Romantic love fades away but romance never has to end!

Romance is a choice we can make every day!

As a couple you can influence the way you feel about each other by reconstructing the conditions of romantic love.

When you treat each other the way you did in happier times, you will begin to identify each other as a source of pleasure once again.

What could be more powerful than doing the very things your partner has identified that make her or him feel loved??

Here’s a tool that will help you reconstruct those conditions of romantic love. It’s a very practical way to choose romance every day, and keep the fires of romantic love burning.

It’s called…

The Caring Behaviors exercise

Click on the link above and print out two copies (one for you and one for your partner). Then follow the instructions below.

In this exercise, you and your partner give each other the keys to your heart – specific “caring behaviors” that make you feel loved.

After you go through it, there’s a link below where you can read the story of Wendy and Tom – how their relationship died, and then how it went from “flatlined” to “fully-alive” using this tool.

1. Make a list as you think about three areas:

(1) what your partner is already doing that pleases you.
(2) what your partner used to do that pleased you.
(3) what have always wanted but never asked for.

These may be very private fantasies, but should not be a present source of conflict.

With each item complete the sentence, “I feel loved and cared about when you…”

Fill in your answers on the spaces provided on the printout.

(Examples: make me coffee in the morning, call me from work just to check in, tell me I’m doing a good job, help me with my chores around the house, spend quality time talking with me, take a shower with me, compliment me on how I look, give me a back rub, want to have sex with me, bring me an unexpected gift, cuddle without having to have sex)

2. Indicate the importance of each item with an A, B or C, with A being most important.

3. Now exchange lists.

4. On your partner’s list put an X by any items you are not willing to do at this time, making the rest of the list conflict-free.

5. Then beginning tomorrow, do at least two of these behaviors each day for two months.

Start with the easier ones first and then move to the more difficult ones.

These acts are to be GIFTS, NOT OBLIGATIONS. However, do them whether you feel like it or not.

The act of doing these things will begin to reignite your desire for each other.

Keep going and you will rekindle the feelings of romance, and create a safety zone that will allow deeper connection and bonding.

If either of you experience some resistance with this exercise, keep on doing these caring behaviors until the resistance is overcome. Do it even if you don’t feel it. Your feelings will follow.

But remember, the process won’t work unless you work the process.

Someone told me, “My partner and I tried this and it didn’t work.”

I can relate!

Sandy’s list included things like surprise outings and weekend adventures. Those kinds of things really make her feel loved and cared about.

So I planned one. And it hit the mark! She LOVED it and we felt close. 🙂

But then I did nothing like that again for several months. 🙁

Her efforts to do things on my list were about like mine. One here and one there.

To be honest, this exercise didn’t do for us what I was telling others it would do for them!

So I asked Sandy, “Why do you think it’s not working for us?”

She thought for a moment and then said, “It’s kind of like the California drought.”

What?

Then I got where she was going with that.

A few years ago California went through about six years of serious drought where reservoirs dried up and a statewide proclamation of emergency was issued.

During that time there would be a day or two, here and there, when it would rain cats and dogs all day long. And it felt so good every time all that rain poured down.

But those few times of rain had no effect whatsoever on our reservoirs or on the drought.

Sandy went on explaining…

“The few times we did these ‘Caring Behaviors’ could not make up for the drought we have experienced day in and day out over the years.”

Wow. I get that. That really makes sense.

Lesson learned.

We realize we have to do these caring behaviors REGULARLY and NOT STOP!

The exercise you printed out says “three a day for the next two months”! If three is too much start with one a day and work up from there.

The key is consistency!

Then it’s something hopefully you get addicted to – in a good way.

Sandy and I are rebooting our efforts. And it’s paying off.

What about you?

Print out the Caring Behaviors exercise and let’s get started!

Click here to read how Wendy and Tom used this tool and saw their dead marriage resurrected!


romantic-love

Let everyone know how it’s working in the comment section below. Also, please share this blog with your friends and on social media!

Let’s continue to be part of a relationship revolution!

Subscribe below to receive my weekly post that will come to you email inbox every Saturday morning! 

My goal is to provide free relationship tools and resources delivered to your inbox every week! 

What to do when your marriage partner keeps “leaving the relationship”

I’m not talking about moving out. I’m talking about taking  seemingly innocent “exits” that rob your relationship. 

“Exits” are places where you go to get your needs met outside your relationship.

Things like hobbies, sports, computer games, the kids, work…

or pornography, an affair, etc.

Some “legitimate”, some not so.

Whenever anything becomes a substitute for intimacy with your partner, it can drain your relationship of the energy it needs to flourish.

Does this touch a nerve? Please read on.

In last week’s post, Katie felt like her husband, Frank, was playing way too much golf.

But through the Couples Dialogue, they got to the real issue in their relationship.

Golf wasn’t the problem it was Katie’s hidden fear.

