From the anxiety ridden first kiss of adolescents, to the symbolic, "You may kiss the bride," to the ritual peck that occurs as you part company, kissing offers couples the opportunity to demonstrate desire, support, care, commitment and presence. There are all kinds of kisses but here are three that serve as a starting place.
1. The ritual kiss. This is the one that happens at designated times. These are usually times of transition. There's the kiss that happens when you transition from wakefulness to sleep...the goodnight kiss. The kiss that happens when you transition from together to apart...the goodbye kiss. The kiss that happens when you meet...the welcome home kiss. The ritual kiss is important because it speaks to stability and the "ordinaryness" of a steady connection.
2. The lingering/testing kiss. This is the one that happens when you want to see where you and your partner are with each other. It's the one that probably requires the most courage and vulnerability. It reaches out and offers interest and maybe desire. It's an invitation. Like all invitations, it brings with it the risk of rejection. It may be the most important kind of kiss.
3. The erotic/sexual kiss. Most of us know this one from movies and books if not from experience. It's the one that says, "I'm all in!" It's unreserved, passionate and complete. It's also playful and open. It's the one that turns sex into love making.
Paying attention to kissing. The kind of kissing you do can be exciting, interesting and a lot of fun.
Nothing beats a good kiss at the right time.
Imagine two mothers standing at a curb. Each of them has a three-year-old. Suddenly one of the children darts into the street and narrowly misses getting hit by a car. The mother pulls the child back to safety and immediately yells at him.
What is she feeling? Well... on a video tape it would look like she's angry. And, her child would likely think she's angry. But, in fact, she's more likely frightened. What is the child feeling? He's probably afraid as well. The whole scene is rooted in fear. Yet, it would be easy to assume that anger is the dominant emotion.
This is just an example of how easy it is to confuse fear and anger. Couples regularly mix these up. If my wife yells at me for coming home late, I am likely to yell back to justify my lateness. My assumption that she's angry would justify my own anger. But, if I could recognize that, in fact, she's frightened I might move towards her in a reassuring way. The outcome of those two scenes is very different. One could spiral into a protracted fight. The other moves toward healing a wound.
Most angry exchanges are, in fact, the product of fear. Sometimes it's a really specific fear like the mother who's afraid her child was going to be injured or killed. Other times it's much more vague... more global. If it feels like my life is spinning out of control, I'll feel frightened. As a result I'll get controlling which, to those around me, will feel like anger. Once that happens, a fight is more than likely to occur.
Try assuming that when you think your partner is angry he/she is actually frightened. Do the counterintuitive thing and move gently towards him/her.
It's really tempting...particularly when we are stressed...to grab a truth and call it, The Whole Truth."
When couples find themselves in conflict... particularly ongoing conflict... their emotions get pretty intense-- sometime overwhelming. Typically, fear is the emotion that rules the exchanges. It may look as though anger has the upper hand but most likely it's fear. If nothing else, there's the fear of losing the argument and being wrong.
Fear compels us grasp for things that feel stable. Imagine yourself having fallen overboard. You're in the water. Perhaps you're even a good swimmer. But, eventually you will tire and things will get dicey. In that situation, you would normally grasp at anything to keep yourself afloat. That's the feeling most likely to show up when you're in a serious argument with your partner. You will grasp at anything to keep your position "afloat."
In the heat of that moment, we grasp something we know is true. We hang on to it for dear life. We act as if it's the whole truth. The fact that it is, indeed, true doesn't really help.
By singling out one truth we run the risk of distorting the full picture of what's going on. Consequently, we fight about things that seem important. But, they are rarely important enough to justify all the damage being inflicted.
So, the next time you find yourself in a conflict, take a breath, step back for a moment and ask yourself if you are holding on to A TRUTH and missing THE WHOLE TRUTH as a result.
It's easy to fight when one truth is competing against another. It's pretty tough to fight when you are committed to the whole truth.
Listening is the one relationship tool everyone knows to be essential. The need to be heard is universal. Relationships just don't go anywhere without it. All that raises the question, "What about the relationship I have with myself?"
Of course, the relationship you have with yourself (call it self-esteem, self-concept...or some variation on the theme) is incredibly important. In some ways, it's the foundation for your relationships others. So, it follows that listening to yourself carefully and respectfully is essential.
The skill of listening to yourself resides in your ability to step back from yourself (your thoughts) and listen from a bit of a distance. Hear yourself the way others might hear you. That means having empathy for yourself as well as having the ability to be critical of your own thoughts and words. It's important that you pick up the task of listening to you as opposed to leaving that task only for others.
It's much easier to have a conversation with someone who is carefully listening to herself than it is to have a conversation with someone who refuses to listen to herself.
By listening to yourself carefully and respectfully, you model an important aspect of healthy relating.
Each of us has an internal document that details how we operate. It gives information on how to turn the "engine" on and off, how to maintain it and suggestions for trouble shooting. Problems arise when we don't share the manual with our partner or when our partner fails to respect the valuable information contained in the manual.
Sometimes people are shy about sharing the content of their owner's manual. It can feel selfish to insist that there is a particular thing that works and a myriad of things that don't. This is especially true with your partner thinks he/she knows a better way.
On the other hand, some people think they know how things should work and insist on pursuing their ideas despite the fact that their partner's owner's manual suggests something to the contrary.
We encounter this situation outside of relationships when assembling furniture or toys. There are those who only read the instructions after they've created a huge mess. The same thing happens on road trips. Ignoring the directions can be interesting but it can also be very, very frustrating.
Within a relationship, this arises in two obvious areas...sex and conversation. Each of us has a particular way we like someone to make love to us and we have a particular way we like someone to listen to us. Finding that way and engaging it can eliminate a lot of disappointment and frustration.
The point here is to get comfortable enough with your owner's manual that you can read it out loud to your partner.
And... to respect your partners description of how things should be done.
A healthy couple has read each other's Owner's Manual cover to cover.
These posts are written by Jake Thiessen, PhD, co-founder of Couples at Crossroads. We hope you find them interesting, helpful and maybe provocative. Please feel free to comment on them.