacting with another person. Do you know what you think, feel and believe to be true regardless of what your partner says? Can you voice your thoughts and feelings openly? Or are you easily influenced by the other person and uncertain as to what you believe?

As we mature, we struggle with these kinds of questions until, hopefully, we have some ideas. But many of us never really develop a sense of identity apart from our original families or others. Consequently, we carry that undefined self into our relationships. When this happens, problems emerge. We have difficulty finding balance between who we are and the demands of others.

Developing a Sense of Self
When a person hasn’t developed a sense of self apart from others, he or she usually operates from one of two extremes. Either he/she uses distance, both physical and emotional, to cope with relationship problems, or becomes excessively close and dependent on the other. And the smallest conflict becomes a blowup because you haven’t learned to establish appropriate boundaries or assert youself in relationships.

People who lack a strong identity usually have parents with the same problem. After all, we learn by example. A family exerts a powerful influence over who we become. They have much to say, and it’s hard work to figure out what you think and feel when everyone has an opinion. But you can do it and develop a mind of your own.

So what does it mean to take an “I” position and still be you in a relationship? Simply put, it means being true to self while relating to others. You can have your own opinions, think your own thoughts and behave in ways you know to be right, yet still love and relate to other people. You also can decide what’s right and true for you without becoming defensive, angry and highly emotional. It’s important to work on intimacy because the desire of every intimate relationship is to be known and appreciated by the other. It’s also a sign of your maturity when you can think, feel and behave according to your beliefs without overreacting to emotional triggers from others.

Our task then as an individuals is to balance our need for intimacy with our need to be autonomous. To do this, we must continue to develop a better sense of our “I” to lend to the “we.” Then we can begin to sort out our needs versus the needs of others and be less reactive in the way we treat others.

As we develop a better sense of autonomy, we also can come to appreciate our differences and learn to communicate more honestly. When we don’t agree, we don’t have to fear that our sense of self will be lost in the relationship; we’ll recognize when we are allowing that to happen—and stop it. The issues is, we can be in a relationship with out losing a sense of who we are along the way.

infidelity-379565_1920Kathy had never seen a therapist before her husband announced he was having an affair with another woman. The shock of his disclosure was enormous. She repeatedly asked herself, “How could I have missed the signs and been so naïve? Have I been in denial of our marital problems?”

Kathy didn’t consider herself prone to anxiety. However, since the disclosure, she has had several anxiety attacks. She could be doing laundry and suddenly feel short of breath. Or she might be reading a book and feel her heart pounding and palms sweat. Watching TV could send her into an agitated state, especially if the show contained reference to infidelity. Sleep seemed to elude her. She had no appetite and was rapidly losing weight.

Even though her husband claimed to have stopped seeing the “other” woman, Kathy felt uneasy and deeply betrayed. She found herself obsessively thinking about the other woman having intimate conversations with her husband. When she closed her eyes, she envisioned him holding her hand and caressing her.

Kathy found herself monitoring her husband’s every movement. Little things upset her and she was highly suspicious. She couldn’t shake the mental picture of her husband in bed with another woman. Intrusive thoughts flooded her mind. Kathy felt like she was losing it. She needed to bounce all this off of a therapist to see if she was going crazy.

When an affair has been found out, it is common to have reactions like Kathy’s. Anxiety attacks and grief-like symptoms are normal reactions to the breach of marital covenant. In many ways, the reactions of the non-involved spouse are similar to post traumatic stress symptoms for those who have been emotionally, physically and sexually abused. The reality of an affair awakens a deep sense of loss. You may feel you are going crazy. This is normal.

Couples that deal with an extramarital affair do have higher rates of depression than couples who come to marital therapy for other reasons. Some partners become suicidal. It’s also not uncommon to hear homicidal rage towards the lover.

Given this emotional instability and intensity, the safety of people involved must always be considered. While not all people will act out their intense feelings of betrayal and rage, the risk is there and does happen. Turn on the nightly news and you’ll get a glimpse of what betrayed people can do!

It’s important to know that you won’t feel like this forever and that what you feel is valid given the circumstances. The intensity is strongest when the affair is found out because you realize that you have been deceived and that your marital vows were broken. The goal is to mange those feelings so that you don’t become incapacited by them.

  • Allow yourself to feel whatever comes.
  • Don’t deny the intensity of your emotions.
  • Work with a therapist who can help you express what you feel and help you manage those feelings.

Pour your heart out to God. He hears your pain and promises to comfort. Healing comes but often takes awhile.

valentines-day-1947567_1920Valentine’s Day is tomorrow. You still have one more day to plan a romantic and exciting day or night. But you need to give it some thought now. Be my valentine needs to be exciting, not boring!

It’s easy to fall into the trap of doing the standard dinner out, flowers and candy. While all of that is nice, how about infusing a little more excitement into what might be considered a tired relationship.

When you ask that special someone to be your valentine, do it with excitement. The key to bringing in the romance is novelty! Yes, a break from the ordinary does wonders to wake up a sleepy couple. New experiences stimulate dopamine in the brain and bring feelings of romance. I am guessing that a number of us could use a little stimulating when it comes to our couple relationships.

Here are 7 ideas to rev up the romance and stimulate the brain. Go from boring to exciting!

  • Do a couple’s spa night. Schedule the two of you for relaxation and pampering. Check on-line coupon sites for deals. I’ve done a couple’s spa night and I highly recommend it. It’s relaxing, romantic and fun. And may husband had never pampered himself with massage and other treatments. He loved it!
  • Show love to a stranger or person in need. This is a really novel idea. Instead of focusing only on your love for each other, go to a homeless shelter, children’s hospital or someplace where showing love can bring joy to others. Then, when you come home, talk about the experience and appreciate each other. Point out positive qualities you noticed about your partner while engaging with others.
  • Picnic somewhere scenic. Take a blanket, a basket of food and drink and find a beautiful spot to picnic. For those of you in more northern climates, it may have to be an indoor place with a view, so be creative. You might even drive to a scenic view and picnic in your car. Or, if you have a fireplace, spread the picnic out on the floor! The point is forget the standard restaurant and dinner table. Create a new space to celebrate your love.
  • If you can afford it, go to a nice hotel and truly get away. Spa or not, head for a change in scenery for one night. Leave your devices locked away for emergencies only and enjoy the time together. If you can afford it, order room services. Even one night of a get-away refreshes the soul.
  • Do something you never do: Sign up for a cooking class, go on a hike, go bowling or play laser tag. Think of a fun activity that gets you active together and create a memory. For instance, one couple who never bowls, goes bowling on Valentine’s Day just to stimulate the brain with a novel experience. And that is the idea. Make it novel. Create a surprise. Not knowing where you are going or what you are doing with only a few clues along the way adds to the fun and novelty.
  • For those of you with a more creative side, write a poem, compose a song, or find quotes that express your love. And if writing a poem or composing a song seems too ambitious, place love notes all over the house with clues on how to find them. You can google quotes if you have trouble thinking of what to say.
  • Recreate your first date. You may not be able to go back to the exact location, but you could use pictures, maps and reminders of the place. Then create the date and relive the memory. Pull out old photos and reminisce about the most romantic times. Put on soft music, candles and set the atmosphere for more to come! If you had a special song, get it ready to play. If you remember what you ate on that first date, prepare it. Remembering your feelings of first love can rekindle the present.

This Valentine’s Day, create a memory that strengthens the couple bond by doing something new to bring passion to your relationship. Romantic love doesn’t have to fade over time. Don’t settle for routine. Romantic love needs a few shots of novelty once in awhile!