Katie’s hidden fear was  that something would always take her place in Frank’s life.

Their marriage experienced a breakthrough when Frank began to understand this.

Frank began to see all Katie’s “nagging” as simply a hidden desire for more closeness with him. When he finally got that, Katie’s nagging stopped. Fantastic!

But what about Frank? What was Frank’s issue, and how did he contribute to this relationship problem?

Turns out, playing golf was an “exit” from the relationship. It was one of many ways Frank would “leave” Katie when he felt unsafe.

In the counseling process, while Katie learned to turn her criticism into a spoken desire, Frank learned to close the exits that were robbing their relationship.

He began to channel that energy into building an intimate partnership with Katie.

And you can do that too.

Here’s how  to close the “exits” that are robbing your marriage.

resolving couples conflict

1. Identify your unconscious defenses

If you met Frank you would not see any indication there was a problem. He is funny, and outgoing, and well-loved by all their friends.

But as the Dialogue process went deeper, Frank discovered a secret about himself.

Although Frank was super outgoing and a real “people person”, he was terrified of intimacy.

Abuse suffered early in life from his father, and neglect from his mother led to a deeply ingrained belief that intimacy is painful.

The message was, “If you get close to someone, you’ll end up getting hurt.”

Frank learned to survive childhood by keeping a safe distance from everyone.

The first step for Frank was to identify his unconscious defense strategy:

Frank was an “isolator” who would take a convenient “exit” anytime Katie would get “too close”.

resolving marriage conflict

2. Identify ways you avoid your relationship

Katie complained that “golf was the problem”, but we saw that golf wasn’t really the problem.

It was that Katie felt like Frank was “leaving the relationship”. Golf was one way he did that.

When Frank quit playing golf on the weekends, Katie was still not happy. Why?

Frank’s “exit” switched to computer games. Again, Katie felt him leaving her.

It wasn’t until these exits were identified that a plan for change could happen.

Katie longed for closeness, but from the very beginning of their relationship whenever she would get too close, Frank would exit.

It was Frank’s  fear of intimacy that kept him on the run.

And there was always an exit to be found!

What about you? What are your exits?

Take time to look at your activities and ask yourself, “Am I doing any of these things in order to avoid my relationship?”

One husband realized that he was staying late at work, because when he would walk through the front door, a wave of depression would come over him. It was real easy to stay at work.

When we are disconnected from our partner, anxiety can make our relationship a real downer. That’s when it’s easy to exit.

So take time to identify your exits.

resolving marriage conflict

3. Redirect energy into your relationship

It’s important to not just close the exit. We must also find a way to redirect that energy into the relationship.

The best way I’ve found to do that is by using “Caring Behaviors”.

A “Caring Behavior” is something your partner has expressed to you that makes her or him feel loved.

In last week’s post, Katie made a “Behavior Change Request” of Frank. That request  pointed to a “Caring Behavior” – something that, when done, makes Katie feel loved.

Her request was, “Next month, will you choose one weekend and plan something for us to do together?”

When Frank gave up his weekend golf to plan a suprise weekend with Katie, it was a positive experience for them both.

Katie felt loved, and her response made Frank feel like he could move closer to her.

It doesn’t help to just close your exits. You must redirect that energy into the relationship in a way that works for you both. That’s when reconnection can occur.

How about you in your relationship? Perhaps you can relate to Frank?

Is it scary for you to think about giving up something you love on a slim chance that you might be able to make your partner feel loved?

I can relate!

So begin with small steps.

There was wife who would go jogging every day at lunch, and then again after work. She learned that jogging was an exit – a way she was avoiding intimacy.

A small step for her was to continue jogging during her lunch break, but stop jogging in the evening in order to spend that time with her husband. 

She didn’t give up jogging altogether. She just turned some of that energy back into the relationship. They spent time using some of the Dialogue tools they were learning in therapy. It was a step in the right direction.

Small steps…

So closing the exits is not about giving up something. It’s about getting the love you’ve always wanted!

Instead of leaving the relationship, identify your defenses, call your exits what they are, close them, and redirect all that good energy into your relationship.

You’ll be glad you did!

Need help? Reach out to me. I do coaching with couples all over the world through video conferencing.

Also…

If you haven’t already, please subscribe to my weekly post in the form below. My goal is to provide free relationship resources delivered to your email inbox every Saturday morning!

How a husband’s destructive anger was transformed into passionate love

“My husband’s destructive anger is wrecking our family! I can’t deal with his abuse any longer!”

Tears filled Gina’s eyes as she explained what her husband Gary’s anger was doing to her.

This began a 7 step journey that transformed Gary’s destructive anger into passionate love.

Recently, in an argument over how to deal with one of their children, Gary blew up at Gina and put his fist through the wall.

Gary had not previously been physically violent toward Gina or their three children. But there were repeated times of yelling and name-calling.

