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Date 7: Something to Believe In . . . Growth and Spirituality

Tuesday, November 5th, 2019

In every relationship, like in life, the only constant is change.

Truth.

Reading that statement in Eight Dates:  Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love made me stop and reflect on how my husband and I have both changed and also how we have grown together over the years.   

When we met, there were similarities, such as we were both recently divorced, grew up in the same faith, had dogs and loved to cycle.  

The differences, though, were stark.  Different sides of the political spectrum.  Different holiday traditions.  His love of sports.  My quest to grow spiritually.  And that just scratches the surface.

But in the last 25 years we have managed to create shared meaning in our relationship.  Research on married couples shows that when couples hold their relationship sacred, they have better relationships.

Bingo.  

We were able to navigate our differences, sometimes with struggle, but always with a desire to be in the relationship.  

The 7th Date

We planned the 7th date on the fly.  I literally grabbed the book as we were running out the door to drive to College Station to attend a lecture.  The book suggests that you select a place that feels beautiful and sacred to both of you.

Does driving on 290 and stopping at Buc-ees in Waller count as sacred?  I vote YES.  They have the cleanest bathrooms, the best snacks and awesome tee-shirts.  Come to think of it, it is actually a ritual for us.  Whenever we head out of town by car, we stop at Buc-ees.  I guess you can say it is part of our shared meaning.  

When couples work out the roles they take on, the goals they share for the future, and stay connected by ritually coming together, they create shared meaning.

The 7th date conversation topic was “How have we each grown and changed in the relationship?  What does spirituality mean to each of us and how do we express it? 

A heavy topic indeed.https://eddinscounseling.com/career-counseling

The topic relates to the shared meaning couples create. It is basically the Story of US.  It is the way couples weave their lives together. 

When couples work out the roles they take on, the goals they share for the future, and stay connected by ritually coming together, they create shared meaning.

We reflected on how we have changed and also how we have strengthened the story of US.

We are the George’s.  We love Thanksgiving and have combined our traditions (he needs football, I need brussels sprouts).  We still love to cycle, although our knees don’t always cooperate like they used to.  Most nights of the week you can catch us cooking dinner together.  He has become the grill master and I make the veggies.  Our dogs create time for us to talk every night because they demand a walk, but we love it as much as they do.  We go to football games, which I now enjoy and he goes to musicals with me and actually initiates these dates on occasion.  We currently enjoy taste-testing different bourbons, something I never thought I would like.  We still diverge in minor ways on spirituality and politics, but it is inconsequential.  Scattered about our house are symbols of the things we have shared together, such as memorable trips, and of course, memories of our now college-age son.  We don’t always like the other’s work schedule, but we have managed to work around it and share chores. We are empty nesters who have worked hard to save for retirement and have a shared bucket list of things we want to do before we leave the planet.

In a nutshell, that is shared meaning.  

Date #3 . . . Let’s Get It On: Sex and Intimacy

Monday, March 18th, 2019

“I admit it, I am a receiver, not a giver”.  

He nodded with a playful smirk on his face.

We were on our third date from the book Eight Dates:  Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love. Date #3 is Let’s Get It On:  Sex and Intimacy.

The scene of the date had been planned a few months prior.  Happy Hour at a cool Portuguese wine bar, followed by Little Shop of Horrors at a local repertory theater. 

Not exactly the candlelit dinner recommended in the book.

But, that’s not us. We both prefer a more casual vibe, so a noisy wine bar was the perfect backdrop for our date.  And I must say, the spicy batatas and spinach artichoke gratin were excellent.

The book suggested dressing in a way that your partner found sexy.   I put on my new high waisted, wide leg jeans and chunky suede sandals with fringe. My husband noticed.  He said I looked like Marcia Brady, a total compliment for this 70s girl.  I was feeling groovy.  

What does a great sex life look like?

As we sipped and noshed, we began discussing the chapter we read earlier in the day.  We talked about The Normal Bara book referenced in Eight Dates.  The authors conducted a study about and sex with 70,000 participants in 24 countries. 

