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Too Busy l July/August 2014

How busy do you keep yourself? Very busy? Crazy busy? Insanely busy? Nowadays we’re almost always busy. We boast about it as a point of pride — so much achievement and productivity!

What’s not keeping us busy is personal reflection — sitting quietly and thinking about our lives: following our train of thoughts and feeling our feelings. And without such reflection, our primary relationship can really suffer.

If we don’t take the time to notice what we’re feeling — our authentic emotions — it’s easy to overlook relationship red flags. For instance, if we’re too busy to notice that lately we’re feeling lonely — owing perhaps to a spouse’s travel schedule or late nights glued to the home computer — we’re unlikely to talk about our loneliness, and therefore unlikely to make needed course corrections (before the relationship hits the skids). Or if we’re too busy to notice creeping levels of irritation — stemming perhaps from a series of broken agreements, or habits that continue to dismay — we’re unlikely to talk about what’s bothering us, and therefore not make helpful course corrections.

It’s not just overlooking the downside that we risk in our lifestyle of busyness. If we’re too busy to notice feelings of gratitude and admiration for what our spouse contributes, we’re unlikely to express those feelings, missing an opportunity to promote good will and deepen mutual respect.

There’s so much we miss when we’re too busy to notice our inner lives. Often our busyness results from allowing work to infiltrate every nook and cranny of our days. At other times it’s a kind of addiction to external stimulation: checking email, surfing the Web, reading and responding to texts. We’ve succumbed to the illusion that it’s better to do something than to do nothing, and thinking or feeling seems like doing nothing.1 How wrong we are about that! Thinking and feeling is doing something valuable, especially for the welfare of our marriage: it leads to connecting with our authentic selves, and in those moments finding answers to the question: How am I experiencing my relationship lately?

We’ve heard it countless times: successful marriage takes work. Let’s not be so busy with everything else that we make no time to notice the thoughts and feelings associated with the relationship that matters most.


1Wilson, Timothy D., et al. “Just think: The challenges of the disengaged mind.” Science. July 4, 2014:Vol. 345 no. 6192 pp. 75-77.

 

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Security Vs. Passion l June 2014

“We love each other. We have a good relationship. But there’s not much happening in the bedroom.”

Sound familiar? You’re not alone; low sexual desire within long-term marriage is rampant. Many marriage counselors believe it stems from the age-old conundrum of two competing human needs: security versus passion. What encourages the former tends to discourage the latter. We go into marriage seeking the secure attachment that’s built on reliability, stability, predictability, and safety in a partner. But those qualities are the opposite of what fuels erotic desire: mystery, novelty, unpredictability, even risk.1

Put another way, maintaining erotic desire requires balancing togetherness and separateness. Too much togetherness (and not enough autonomy) can smother a partner’s erotic appeal, precluding the sense of mystery or novelty that was once present. If you know everything about me, if I agree with all that you say or think, if my every move is predictable and there are never any surprises, can I really expect that you’ll find in me the allure of mystery?

Here are some pathways that might fuel erotic desire in your relationship:

  • Pursue novelty and adventure as a couple. Visit new places; deviate sometimes from your familiar highways and byways to bring the unknown and unpredictable into your shared life.
  • Cultivate some separate friends and hobbies so there’s occasional mystery — not secrecy — to your day and your routine. Your partner’s curiosity about how you’ve spent your time can be a sign that you’re preserving healthy autonomy within your relationship.
  • Give yourselves permission to openly acknowledge your attractions to others — to characters in film or television, to men and women across the room at a party — while assuring your partner that admiring isn’t the same as straying. Don’t silence your partner’s erotic musings just to protect yourself from feelings of jealousy or inadequacy. Find a healthy way to deal with those feelings without shutting down the freedom to say, “That guy’s hot!”
  • Read erotic books aloud (try it while soaking in a tub together) or blush while watching adult movies side-by-side.
  • Find imaginative ways to share sexual daydreams and fantasies, things you’ve kept private up to now. The disclosure might come as a provocative and stimulating surprise: you’re a bit less familiar than before.

Enhancing erotic desire takes intention and planning; it won’t happen automatically or spontaneously. Seize the day.


1Perel, Esther. Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence. (New York: Harper Perennial) 2007.

 

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Two Brains l April/May 2014

We have two brains — one that can get us into trouble, and one that can get us out.

There’s the emotional brain (called the amygdala), tucked deep and low within the mass of complex circuitry inside our heads. Sometimes referred to as the lizard brain because it’s what we have in common with creatures going back millions of years, the emotional brain reacts quickly and instinctively, alert to every threat; animal survival depended on it. In humans (both prehistoric and contemporary), it triggers a quick fight or flight response: we put up our dukes and come out swinging, or we run for cover and race quickly away (or shut down and go silent).

And then there’s the logical brain (the prefrontal cortex), sitting just behind the forehead, a relative newcomer in the brain’s evolution, coming onto the scene millions of years after the emotional brain had established its powerful seniority. It’s the logical brain that allows us to reason and plan and organize our thoughts — and to gain control over the emotional brain.

But controlling the emotional brain isn’t easy. With eons of practice since alerting cavemen and cavewomen to every danger, the emotional brain sounds an alarm for even the slightest provocation, the smallest threat. A partner’s angry tone or sharply raised eyebrow and the emotional brain signals “danger”: the heart races, the breath quickens, blood rushes to places it wasn’t rushing to before. Emotion floods through us and if it overwhelms the logical brain, we yell, we swear, we hit below the belt, or we exit with a slam of the door. The emotional brain is now driving the car.

At times like that, what’s needed is bringing the logical brain back behind the wheel and the emotional brain into the back seat. Some people do this through slow deep breathing, which regains control of the heart and lungs and slows the flow of adrenaline coursing through the body. That alone helps the logical brain nudge the emotional brain into the back seat. But sometimes what’s needed is a time-out — twenty or thirty minutes or more — while the body calms itself and emotions cool down. Only then should conversation resume. Only then are we capable of speaking sensibly, of listening effectively and responding in a mature way.

So give yourself permission to say to your partner: “I can’t continue, I need a time-out. Let’s continue after I calm down and can think with my logical brain.” (And if you’re the partner who requests a time-out, it’s your responsibility to request a time-in so that the conversation can resume. Time-out must never be a ploy to skip out.)

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