And now Gary had literally hit the wall. Where was it going to end?

Gina was not only concerned for her own safety, but was really afraid of what this anger would do to their kids.

In our first session, we began a structured dialogue that helped Gary and Gina take seven steps toward dealing with abusive anger.

1. Set a boundary against uncontrolled anger.

It was very important for Gina to say to Gary that uncontrolled anger is not ok. Gina must realize she does not have to tolerate it, and must be empowered to leave the abusive situation in any way necessary. This may include getting a restraining order.

There are cases of emotional and physical abuse where the first step is for the victim to separate from the abusive partner and get professional help.

Gina communicated this boundary in a Dialogue where Gary mirrored and validated her concern.

It was very important that this boundary be communicated to Gary in a safe way. The Couples Dialogue helped him receive and accept it rather than feel judged by it.

In Gary’s case, he was ready to get help, and fully accepted Gina’s boundary.

For Gary and Gina, this act of violence was a wake up call to get help.

Both of them were eagerly seeking change.

They invited me to continue to facilitate this process of transforming anger into passionate love.

husbands-destructive-anger-transformed-2

2. Commit to “zero negativity”.

After setting a boundary against violence, Gary and Gina agreed to sign the Zero Negativity Challenge.

This is a pledge to stop all negative comments, criticisms, and uncontrolled expressions of anger.

It is something I ask all my clients to sign whether violent anger is an issue or not.

Because nothing can happen in a relationship unless it is safe.

And it will never be safe if the tiniest bit of negativity is allowed in the space between the couple.

Negativity in a relationship is like putting a drop of raw sewage into a glass of pure drinking water.

Would you drink it even if I assured you it contained only a drop of sewage? 🙂

Of course not! Because, even with a drop of bacteria infested sewage, it’s no longer safe to drink.

In the same way, when a drop of criticism or unbridled anger is deposited into the space between a couple, it’s no longer safe to for either partner to open up to each other.

Going forward Gary and Gina weren’t perfect, but this commitment to zero negativity was a good start down the right path.

husbands-destructive-anger-transformed-3

3. Avoid assigning labels to each other.

“My partner is abusive!”
“My husband is a narcissist!”
“My wife has Borderline Personality Disorder!”

Labeling like this produces enough negative energy to keep a person permanently bound in the role assigned to them.

People live up to what we say about them.

It’s important to drop the labels.

And here’s another reason why.

Gary and Gina are just two partners doing the best they can to manage their anxiety.

What do you mean?

When couples feel disconnected, the result is always anxiety.

The human mind cannot handle anxiety for more than a few seconds. To cope we turn it into either anger or depression.

So most people are not what we tend to label them. They’re just trying to manage their anxiety the best they can. Obviously some better than others.

Of course there are true narcissists and there are violent aggressors that are unsafe people period.
But in many cases where a someone claims their partner is a narcissist, it is a label unfairly assigned.

During the Dialogue process, we often find that the “so-called narcissist” is perfectly capable of empathizing with his or her partner. It’s just that the relationship had never been safe enough for that to happen.

We are all self-absorbed until we experience differentiation in our relationship.

It’s the growth challenge of marriage that changes us from self-absorbed individuals into differentiated individuals capable of intimate connection.

In many cases people are self-absorbed because they’ve never stepped up to the “growth challenge” that every marriage presents.

Therefore it’s important not to label.

The Couples Dialogue process helps you reimage your partner as someone who is simply trying to manage their own anxiety the best they can.

Some do it by exploding anger outwardly. Others by internalizing anger and becoming depressed.

4. Listen to anger’s “cry for help”.

As Gina mirrored Gary’s angry feelings, she learned that his anger was a cover for deeper emotions he was experiencing.

Usually anger is not about what you say it’s about. It’s a way to protect yourself from your more vulnerable feelings.

Like the tip of an iceberg, anger can be used to cover deeper emotions that we my not be conscious of.

husbands-destructive-anger-transformed-4

Gina and Gary’s big blow up was not really about differences over child discipline. It was about Gary not feeling important in the process.

And at the very core was Gary’s hidden fear of losing his connection with Gina.

As a child, Gary experienced feelings of abandonment from his early caretakers. Unknowingly, he had brought these wounds into his marriage.

When he felt Gina withdrawing from him, his deep fear of abandonment was triggered.

In an unconscious reaction he would then use anger to mask these feelings of abandonment.

This in turn caused Gina to move even further from Gary.

But Chuck, that doesn’t make sense. If Gary wanted to be connected with Gina, why would he yell and punch the wall?

Why do kids throw temper tantrums?

To get the attention of the parent they fear won’t be available to them when they need it most.

Gary was doing an “adult version” of this kind of behavior.

So how does Gina “listen to anger’s cry for help” and begin to understand Gary’s real emotion behind anger?

It was through the structured Couples Dialogue that Gina felt safe enough to listen and validate Gary.

