Emotional Affairs: The Silent Marriage Killers

 

Affairs have become an unbelievably common occurrence in marriages today.  It is no surprise that divorce rates are at their highest levels ever when we consider how far society has fallen in making affairs acceptable.  This point was recently driven home to me quite vividly as a friend of my wife’s recounted an experience she had.  She was with a group of four of her friends one day having a casual conversation together.  In the course of that conversation she discovered that she was the only one of the five that wasn’t having an affair.  Her friends talked as casually about their affairs as they would about their shopping lists; they were just normal parts of their lives.  My wife’s friend actually felt like the outsider because she herself was not also having an affair.  Imagine that… She felt like the outsider because she was the only one that was faithful to her spouse.  How sad this is.  I myself have been appalled to hear of people actually advising friends to have an affair as a means of “coping” with marriage.  To me, this has nothing to do with coping, but has everything to do with escaping and taking the route of instant gratification (aka: selfishness). 

It goes without saying that affairs are absolutely devastating to a marriage.  They inflict serious harm on the self-esteem of the offended spouse, cause feelings of bitterness and resentment, eliminate emotional intimacy, and obliterate trust.  All of these things are extremely difficult to recover from, and divorce does not solve the problem either.  The damage done lasts beyond the termination of the marriage.  Even remarrying a kind and loving individual does not erase the deep wounds of the affair.  The most surprising discovery made by those that have been offended in this way is that complete healing only occurs by working with the offender to overcome the damage, provided that person is willing to end the affair.  Even in this situation, recovery takes a great deal of time, effort and endurance.  Without question, a far better path is to prevent the affair from happening to begin with.

If we are to prevent the devastation of affairs from reaching our marriages, it is vitally important that we understand the reasons they occur.  Some of these reasons can be very surprising, given what many people believe about affairs.  One of the most common misconceptions about affairs is that they are all about sex.  Rarely is this true.  Affairs are much more about feeling accepted, loved, and validated than they are about sex.  Sex may definitely be a major part of the affair, but not for the reasons most people think.  Most people believe that sex is all about the physical sensation.  No one can deny that this is there, but there is another element that is far more important and far more impactful.  It is the fact that sex is an extremely powerful form of validation.  To many, it represents the ultimate display of acceptance.  For those who are struggling to feel loved, accepted and appreciated in their relationships, having a sexual relationship with another is a desperate attempt to fill this void. 

Obviously, sex is not the only means by which we can fulfill our needs for closeness, acceptance and appreciation.  In fact, for many, sex really doesn’t do much to fulfill these needs at all.  Simple companionship can be just as powerful.  This is where some of the greatest dangers lie in the world of affairs.  When individuals have a physical relationship outside of their marriages, there is no denying it is occuring.  A very clear line has been crossed.  However, for those who are having emotional affairs, those based more on companionship, this line is much more hazy. 

CoWorkersIn truth, emotional affairs are the most devious of all affairs.  They sneak in gradually over time and steadily grow in intensity.  They are easy to deny because there is no clear cut act that defines that they are occurring.  They are incredibly crafty as they convince you that it is “just a friendship.”  As the relationship grows, there is a steady drift away from the marital relationship.  This gradually peaks as the individual becomes numb to their spouse and shifts all their affections to the other. 

Another of the great dangers of emotional affairs is that they can be extremely difficult to end.  These affairs are not based on physical acts, but very real emotions.  Those in the midst of an emotional affair are convinced that they are in love with another, so falling out of love with them, without cause to stop loving them, seems impossible.  In addition, this other person has been, in whatever way, fulfilling the emotional needs that are most important to the offender, so ending this relationship is terrifying for them.  They are afraid if they do so, these needs will never be fulfilled. 

There is one last thing I’d like to say about emotional affairs.  They can occur even when couples are not having problems.  I was speaking with a man some time ago that was considering leaving his wife for another woman.  He explained that for all intents and purposes he had a good wife.  She treated him kindly, wasn’t a nag, took good care of him and their home and anything else he wanted.  His problem was that he just didn’t feel the same excitement around her as he did around this other woman.  There was nothing inherently wrong with his marriage, but in his mind the rush of a new relationship overshadowed any feelings that existed between he and his wife.

