Couples all want to keep their relationship alive, vital, interesting. There is a certain fire that comes with the beginning of love. You naturally want that to endure. You want to look forward to a lifetime of connection and intimacy.
But that intensity often goes away. It gets lost in the errands of life that spring up like so many weeds; bills have to be paid, kids taken to school, dry cleaning picked up.
With this loss of energy and connection, you fall into communication ruts. Certain arguments get repeated endlessly, with no understanding or change. Some important topics are important to you, but you think “I just cannot talk about that.”
This loss of energy is not your fault. Our society expects relationships to cool down, so that modeling is what you see everywhere. Nor do you receive the kind of communication or awareness training which would help you maintain a high level of emotional connection.
A couple I worked with in my office practice showed what the problem is, and how it can be fixed. Tony and Fran came in complaining of distance and a certain dullness in the relationship, even though they had a secure life together, with kids and a nice house.
Fran, a pretty forty-five year old, wanted more, and she said, after 20 minutes in our first session, “I need to talk about so much, but I cannot. It’s too hard. He’s often reactive. Of course, then I’m scared to bring things out, then I’m angry…”
Tony said, “It’s the anger I cannot take. Everything. She’s so angry.”
“I’m guessing that she is angry,” I said, “because she feels lonely and doesn’t know how to how to connect with you.”
“Yes, I want to learn how to connect, through deeper conversations,” Fran agreed.
Couples like them, who are committed to each other, can lose the emotional thread. Then every conversation becomes threatening. I call this ‘Locked in the Negative Spiral.”
The first two of the Ten Practices are intended to create a positive spiral. Fran and Tony can reverse that spiral quickly.
“We went for a walk together several times, and practiced the Appreciations,” Tony said. “I cannot say all tension was healed. Fran still scares the beejesus out of me.”
He laughed, and continued, “But the simple practice reminded me why I love Fran and how we are going to make it through this time together and build on our love.”
Fran gave him a big smile. “Now we can talk about some hard topics,” she added. “With George’s help.”
I explained to them why most couples have certain topics which they just cannot talk about. “I’ve seen that couples like you have a deep connection over time. You have a history of love and parenting and decisions about money and career. You’ve talked about so much.”
Fran and Tony were both nodding.
“Yes some topics cause the same feelings of tension, hurt and separation to occur, over years or even decades. You wind up saying the same thing over and over, and feeling separate at the end of the fight.”
Tony said, “Money. Taking care of the car…”
Fran said, “Sex, parenting, taking care of my aging mother.” But they were laughing a little, as if they could see how these topics and stresses fit into a much larger framework. They had forgotten all the love, fun and creativity which characterized most of their relationship.
“So why are these topics so hard,” Tony asked. “If we could change these conversations, our lives would work so much better.”
“Yes. The repetitive conversations on these complicated topics come from bad habits in each of you, from your communication skills, your beliefs, what you saw your parents talk about…”
“Yes, I can see that,” Fran said. “But how do we change…”
“Through my program, my model of communication. You need to be able to talk about these deeper beliefs, and the fears and hurts that are associated with these topics.”
“Why would I want to do that,” Tony asked seriously. Fran looked at me.
“Because I know no other way to change the conversation. If you talk about what you want, what you believe, what you need, then your partner starts to move towards you. If you go into attacking, blaming and defending, the conversation stalls.”
“Okay, I can see that. I do enough defending,” Tony said.
“Well over time, through the Ten Practices which include a communication program, you can learn how to be more self-revealing and that changes the nature of the conversation altogether. You know that you want to change, and I’m offering you a time-tested way.”
Couples like Fran and Tony are longing for a deeper connection. They need to remember how to connect (Practice 2—Appreciations), and they need to learn new communication skills.
Fran and Tony’s story continues in Answer Number 4 (link?). They do bring back a powerful emotional intimacy into their relationship, because they learn the Ten Practices, and they practice them. They live in my small town, and it is a pleasure to see them at the local market.
Here is a quote from a couple that just finished couples counseling with me.
“The primary benefit of the course was finding out so much about myself. It helped me to understand my partner and be able to communicate in a loving and kind way. Our experience with the Path for Couples practices totally rejuvenated our relationship and helped us restore badly-missed joy. We recommend it whole-heartedly for any couple.” Sandy W. 45 year old house painter