And in the context of that safety, Gary got in touch with the fear of abandonment that was driving his explosive anger.

And then, as we’ll see later, things went even deeper…

husbands-destructive-anger-transformed-5

5. Stay present rather than retreating.

As Gina stayed present and listened to Gary, this had a powerful calming effect on him.

It was Gina’s withdrawal that triggered the fear and anger in Gary.

Most every day we walk our dog, Brie, in the neighborhood. There is a cat about a block away that Brie loves to chase. It goes like this.

The cat sees Brie and takes off. When Brie sees the cat take off, she begins pursuit until she reaches the end of her leash. And then it’s all we can do to hold her back. We should have gone to dog training school.

One day the cat saw Brie, and instead of running, he sat down in the driveway and began licking his paw.

Brie was really troubled. And stood perfectly still. Why?

We discovered that Brie will only chase if the cat retreats. If the cat doesn’t run, Brie waits.

In the same way, Gina’s running away was one of the triggers for Gary to pursue her in anger.

A dramatic change occurred when she remained present for Gary. His anger was diffused and he was able to express his fear in a safe dialogue.

Gina was able to empathize with Gary’s feeling of abandonment, and that was when everything changed.

Continuing to be curious in the Dialogue, Gina found out Gary’s hidden fear.

Recently she had became more involved in her work as a school teacher. This meant more social engagement with her coworkers as well.

As Gary saw her having fun with people that had more in common with her than he did, Gary feared that one day she wouldn’t need him and would leave him for good.

So the anger wasn’t about the differences they had in parenting. It was about Gary’s deep fear of being left alone.

Very often the problem you’re arguing about is not the problem. It goes much deeper.

Both Gina and Gary got in touch with the real issue which was Gary’s hidden fear.

This happened because Gina stayed present and curious in the process.

6. Use your anger as a signal to stop and dialogue.

The Couples Dialogue slows things down, enabling you to talk about your anger rather than exploding it.

Anger does not have to be unhealthy. It doesn’t have to turn into destructive aggression.

Anger can be an incredibly useful emotion.

Anger serves as a stoplight – a signal that something is not right and you need to STOP.

husbands-destructive-anger-transformed-6

Gary learned to recognize when he was angry by noticing the sensations in his body.

Sensations like a tensed body, clenched teeth, restlessness, or increased intensity of speech were the cues that helped him realize he was angry.

If we can recognize anger before it’s expressed, it can be a signal to stop and use our safe conversation skills to talk about it.

If we heed anger’s warning, it’s possible to return to love and connection. If we ignore its warning, our relationship will suffer.

It’s a choice we have to make.

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7. Channel anger’s energy into passionate love.

Anger and passionate love are opposite expressions of the same energy.

When anger’s negative energy gets redirected in a safe conversation it transforms into passionate love.

Gary took steps to moderate his anger, by talking it out rather than acting it out.

Gina stretched in order to be present with Gary rather than withdrawing and triggering his feelings of abandonment.

What happened as a result?

Anger was transformed into passionate love.

I saw evidence of this in the parking lot of my office after our last session as Gary and Gina stood by their car for what seemed like forever in a passionate hug and prolonged kiss.

As people watched them, I thought, “They have no idea what’s behind this. If they only knew…”

Gary and Gina not only learned to deal with destructive anger, but all of their feelings of love and passion returned.

That’s because anger’s negative energy can be channeled in the opposite direction. And passionate love can be reborn.

It can happen for you as well. If you need help, check out my six-week coaching program. I can take you through the same process that Gary and Gina went through.

I’d love it if you’d share your insights and even questions you may have in the reply section below.

Until next week…

If you haven’t already, subscribe below to Relationship Resources and receive my weekly post emailed to your inbox every Saturday morning!

Our marriage fights began on the honeymoon! Is there any hope for us?

This was our story!

But we learned that with the right skills you can turn a marriage with conflicts into a relationship with a deeper connection!

That’s because conflict is a sign that something new wants to emerge in your relationship.

Something that will bring healing, wholeness and deeper connection.

And sometimes that sign shows up as early as the honeymoon!

That’s what happened to me – and my wife Sandy!

Recently someone said, “Chuck, your posts are pretty good, but have all these insights worked for you in your own marriage?”

Wow! Did you have to go there?

I admit it’s always easier to talk about something than to do it.

So can I just brush this question under the rug? As my readers, you’ll never know. 🙂

Except that I just told you!

Maybe this is an opportunity.

An opportunity to go where I wouldn’t go otherwise. And open up and share some things I wouldn’t otherwise.

Ok, let’s do this!

For years, Sandy and I have been on a journey in our own marriage.

That journey is from an unconscious and reactive relationship to a conscious and connected relationship.

For us this means…

– Moving from blaming and defensiveness to empathy and connection.

– Realizing that behind every criticism is a desire not expressed.

