couples

‘Moving Towards’ in Relationships

Karen Horney, a major psychological theorist of the twentieth century, wrote about three general “movements” that people engage in when relating to others.  These are movement towards, movement away, and movement against. How we engage in each of these movements is important, because they can either be healthy or unhealthy. For example, moving against can help a person develop a sense of personal control and identity, but it can also lead to aggression; moving away can help a person develop competency and individuality, but it can also lead to isolation; and moving towards can lead to connection and interdependence, but also neediness and anxiety.

Moving towards is the foundational movement of romantic and family relationships.  It is impossible to have depth of connection without moving towards another person.  One way to increase the chance that moving towards someone will result in healthy connection is an attitude of what I call “vulnerable engagement”.  At it’s most extreme, this attitude mirrors how you might approach an injured wild animal: you become as nonthreatening as possible while still moving towards and you expect that you might elicit a negative response.  In approaching an animal, you become nonthreatening by crouching down, moving slowly, and speaking softly. In a relationship, you speak softly and start by talking about your own experience and emotions. An animal might have a negative response of biting or scratching, but a negative response from a person when you are trying to move toward them is that they move away or move against.  

The movement away or against can be subtle or forceful, but it is negative because it precludes the connection that you are trying to achieve.  This is the vulnerable part of the engagement. It hurts when you try to connect with someone and they turn against you or pull away. If you then react to defend yourself because you are hurt then it justifies the defensive posture the other person took in pushing you away. It is very hard to not respond defensively when someone hurts you and a defensive response can be the right response in many situations but remember that in this instance you have initiated the interaction because you want to connect with the other person.  One thing that helps me in this sort of situation is knowing that moving against and moving away are important. I want the people I love to have their own identity and individuality. When I can accept that sometimes those movements need to be directed towards me, I can let it go and try to connect in another way or at a different time. As that goes on, the other person’s needs for those negative responses diminishes and I find that my movement towards them is more often met by a movement towards me and we are able to meet in the middle. I find that depth of relationship to be worth the vulnerability and pain of the times we fail to connect.

 

How Honeymoons Can Help Strengthen Relationships

Photo by  Justin Follis  on  Unsplash

What is a “Solo-Moon” and How Taking a Honeymoon with Your Spouse Can Strengthen Your Relationship: A Response to the NYT Article “Honeymoon Do We Part”

As I scrolled through the morning headlines last week, I came across an article printed in the New York Times describing several couples who had blissfully parted ways to enjoy a much needed break from reality, after enduring the stresses associated with their weddings. While I have explored the benefits of solo vacations, I had never considered the idea of couples separating from each other, to relax on independent vacations, following the reception of their wedding. To say I was intrigued, is an understatement! With a quick google search, I realized that taking individual honeymoons (also known as, “unimoons or solo-moons”), is more common than I expected!

The NYT article does a great job exploring some of the pros and biological factors of taking trips, as well as the sociological evolution of the meaning of marriage. However, I wish the article distinguished more between honeymoons and general vacations. A honeymoon isn’t just “any” vacation, it’s an opportunity for a person and their spouse to reconnect after weeks/months of stress, and for them to begin to create their identity as a pair. Absent from the article was mention of the need to connect and begin to build shared experiences as a married couple. Travel, whether near or far, offers an opportunity to bond and build a strong foundation of compromise and support, as well as fun, as they embark on this next stage of the relationship.

But what about couples who have been together for years or even decades, before tying the knot? Haven’t they already developed a strong sense of “we/us”? The answer is yes and no. While couples who have lived together and/or spent significant amounts of time in a relationship likely have a strong identity as a couple, the question is, do they have a strong identity as a MARRIED couple. Everyone has reasons for tying the knot, however, regardless to the reasons, when couples decide to walk down the aisle, they are acknowledging that marriage is a new step or stage, and that it is adding something to their union. What better place to explore that new dynamic than in a new environment, or while experiencing something new, with their partner?

Looking at Gottman Therapy, we know that the goal of relationships is shared meaning. To reach shared meaning, couples must build love maps, share feelings of fondness and admiration, turn towards one another, manage conflict, and work to have a positive perspective towards one another. All of those steps are difficult to attain, if the couple consistently pursues individual endeavors over activities as a couple. On the other hand, should couples decide to take their honeymoon as a pair, each level of the Sound Relationship House, can be nurtured and fostered throughout the trip. See the list below, for more details about how taking a honeymoon as a couple can help strengthen your foundation.

It can be hard to put aside personal desires and individual needs to compromise with a spouse, especially with the added stress that can come along with travelling. However, the benefits of taking the honeymoon as a couple, instead of parting ways, can provide stability at a pivotal point in the relationship, and allow the couple to build a strong foundation for which to grow their marriage. Rest assured, there will be TONS of occasions, throughout their lives together, to develop their individuality, but they will only have one chance to relish in the glow of this newest union!

Ways that Honeymoons Enhance Relationships -

  1. Enhance Communication: Without stress and prying eyes, you and your partner are able to talk freely with one another.

  2. Process the wedding together: You spent thousands of dollars on the “big day”, but hardly had a chance to recap the experiences and perspectives from throughout the night. This also gives you and your partner a chance to “relive” the moments from your wedding, and find out what really stood out to each of you.

  3. New Experiences: Vacations, particularly to new places, allow you to experience somewhere/something new. These experiences allow you to gain new perspective, which can be used later in negotiating stressors in your personal life, a greater mental bank for mindfulness, and can help both you and your partner gain empathy for others

  4. New Dreams- As you enter this new phase, you and your partner may feel more secure in expressing dreams and desires or exploring further into the future, especially now that the two of you are bound together in matrimony. There is now an additional layer of security when being vulnerable.