They found that couples who reported having great sex lives did a baker’s dozen of things to keep their love and passion alive, such as saying “I love you” often, public displays of affection, romantic dates and vacations, and talking about sex comfortably.

They also give each other back rubs.

I had to admit I was a receiver and not a giver.  It’s a long-standing joke for us, hence the smirk.

We were pleased that we could check off many of the 13 behaviors cited in The Normal Bar but we made a pact to work on kissing passionately for no reason at all.  We give six second kisses frequently but want to improve on the “for no reason at all” part. 

Let’s talk about sex . . . .

Moving on to the Open-Ended Questions section, the first question is about sharing your favorite sexual memories with each other.  

Hmm, we both had to reflect on that for a bit.  Interestingly, we cited many of the same memories.  

We laughed hysterically about one particular memory from our dating phase.  We both recalled our first romantic trip together to the mountains of New Mexico.

And then there was the conception of our son.  When we were trying to get pregnant I was ovulating and my husband, who is a pilot, was in another city.  I hopped on a plane and surprised him.  We will never forget that crappy Holiday Inn that changed our lives forever.

It seems that the times that stood out were more about our connection than erotic pleasure.

I like that about us. 

We didn’t make it through all of the remaining questions at Happy Hour, so we talked some more on the car ride home.

Question 4 is “What’s your favorite way for me to let you know I want to have sex?”  Research shows that 70 percent of couples ask for sex in indirect ways, but as relationships mature, the bids get more direct.  

My husband couldn’t have been more direct when he gave his Little Shop of Horrors inspired answer.

“Feed me Seymour”.

I couldn’t help but laugh. Gottman says that “every positive thing you do in your relationship is foreplay”, and that includes humor.

For us, it’a all about the connection.

Date #2: Exploring Anger

Saturday, March 2nd, 2019

“I see you Jake Sully”, my husband said.

I burst into laughter.

We were working through our second date from Eight Dates:  Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love.  The topic was Agree to Disagree:  Addressing Conflict.

His response was perfect. Jake Sully was the protagonist in the movie Avatar.  In the movie, the Na’Vi tribe greets one another by saying “I see you”.  In a spiritual sense it means ‘I see who you are and I understand you’.  

Mutual understanding, according to John Gottman, is the healthiest and most productive goal of all conflict discussions.

It was Sean’s turn to plan the date.  Per the book it suggests that the couple find a park, beach or restaurant to talk privately. He opted for the at-home date suggestion of walking around the neighborhood since we have had a hectic social calendar the last few weeks.

We put on our sneakers, which cued our dogs it was time to walk.  When we stepped outside it was 52 degrees and a bit drizzly.  I let out a sigh of disgust.

Since we are talking about conflict I need to say, cold and I are bitter rivals and we broke up a long time ago.  Despite my chilly Pennsylvania roots, this Texas girl had to put the kibosh on that plan. 

After the frustrated dogs settled down, we made a pot of tea and sat in the same location as Date #1. This time Sean answered the questions first.

The issue we chose to talk about was differences in expressing anger.  I have always been comfortable letting off steam, whereas Sean viewed anger as a dangerous emotion.

Having been together 25 years, processing many fights and going to couples therapy, this wasn’t our first rodeo with discussing our differences in expressing anger. But the truth is, each time we have talked about it a new layer was uncovered.

This time was no different.

I knew the story of a defining moment with anger in his life.  It left him with a sense that anger is a dangerous emotion that causes a permanent strain on relationships.   

What I didn’t know until I asked the questions in the book was how I could best support him when he is angry and how he likes to make up.

THIS WAS HUGE!

Knowing how to repair is the ultimate skill in marriage. Arguments are inevitable and actually healthy when processed at a deeper level.  By listening and being gentle with our partners we create a safe environment for deeper meanings to be revealed.

Having this discussion as a scheduled date conversation rather than processing a fresh fight helped us to get to this new layer.  The best time to talk about conflict is not while you are in the middle of a conflict. It allows for some time and distance to explore more deeply, rather just knee-jerk reactions.