– Realizing behind every angry outburst is a desire being expressed but not heard because of the way it’s delivered.

– Realizing that behind every withdrawal from conflict is a fear of being controlled or smothered.

We are still working on it, moving from the Romantic Stage – through the Power Struggle Stage – into the Mature Love Stage and World Impact Stage.

The Romantic Stage

It all began with two people madly in love – Chuck and Sandy.

I’ll save you the sappy details but we were IN LOVE.

I took her to Ernie’s in San Francisco for dinner.

Then to the “Top of the Mark”, Mark Hopkins Hotel for drinks.

And while looking out over that beautiful city, I asked her to be my wife.

She said “yes”! And I was the luckiest guy on the planet.

The Power Struggle

Most couples see signs of the Power Struggle anywhere from two months to two years after the wedding vows.

Our power struggle began on the honeymoon. That’s right.

As a matter of fact on the day after the wedding.

Sandy had given me a beautiful watch as a wedding gift – a battery powered, electronic watch.

One of the first of it’s kind. I’d never had one before.

Problem is, there was no instruction manual.

So I spent the first couple of hours “the morning after” (yes, the first day of our honeymoon) trying to set it up (yeah, I know.).

To me this was normal. Not doing anything wrong here.

Except for one detail. I was married now. Not alone. And we were on our honeymoon for cryin’ out loud!

Now that I’m married, it’s not really cool to just do what I want, without any consideration for the other person in the room.

But how was I to know?

As Sandy tried to communicate her disappointment to me, I immediately felt attacked.

Feelings of inadequacy overwhelmed me.

So I pulled away from her – literally withdrew from the conversation.

This really upset her and I had no idea why or what to do.

It was horrible!

Even though we “coped” and moved on, this tragic episode began a pattern that would last for years.

I’d get lost in my world (work, hobbies, whatever). Sandy would feel abandoned.

She’d express disappointment. I’d pull away further.

That would trigger more feelings of abandonment, resulting in more expression of disappointment, which would cause me to…well you get the idea.

Not good!

Welcome to the Power Struggle!

All she wanted was a close connection with me. That’s what marriage is supposed to be, right?

Like many couples we struggled to cope with this pattern.

But it always costs when you merely cope with a problem rather than dealing with it.

The price we paid for years was the insecurity of an unstable connection that could be easily ruptured.

Two precious daughters were born, as we continued to do the best we could.

What we didn’t realize is that both of us had brought our childhood wounds and defenses into our marriage.

Unconscious pain from childhood that drove me to abandon ship when criticized,

and that drove Sandy to criticize when abandoned.

The Breakthrough

I’ll save you all the gory details. But it was fight after fight. Silent-standoff after silent-standoff.

Literally “second verse same as the first – a little bit louder and a little bit worse.”

over and over…and over again.

But a breakthrough came when we began practicing Imago Couples Dialogue. The therapy I now use with couples every week.

The process slowed us down in a way that helped regulate our emotional reactions.

And that gave us a chance to see each other – things about each other we’d never seen before because of all the defenses.

Then we began to embrace our differences, and empathize with each other.

And we began to see how our childhood dramatically affected our relationship.

Sandy grew up in an amazing home. She was SO attractive. And so was her family. It was like the family I never had.

Her parents did a great job.

But even with great parents, all children experience wounding at some level.

It’s inevitable.

When Sandy was 2 ½ years old her mom had twins. Both infants suffered with colic. And both mom and dad were consumed by the need to care for them.

Some of what Sandy needed was lost in the process.

Her mom was amazing. And dad too.

But no matter how good you are as parents, wounds happen to our children in ways we’re not aware of.

This feeling of abandonment surfaced many times later growing up.

Once when her older brother got to stay out much later with his friends on Halloween. And got SO much more candy.

And she remembers another time waving goodbye to her older brother as he and his friends drove away for a ski weekend at Tahoe.

Once again she felt left behind. And left out.

Experts say that approximately 90% of our upset comes from history. 10% is related to the present.

The Dialogue help me see that the pain that Sandy felt on our honeymoon was not just because of me.

I was not the source of her pain, only the trigger.

chuck starnes relationship coach
Chuck and Sandy at Waikiki Beach

The Mature Love Stage

Here’s what we learned that helped us move from the Power Struggle to Mature Love.

1. A childhood wound of abandonment can be activated when your partner disconnects from you.

For me to “leave her” for a watch brought back all that pain from childhood.

Am I worth being taken care of? Am I worth pursuing? Am I more important than a watch?

2. Healing comes when you finally get what you needed in childhood from your intimate adult partner.

Sandy wanted me to choose her. To be close to her. To be enamored with her, not a watch (even thought she gave it to me.).

Even though that didn’t happen then, it happened later.

During one of the Dialogue’s she made a change request.

In a moment of safety and empathy she made this request.