  5. Rituals of Connection- Honeymoons allow you and your partner to build memories together, and encourage you and your partner to create a joint vision for the future. Events/Meals/Destinations experienced during this time can be used for decades to come, to unite and ground you as a couple, and to help reconnect you, when you feel distant in your relationship.

  6. Reduce stress- Let’s face it, weddings are stressful. Taking time away from your everyday life allows you to live in the moment, and re-energize before facing the “real world” again.

  7. Validation- Couples often say that the wedding went “by in a blink of an eye”. It’s hard to feel like anything has changed, particularly if you have been together for a while, immediately following the wedding ceremony. By introducing yourselves as a married couple, hearing people gush over this exciting time (think hotel staff, restaurant staff, excursion guides, etc), and reading cards of well wishes, helps validate that this event is a positive milestone, and allows the magnitude and joyous sentiment, sink in!

My Loved One Experiences Anxiety, Why Can’t They Get Over It?

Anxiety can feel as though you are being chased by a lion. Although this analogy may seem extreme to those who don't deal with an anxiety disorder, it's one that makes sense to someone who encounters anxiety on nearly an everyday basis. Sufferers of anxiety know the feeling of fear, experience hypervigilance to everyday situations, have an excess energy or even a depletion of energy due to the exhaustion of panic and feel that there is imminent danger nearby even though there may not be an actual threat around them.

Having the understanding of friends and family to support you through your anxiety can make all the difference in the world, but it isn't always easy to have empathy when you haven't experienced anxiety firsthand or been taught a bit about it. It is very natural and common for those closely connected to individuals with an anxiety disorder to believe a number of things such as, “I support them, I love them, and it doesn’t seem to be enough,” “It cannot possibly be that bad,” “They have a good life, this doesn’t make sense,” or “Why can’t they just get over it?” These are some typical thoughts to have, but are not helpful for someone who is struggling with anxiety to hear.

When someone is going through anxiety, their body is reacting as though there is danger close by and their stress response is activated. This means they experience acceleration of their lungs and heart, so the blood will rush to their extremities to be prepared to run from danger or “brace” themselves from it. It can also mean they cannot utilize critical thinking or logical thinking because their energy is currently in use to save them from a perceived danger. They can also experience tunnel vision, loss of hearing, and shaking, among other physiological responses. So, truly, they are reacting as though they are being chased by a lion. And yes, they know they aren’t being chased by a lion, which can make these feelings worse because they do not make sense to them.


So, what can you do? Ask them what they need. They may tell you they need to be alone because they are overstimulated and that is okay. Tell them where you will be if they need you. They may say that they need you, but do not know how they need you. You can sit with them and wait until they are ready to talk to you. But probably the most common response is, “I don’t know.” During these times, you can use your judgement, but giving advice may be the least helpful since they cannot truly hear you and any advice given may be minimizing their experience. Once they have calmed down, rested, and time has passed, ask if you can talk about what they need or want you to do in these situations. Ask them what is helpful and not helpful. It could be a trial and error situation, but the fact that you acknowledge what they are going through is real will make all the difference. And as always, if it is debilitating for them or they/you believe they need more help than what you can give, have a gentle discussion with them about finding a professional who can help the both of you.

LoveTip: Rethinking Infidelity

When we talk about infidelity, chances are you have a strong, even visceral, response. Esther Perel challenges us to rethink these gut reactions and redefine what we think we know about infidelity and, by extension, about the fundamentals of relationship. In this TedTalk, Esther Perel explores the changing climate of infidelity in the age of social media and our instant ability to connect with others without even leaving our home. Put plainly, “It’s never been easier to cheat, and it’s never been more difficult to keep a secret.”

Giving the transformation of modern marriage historical context, she discusses the traumatic impact that today’s infidelity can have on a marriage due to the foundation of modern marriage being built on love & compatibility more than ever before. With that comes the unattainable expectation we put on our partners to be our lover, best friend, soul mate, intellectual inspiration and solver of all problems. Imagine trying to achieve all of those things at once while still maintaining your individuality? Not possible right? Thus, today’s infidelity doesn’t just threaten the relationship, it threatens our entire sense of self.

Does that mean the damage and traumatic backlash of infidelity is insurmountable? Certainly not. In fact, her research debunks several age old myths and addresses questions like “Why do loving and committed partners cheat?” Perel suggests that affairs are often more about desire than sex, and concludes that marriages can heal from infidelity and can actually be more fulfilling, passionate and healthy than ever before. In this video, she also shares some concrete steps couples can take after an affair is exposed. Perel’s work reminds us that our relationships are as multifaceted and fluid as we are as she challenges us to take an earnest look at love, desire, commitment and the expectations we use to define ourselves and our partners.

For more information on Esther Perel, visit her website.

 

LoveTip: Our Hour

The transition into parenthood can be a rocky one. Albeit wonderfully filled with the happiest moments of your life, many often find themselves experiencing some of their lowest or most frustrating moments as well. Caring for one or more little ones (or teens for that matter!) can also take a toll on your relationship, and finding the time to focus on your connection to your partner can seem like a daunting task between meals, work, soccer practice, alone time, sleep, etc... So why not start small?

The concept of "Our Hour" is simple. It's one hour a week to spend with your partner. The point is to connect free of distraction, so we suggest tabling your cell phones and screens. Use your hour to put on a record and listen to music, whip up a fun meal, take a walk and hold hands instead of babies, dream together, discuss, laugh, dance, you name it! The point is, that you are intentional in making time for your relationship.

Why not start this week?! Sit down with your partner, break out the calendars, and give yourselves something to look forward to! We wanna hear your ideas for how you'd spend "Our Hour" with your partner. Share below!