When it was my turn to answer questions, I talked about how my Italian family was very expressive with anger, but they made repairs with humor or food.  Both worked equally well.  

Despite their fighting, nothing bad ever happened like it did with Sean.  Their fighting was unpleasant and loud, but our home and their relationship were stable.  My parents fought, let off steam, made up and life went on.

As I shared my story, he listened intently and I could see the wheels turning.  

“I see you Jake Sully”, he said.

I burst into laughter. “I see you too Jake Sully”.  

He poured another cup of tea and we shared a piece of Italian cream cake.  It was very comforting to know that he is learning the power of humor and food.

Pucker Up . . . It’s Kiss Day

Wednesday, February 13th, 2019

Who knew?  The day before Valentine’s Day is now known as Kiss Day.  That’s the prefect prelude to love and romance.

Kissing, that wonderful, sloppy, sensual act is the gateway to a great love life.  Remember the scene from The Notebook, where Ryan Gosling and Rachel Adams were mugging down in the pouring rain?  Who wouldn’t want to be loved like that.

Kissing has special powers that stimulate our senses.  Our uber-sensitive lips send signals to our brain to create a cocktail of hormones that make us want more.  Dopamine activates the pleasure center.  Oxytocin, also known as the “love hormone” generates feelings of connection and bonding.  

Yes, a little kissing leads to more kissing.  And more kissing can lead to sex. Passionate sex.

In the book The Normal Bar, authors Christiane Northrup, James Witt and Pepper Schwartz describe their relationship research.  They surveyed 100,000 people around the world and found habits related to happiness in relationships.  Of the people who reported being extremely happy, 57% shared a passionate kiss several times per week.

Among the couples that reported enjoying sex with their partners, 85% of them kiss passionately on a regular basis.

So, if you want a bit more happiness and better sex, pucker up and start smooching.  Sex without kissing is focused on orgasm.  Kissing before, during and after sex leads to better connection.

But don’t just think of kissing as foreplay.  Kiss often throughout the day.

Couples often give a quick peck when greeting one another or parting.  John Gottman says instead of just a perfunctory kiss, try making it last for six seconds.

One.  Two.  Three. Four.  Five.  Six.

Now that’s a kiss with possibilities.  

A six-second kiss feels different than a peck.  It gives the brain a chance to feel the sensation on the lips.  You can smell and taste your partner.  You can feel the softness of their skin or their stubbly growth.  It is long enough to say “I can take time out of my busy day to focus on you.”

If the passion is waning in your relationship and you long for a better sex life, start by giving your partner six seconds of your time.  And then six seconds more.  And six seconds more.  Even if you giggle while doing it, do it anyway.

Then move on to the longer, more passionate kisses of your earlier relationship.  The Normal Bar reported that passionate kissing often declines in longer term relationships.  But you don’t have to fall victim to that.  

Start now and give your Valentine a kiss to remember.

Holiday Traditions Create Shared Meaning

Tuesday, December 11th, 2018

Families are gearing up to celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza and the many other winter holidays that are upon us.  While this can be a stressful time, it can also be a joyous time of family connection. How each family celebrates is unique.

The other day I was culling out photos from my phone.  I came across a photo of my dad taken in the late-1960s and was instantly flooded with memories.  In the photo he was painting two reindeer that would grace our front porch at Christmastime for decades to come. Those reindeer, along with a Santa, are a cherished family tradition.

Even though my parents have passed, my brother and his family have ensured that the traditions we had as children live on.  Christmas Eve wouldn’t be Christmas Eve without a blending of my mother’s Czechoslovakian family recipes and a variety of fish to honor my father’s Italian heritage. The food is fattening, but anything short of these traditions would simply feel wrong.  We happily indulge in the extra calories and complain about how miserable we feel afterwards.  That too, is part of the tradition.

Rituals and traditions bind people together because they can be counted on.  We know what will happen, what to expect.  Traditions make us feel a part of something bigger, creating a sense of safety and emotion connection.