“The next time you feel like pulling away from me will you make an appointment with me to dialogue and tell me about the feelings that make you want to withdraw.”

It was a stretch for me. But when I did it, it brought healing.

It was amazing how granting this change request helped me overcome the force of my own adaptations and stay present with her.

And when a change request like this is granted, your lower brain, where all your memories and pain and defenses reside, is not going to say in that moment,

“We’ll you’re about 20 years too late!”

No! It’s going to say,

“Finally I’m getting the love I always wanted!”

And healing is the result.

3. Growth comes to the one bringing healing.

That would be me.

I can’t tell you the feelings of wholeness I experienced as I stretched and grew in to this kind of behavior Sandy was asking for.

Staying present with her was VERY hard because all I felt was anger and fear and wanting to run!

My strategy from childhood, which helped me stay alive, was not going down easily (I’ll talk more about this next week).

It literally called me to access a part of myself that I had lost and never developed growing up.

And the feeling of wholeness was something wonderful like I’d never felt before.

So what about you?

Did your fights start early on like us?

Is it hard to understand why you fight?

Does your partner’s reaction seem extreme?

Join us on this journey toward healing and wholeness.

Get the skills you need to turn marriage conflicts into a deeper connection and passion together.

If you haven’t already…

Subscribe to Relationship Resources by entering your name and email below, and receive my posts with free resources delivered to your inbox every Saturday morning.

Also, in the reply section below, would you tell your story of when the power struggle began in your relationship and what you did about it?

Until next week,

Chuck (for Sandy too!)

Subscribe to Relationship Resources below and receive my weekly post emailed to your inbox every Saturday morning!

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Need a marriage resurrection? How to go from “flatlined” to “fully-alive”

Wendy and Tom’s relationship was as passionate as it gets.

At least it started out that way.

When they were dating, they were crazy in love. At work, the hours dragged on for an eternity until they could finally be together in the evening.

Then, when they were finally together, they honestly didn’t know where the time went.

It didn’t matter what they did, just being together was enough.

They would often stay up till the wee hours talking, never running out of things to say.

Can you relate? Most of us started out very much like this.

But then came the Power Struggle Stage.

After they were married, and after the chemical rush faded, Wendy and Tom felt “the love hangover”.

In the Power Struggle Stage you wake up to the reality that you’ve married someone “different” from you.

That sounds trite, but during the Romantic Stage, you unwittingly gave yourself up for a time, because you were intoxicated and fused with this person who made you feel whole.

They could do no wrong. And it was easy to see things “his way” or “her way”.

When you’re in love, you are enmeshed and under the illusion that “we’re so alike” and “we both like the same things”.

Psychologists call this SYMBIOSIS. In plant life it’s a good thing. But not so in relationships.

SYMBIOSIS is pleasurable during the Romantic Stage, but becomes painful in the Power Struggle Stage.

SYMBIOSIS is where couples get stuck, wound each other, and end up SELF-ABSORBED on both sides.

Thus the Power Struggle.

SYMBIOSIS says,

“You and I are one, and I am the one.”

For a couple to really connect and move from the Power Struggle to Mature Love there must be what experts call DIFFERENTIATION.  

DIFFERENTIATION is what dissolves SYMBIOSIS and enables a couple to connect.

DIFFERENTIATION happens when couples allow space for each partner to be who they are and to be fully embraced in their differences.

Soooo much easier said than done!

Tom was shocked the first time Wendy said she didn’t want to ride with him on his motorcycle one Saturday morning.

Deeply disappointed, he sped off on a long ride by himself. Wendy felt abandoned.

Wendy didn’t know how to respond when Tom wanted to watch sports in the evening instead of talking with her.

Now it felt like he was bored with her. This made her angry, because she did not see herself as a boring person. “Why is he doing this?!”

Wow! What happened?

The SYMBIOSIS that was so PLEASURABLE during the Romantic Stage is now terribly PAINFUL during the Power Struggle Stage.

Can you relate?

This is when many couples either break up or seek help.

Tom and Wendy held out, hoping things would change, but secretly they both wanted out of the relationship.

For months they fought about everything. Things went on and on, unresolved.

Until one day the fighting stopped.

What?

Yes, everything settled down. Emphasis on “settled”.

Like a lot couples Windy and Tom settled.  They came to what you might call a truce. A truce involves a cease fire.

A cease fire is not the end of the war. It only means you’re not shooting at each other right now.

But hey, we’re not fighting so much now. That’s good. Right?

Well…

What was really going on?

Wendy and Tom were now stuck in symbiosis, locked in a parallel marriage.  They’re still together, but all their needs are now being met outside the relationship.

They’ve settled.

Deep inside the unresolved anger still smoldered, slowly smothering whatever feelings of love were left.

Tom and Wendy began looking elsewhere to find those feelings of full-aliveness that were lost and missing in their relationship.

