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.
The need to know runs deep and strong. For the most part, we believe that if we know what is happening we can do something about it. When we know we feel a sense of control. And, having a sense of control is vital to our well-being.
But, most of us also understand (at a deep and often avoided level) that we don't really have control over much of anything in our lives. Just watch the news on any given evening. You will hear about events...usually tragic events...that have turned lives upside down in an instant.
We are given daily doses of "truth" that, once digested, give us the impression of knowing. This knowing comforts us and allows us to feel like we can take charge of our lives. All of this is very important and very useful. Without it we wouldn't even know how to boil an egg.
Information is good! Information that is true is even better!
We act as if there is no end to knowing...that we could actually get to a place where we know all that can be known. This is particularly true in long term relationships. Their length itself seduces us into thinking we know all there is to know about our partners.
Once we've arrived at this place of knowing we've concluded our quest and the relationship has essentially lost its appeal.
The problem resides in an over-emphasis on knowing. This is accompanied by the discomfort most of us feel with the notion of mystery. We could say that the popularity of mystery novels demonstrates a real interest and attraction to mystery. But, that's not really the case. The popularity of mystery novels resides in the fact that the novel points out a mystery but concludes with the mystery being solved. A mystery novel that leaves things mysterious wouldn't have a lot of appeal.
The Dark Truth is that for a long term relationship to maintain its vitality, a portion of it has to remain mysterious.
In order for a couple to feel actively drawn to each other there needs to be an experience of interest and curiosity both of which are fueled by the presence of mystery.
When a person who's afraid of freedom is sufficiently stressed he/she will view the person embracing freedom as dangerous. Freedom becomes toxic and threatens to destroy stability.
For example: "If you don't reign in your spending and live by our budget we will go bankrupt!" Or, " If you don't discipline the kids more consistently they will turn into juvenile delinquents." Or, "If you don't stop talking to your 'friend' at work, I can't stay in this marriage."
When a person who's afraid of limits is sufficiently stressed he/she will view the person embracing limits as dangerous. Limits become toxic and threaten to destroy a sense of freedom.
For example: "If I have to check with you or the budget every time I need to buy something I might as well be in jail with you as the warden." Or, "They are kids! Let them have some fun. You are always on them. That's why they don't like you." Or, "I have a right to decide who I want to be friends with. You need to back off and trust me!"
YOU ARE PROBABLY AFRAID OF FREEDOM IF...
YOU ARE PROBABLY AFRAID OF LIMITS IF...
Judging from social media posts, magazine covers and other forms of consumer information, most people are looking for a relationship life that is smooth, fulfilling, growing, interesting, passionate and exciting. This, despite the common disclaimers that go something like this…
“I know relationships are hard and they require work.”
“No one is perfect, certainly not me. So, I know there will be ups and downs.”
No acknowledgement of difficulty nor awareness of imperfection seems to stop us from looking for the quick cure that will, within a few designated steps, resolve all the really difficult issues we confront. Maybe it’s always been this way. Or, maybe we are simply living out an instant culture brought to us by quick internet searches and same-day delivery for online purchases. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is acknowledging the difficulty of successful relationships, letting that awareness soak in thoroughly and diving deeply into the work of making things go well.
By not letting the awareness of difficulty soak in thoroughly we fool ourselves into thinking things will be fine. Most of us are unwilling to embrace the depth of the relationship difficulties we face. We prefer to avoid them and hope for the best. The net result of avoidance is that we feel some temporary relief. But, in all likelihood the difficulties take root and become even more entrenched.
It takes a lot of acceptance, patience and courage to experience the full extent of what happens in an intimate relationship. Sometimes it’s even difficult to embrace how good things are. So, it’s not just the hard stuff that we resist. Being completely open to what a relationship brings…both good and bad…is the definition of intimacy. Intimacy often feels great but not always. Though it doesn’t always feel good, it’s always productive.
Going forward, I’ll take a look at some of The Dark Truths of Successful Marriage. These are the things we’re often reluctant to acknowledge and even more reluctant to embrace.
Marriage is rooted in paradox. Identifying the paradoxes and navigating them successfully is the differences between a vital, growing marriage and a marriage characterized by conflict and stagnation.