When couples join together they often have to compromise and blend their family traditions, creating a new and unique culture.  By doing so it becomes part of their shared meaning.

Examine Your Rituals

The holiday season is the perfect time to examine your rituals and traditions.  You may have more than you realize.

Do you have special ornaments to place on the Christmas tree?

Do you have a ritual for lighting the Menorah candles?

What holiday foods are special for your family?

Do you watch your favorite Christmas shows?

Do you decorate gingerbread houses?

Do you go see a live performance of The Nutcracker?

Do you have an Elf on the Shelf?

Sharing the tradition and the story that goes along with it is important.  This holiday season, as you pull the boxes from the attic or dust off the old recipe cards, take a moment and share the story of these rituals with your loved ones.  Help the tradition live on.

 

Is My Relationship Real??? Am I Watering a Fake Plant???

Monday, November 7th, 2011

A few months ago I received a lovely orchid as a gift.  Notoriously I kill plants by either overwatering or neglect. My orchid was so beautiful I really wanted to change my losing streak with houseplants, so I carefully followed the instructions provided  . . . . until I was out of town for a few days.

I then fell into my usual pattern of neglect.  I left it in a dark room, dry as a bone.  When I  returned I fully expected to find a wilting plant with falling flowers.  But much to my surprise my orchid looked the same.  I began to wonder, “Is this real  or fake?  How could it possibly look the same?”

I pondered my orchid dilemma and was amused how it is a metaphor that could be used in relationships.

When we enter into a new relationship we put our best foot forward.  If we really want a relationship to work out, we try to change our old bad habits that get us in trouble.  I nurtured my plant like it was a new relationship.

But just like with my plant, true behaviors eventually emerge in relationships.  I am toxic when it comes to my relationship with houseplants.  I was showing my plant my true self and it was accepting my bad behavior.  I didn’t know if I should believe my plants great capacity for tolerating my abuse or dismiss it as a fake.

I leaned towards  the former . . . I really wanted my plant to be alive, even though I seriously  doubted what was happening.  Sometimes we do this in relationships.  We don’t clearly see what’s actually happening, only what we want to see happening.

Sometimes we nurture things that aren’t real.  Sometimes we water fake plants.

But I couldn’t get the thought out of my head that my plant might not be real.  I decided to risk embarrassment and ask a friend what she thought.

Like a good girlfriend would, she listened to my story, examined my plant herself and offered a solution.  She suggested breaking a piece off of one of the leaves to see what would happen.  I was horrified that she wanted to desecrate my beautiful plant.  It was as if she told me to break off my relationship because it wasn’t real.

I knew she was right, but I wasn’t ready for the truth.  I decided it was better to live with not knowing and continued to nurture my plant as if it were real.  Not wanting to know the truth is really denial and my denial was powerful. I kept watering, not knowing, and not particularly caring what others thought.

I have now had my relationship with my new plant for two months.  I have exposed my true self to my plant.  Initially it was accepting and tolerant, some may even say it acted a bit codependent.

But lo and behold, my plant is starting to show signs of being a victim.  Just a few days ago I noticed one of the petals looked a little wilted.  It took two more days for the petal to fall off and for me to believe what was really happening.

But when it did I smiled with amusement for I knew my denial was over.  My plant was finally showing its true nature in our relationship.  I am being forced to deal with the truth and  it’s a little painful.

In counseling we work on accepting and dealing with what is truly in front of us.  No denial, no faking.  Once the truth is revealed to us, it’s up to us to accept what is really happening and take action, even if it is painful.

As for me and my plant, it’s time for me to accept my flaws and get some professional help.  As for you and your relationships, ask yourself if you are watering a fake plant.

 


Couples Counseling and Psychotherapy Associates provides service to Kingwood, Humble, Atascocita, Porter, Fall Creek, Summerwood, North Houston and surrounding areas.

Couples Counseling & Psychotherapy Associates

2330 Timber Shadows Drive
Suite 106
Kingwood, Texas 77339
Ph: 281-812-7529

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