Human beings are hungry for connection, and all of us long for the feeling of being fully-alive that comes through connection with our intimate partner.

When you are in a relationship that’s not close, the pain of feeling that disconnection will drive you to seek feelings of full-aliveness elsewhere.

You’ll begin looking for that chemical rush in countless “exits” from the relationship. Anything to dull the pain and feel alive again.

Some legit. Some not-so.

Think hobbies, work, friends, extreme sports, gaming, a bit too much wine in the evening, Netflix binging, pornography, an affair.

Tom began spending more time playing sports and hanging out with his motorcycle friends, and Wendy started going on vacations with her girlfriends.

Things were more peaceful outwardly, but underneath this apathy, was a growing, silent contempt for each other.

Contempt of course is the biggest predictor of relationship failure.

In Wendy and Tom’s case, their feelings flatlined.

“I can’t deny my feelings. I don’t love him any more.”

“She’s done everything she can to kill my love. Now I just don’t feel anything for her.”

“I’m not mad any more. I just want out.”

Honestly, I’d rather see couples at each others’ throats than in this place.

Anger is just the “other side” of passionate love.

So, when two angry partners reconnect…bam!!

That anger is transformed into passionate love. I’ve seen that happen more times than I can count.

It’s a process that happens through Dialogue and when it happens, it happens in a flash.

It’s like a combination lock. You keep hitting the right numbers until one finally opens everything up. Breakthrough!

Anger is a sign that someone still wants the relationship. And conflict can be a good indication that you’re with the best person that can help you grow and heal.

Anger is an emotion that occurs when something we value is being violated or lost.

The key word here is “value”.

Both Tom and Wendy were no longer angry, and in their case that meant they no longer valued the relationship.

They were done. Flatlined.

When there’s zero emotion, the relationship may seem more peaceful, but in reality it’s six-feet under.

What if the feelings of love have ceased to exist? Passion has breathed its last? Romance has given up the ghost?

What if the love heartbeat has flatlined and the marriage is six-feet under? Can it be resurrected?

Absolutely!

Through Imago Dialogue, Wendy and Tom began to find the safety needed to reconnect on a deeper level.

Through the process, they began to move from symbiosis and self-absorption to differentiation and connection.

I love the Imago process, because it ALWAYS WORKS. If it doesn’t work, it’s because somewhere we failed to work the process.

Through the Dialogue, Wendy and Tom began to re-image each other as different, as someone in pain, defensive because of wounds from childhood, rather than “an insensitive person trying to hurt me”.

I’ve written in more detail about the Dialogue process here, and here.

Along with the Dialogue, Wendy and Tom also did what Harville Hendrix calls the Caring Behaviors Exercise.

I call it…

CARING BEHAVIORS EXERCISE

And it’s all about…

Hacking your brain chemistry to rekindle your feelings for each other and create a safety zone for a deeper connection.

And here’s how it goes:

1. Both of you, make a list using the phrase, “I feel loved and cared about when you…”

OBJECTIVE: To share with each other specifics about what you want, what pleases you, what your partner could do that will make you feel loved and valued.

Make this list under three categories.

(1) What your partner used to do that pleased you.

(2) What your partner does now that pleases you.

(3) What you’ve always wanted but never asked for.

These may be very private fantasies but should not be a present source of conflict.

Here are some examples:

make me coffee in the morning, call me from work just to check in, tell me I’m doing a good job, help me with my chores around the house, spend quality time talking with me, take a shower with me, compliment me on how I look, give me a back rub, want to have sex with me, bring me an unexpected gift, cuddle without having to have sex.

2. Indicate the importance of each item with an A, B or C, with A being most important.

3. Exchange lists. Put an X by item you are not willing to do right now, making the list conflict free.

4. Commit to do these things for each other randomly at least three times a day over the next two months.

When these “caring behaviors” are done regularly, your lower brain (brain stem and limbic system) gets reprogrammed and begins to see your partner as a source of pleasure rather than a source of pain.

That’s when the chemistry gets rebooted and the romantic feelings revive!

Even when your feelings are COMPLETELY DEAD?

YES! That’s what happened to Tom and Wendy!

They moved from the Power Struggle to the Mature Love Stage.

It was hard but they did it. Because they kept on doing these caring acts.

Tom said, it felt “fake” at first. Because he felt nothing for Wendy.

But as he went against what he felt, and did these caring acts day after day, the flame in his heart for Wendy reignited. Before long the feelings of love he had for her returned.

For Wendy it took longer because she had a hard time trusting, not really believing that Tom would keep it up.

When Tom was asked what motivated him to keep it up, he said,

“The more I did these things for Wendy, the better I felt. The better I felt, the more I wanted to even outdo what I had done before. It was like a snowball effect growing stronger each week.

Why is this?

Modern brain science tells us this amazing fact:

Whenever you do a kind act for someone else, your lower brain thinks you’re doing it for YOU!