Getting stuck is all too common for many couples. We want things to move forward smoothly and consistently. The truth is, having problems isn’t the problem. Getting stuck and not being able to solve problems--that’s the problem.
If you’ve ever played a musical instrument you know the experience of practicing a piece, making a mistake, stopping and starting over again only to make the same mistake again. The spot where things go bad can acquire an energy that’s difficult to overcome. Each time you approach that spot there’s a tendency to anticipate a mistake and therefore an increased likelihood that the mistake will actually occur. Because relationships operate in patterns or cycles, couples experience this phenomenon often. The persistence of the “stuckness” can be incredibly frustrating.
Here are a few tips for what to do when you’re feeling that familiar and frustrating stuck spot in your relationship.
TAKE A "REVOLUTIONARY PAUSE"
The revolutionary pause is more than just stepping back and counting to ten. It’s all about what you do when you’ve stepped back. It isn’t a passive waiting. It’s very active. Taking a revolutionary pause means giving yourself an opportunity to take in the big picture of what is happening. Feeling stuck inspires a natural inclination to focus intently on the specific circumstances of your stuckness. In that moment it can be very helpful to locate yourself in the larger pattern of your relationship. Once you’ve located yourself in the pattern, you can more easily say, “Oh, this is just a particular spot in our relationship. It isn’t the whole of the relationship. By noticing that it’s only a spot, you give yourself a chance to gain a different, more productive, perspective.
SHAKE IT OFF
Much of how we are in relationships is physical. Most of us are inclined to forget that. We tend to think thoughts are the primary source of information. Actually, our bodies inform us all the time. Tension, for example, clearly shows up in the body. And, getting stuck usually brings on tension. If you’ve ever watched a nature program where the cheetah is chasing the gazelle you will know that on those occasions when the gazelle escapes the cheetah, the gazelle does an interesting thing. As soon as she knows she’s safe, she does a massive body shrug. She literally shakes off the trauma that her body is holding.
So, the next time you find yourself in a standoff with your partner, consider taking a moment to retreat to a private space and shake it off. From head to toe, move your body as if you were shrugging off something unwanted.
Problems are not solved by repeatedly applying a familiar “solution.” The hallmark of a good scientist/researcher/inventor is curiosity. When we allow stuckness to take hold, it typically has a paralyzing effect. Introducing curiosity can loosen things up remarkably. Ask yourself things like, “What am I really trying to accomplish?” Or, “I wonder what I’m doing that makes my partner so defensive.” Or, “Who does my partner remind me of when we get to this stuck place?”
Questioning yourself in an open and curious way can lead to a different stance that can, in turn, lead to a different outcome.
PAY ATTENTION TO THE CHOREOGRAPHY
People aren’t just stuck emotionally or intellectually. They are also stuck in space and time. Instead of standing your ground, walking away, or closing in for the “kill,” consider moving toward your partner with openness and acceptance. Sometimes the notion of taking a “time out” and leaving the scene becomes just another predictable feature in the pattern of stuckness. So, think about not leaving. Instead take on an open posture. Make eye contact in a softer way. Pay attention to how facial expression might be contributing to the impasse you’re experiencing.
DEVELOP A BETTER RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR EMOTIONS
In any interaction, you have two relationships occurring simultaneously. There’s the relationship you have with the person opposite you and the relationship you have with your own emotions. If your relationship with your emotions is a bad one, in all likelihood it will negatively affect your relationship with the person opposite you.
When you have a good relationship with your emotions, they are neither in charge nor ignored. Emotions are an alarm system that appropriately warns you that something needs your attention. They are like a smoke alarm. When the alarm sounds it’s important to determine if it’s just the toast that’s burning or if your drapes are on fire. It’s not OK to take the battery out of the alarm any more than it’s OK to call 911 ever time it goes off.
Feeling stuck is most often the result of having a bad relationship with heightened emotions. We wind up calling 911 when, in fact, it’s just a case of burnt toast.
When it comes to getting unstuck, the most important thing to remember is that more of the same is never a good idea. In fact, the definition of being stuck us doing the same thing over and over without experiencing progress.
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.