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.
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.
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.
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“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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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…
THE REKINDLING 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,
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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 your 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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