What?! That’s right.

And that’s why it feels so good!

Tom is living proof of this!

Not only does it rekindle your love, it will snap you out your depression.

The famous psychologist Alfred Adler of the early 1900’s prescribed his “14-day cure plan” to a woman who was depressed assuring her it would work if she just followed the plan.

“So what’s the plan?” She asked.

He told her it was very simple.

“Just do one thing for someone else every day for 14 days. At the end of that time your depression will be gone.”

She said,”Why should I do something for someone else? No one ever does anything for me.”

With a smile Dr. Adler responded, “Well, maybe it will take you 21 days.”:-)

Modern relationship science affirms that Adler was on to something.

Doing these caring acts for your partner will change you own brain chemistry, helping you to rise up out of the dumps and experience new hope for your relationship.

It will do the same for your partner, resurrecting feelings of love and creating a safety zone in the relationship where you can connect like never before.

That’s what happened to Tom and Wendy.

What about you? Are you in a relationship that has flatlined? In need of a resurrection?

Get to a place where you can have Safe Dialogue and implement this Rekindling Exercise.

And, like Tom and Wendy, watch your relationship be resurrected – from “flatlined to fully-alive”.

Until next week,
Chuck

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The secret that will reignite passion in your relationship

Has your relationship has lost some of it's sizzle?

Or worse yet, do you feel like the flame in your relationship is about to go out? Yikes!

Here is one way that is guaranteed to rekindle, not only your partner’s passion for you, but your passion for your partner as well. This is a twofer!

There is a secret about your partner, that, if you can discover it, it will cause them, over time, to fall madly in love with you.

Sometimes we refer to it as your partner’s love language. In short it’s whatever makes your partner feel loved. 

And here’s a clue:

It's not what you think it is! It's what she (or he) thinks it is!

That may sound trite, but that’s where most of us mess up. 

We assume we know and we’re offended when our efforts to show love don’t produce the desired results.

So how do I discover that secret? One word: LISTEN.

Again, I’m not trying to be trite. Listening is a skill that few of us have. Recent research claims that in an average conversation, we only hear 17% of what our partner is saying. 

Why is that? I know in my relationship it’s because I can easily be triggered by my wife’s first few words, and then I  start “reloading”.

At that point I’m not listening to her, I’m listening to me!

Here's the secret: Do caring acts that speak your partner's love language.

Gary Chapman did us all a favor when he wrote The Five Love Languages. If you don’t know your partner’s love language you’re missing golden opportunities to hit the bull’s eye when it comes to making her or him feel loved.
 
Nice things you do are nice, but when you do something nice in her love language it ignites her heart. So waste no more time. Here’s a list from Chapman’s book. Use this simple summary to ask what your partner’s love language is:
 
 1. Words of Affirmation – when words of appreciation, telling me I’m doing a good job, make me feel warm inside and I feel like I’m finally getting from you what I’ve always wanted.
 
2. Quality Time – when you want to spend time focused on me alone. Husbands, this means when you take her for a walk along the shore, don’t bring your fishing pole (or your phone, ouch!)
 
3. Receiving Gifts – I light up when you remember me with a small gift that says “I was thinking about you.”
 
4.  Acts of Service – When you help me with my day-to-day chores or responsibilities, I feel more loved than when you bring flowers or say nice things or anything else.
 
5. Physical Touch – OK I know. Almost every man says that does it for me! But hold on, we’re talking about non-sexual touch; holding hands, a hand on the shoulder, a back rub. I feel especially loved when I feel your touch.

What is your partner's love language?

My lovely wife’s LL is Acts of Service. I can bring her flowers and she’s not impressed. I can shower her with words of affirmation and she feels like, “Words are cheap.”

But there have been times when we’ve been in a heated stand-off, and I’ll ask myself what project is she working on in our patio garden. 

Then before I try to resolve our conflict. I’ll just go out, pick up a shovel and start working on that project, and seriously, it’s not ten minutes before I feel her giving me a hug from behind and whispering in my ear, “I’m sorry.” 

Doing caring acts that target your partner’s love language softens their heart and ignites their passion.

One more tip...watch for "droppings"

It’s not just knowing your partner’s love language, it’s listening every day to hints she or he “drops”, most times unknowingly.
 
I know of a husband who heard his exhausted wife say, “If only I could have one Saturday to sleep in and not have to deal with the kids.”
 
He was listening and saw his opportunity. 
 
The next Saturday morning, he got up early, sneaked out of bed, woke the kids up, quietly dressed them, left her a sweet note, then off they went to MacDonald’s for breakfast. Two hours later he came home and said, “Surprise!”
 
To say she felt loved is an understatement.
 

If you and I will do these kinds of caring acts, randomly and regularly, there will be no lacking in passion for each other.

Give it a try and let me know how it works in the comment section below. 

Until next week…

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