09CorvThe image that came to my mind as I was speaking to this man was that of two different cars.  The first was a brand new sports car.  It looks great.  It has all sorts of new gadgets and design features that are fresh and exciting.  You feel a rush as you drive it, and you don’t have to worry about doing any kind of serious maintenance.  It is truly a feel good, no worry car.

60corvThe second car is an old classic.  You bought it years ago when it too was a brand new sports car.  You had the same rush with this car at the time as you do with the brand new sports car.  The problem is that over time things started to go wrong with the car.  The standard routine maintenence was no longer enough to keep it up.  You had to start fixing things.  Eventually, you reached a point where you had to decide whether it was better to keep fixing things or to get rid of it and get a new one.  You decide to keep it for its sentimental value.  You continue to care for the car, fixing this or that as issues come up, but at the same time developing a great bond with it because of all the time and money you have invested in it.  You’ve come to know this car so well that you can sense the slightest problem through a minute change in the engine noise or the tiniest shimmy in the steering wheel, but you also know just how to drive it so that it performs at its peak.  You love this car.

There is no comparison between the true love of marriage forged over time and experience and the false love of infatuation that occurs in  affairs.  No matter how new and shiny these relationships may be in the beginning, all relationships reach a point where repairs are required.  Those who embark down the road of affairs expecting that sports car to always be new and exciting are in for great disappointment.  The day will come when they find their new relationship in need of serious repairs.  Anyone seeking a maintenance-free relationship is unknowingly setting themselves up for misery.  They will never find what they are looking for.  Happiness in marriage is not determined by the number of repairs we have to do.  It is determined by how much we invest ourselves in making those repairs. 

If we are to avoid the pain and misery of afffairs from entering our relationships it is imperative that we lock our hearts.  We cannot allow the draw of an exciting new maintenence-free relationship to distort the reality of the time-tested love we have with our spouses.  We must ensure that our energies are not invested in developing new relationships, but in enhancing those we already have.  Do not forget that no one is immune to affairs.  Many with high moral standards are surprised by how they gradually placed themselves in a position that was completely contrary to their values and the love they have for their companions.   The deceptions of affairs are real.  We must always be vigilant of our thoughts and feelings, or we too could find ourselves drifting down the wrong path.

There is so much happiness to be found in marriage and complete loyalty is an essential ingredient for discovering it.

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Putting Away Defensiveness and Building a Relationship

Sometimes it is really amazing how hard we work to keep ourselves from being better.  It may not be something we are consciously doing.  In fact, we are most likely very unaware when we are doing it.  Nonetheless, it is something many of us definitely do.  How do we do that?  Through defensiveness.  Defensiveness is one of the single greatest barriers to growth for us personally and for our relationships.  So much so that relationship guru, John Gottman, actually calls defensiveness one of the “four horsemen of the apocolypse.”  If defensiveness is regularly present within ourselves and our relationships, we can guarantee that complete destruction is not far behind.

What is it about defensiveness that hurts our progress so much?  Why don’t we look at a quick example?  Let’s just say that I have a tendency to lecture my wife.  When someting comes up that bothers me in some way I go on an on about all the ways it affects me, why it’s wrong, and what she can do differently.  If this were the case, it would likely send the message to her that I see her as a child that has to be educated on the right way of doing things.  She would probably see me as self-righteous, critical and one heck of an annoyance.  She may also think that I see her as unintelligent and incapable of figuring things out for herself.  All of these things would most definitely have the effect of pushing her away from me and making her feel like less than she is to me. 

Now let’s say that my wife tells me that I lecture her too much and expresses how she feels when I do that.  If I were in defensive mode, I might say something like, “I wouldn’t have to lecture if you would listen to me.”  Or maybe even “I am not lecturing!  I’m just trying to give you solutions!”  Either way, you can see that the last thing on my mind is actually listening to the message she is sending me.  So what is the end result?  She goes away feeling even worse than she did when she first approached me, and I go away feeling criticised, with no intention of doing anything differently.  I make it her problem in my mind, and remove any responsibility I might have to do things differently.  In short, I have set myself up for diving into a pattern of frustration, victimisation and ever-growing distance from my wife.

Most people who have been married, or who have been in any kind of relationship for that matter, can relate to this example in some way.  It is incredibly common.  It is not difficult to see how defensiveness can hurt a relationship.  The thing that is much more difficult to understand is why we do it when it hurts us so much.   Why do we work so hard doing something that only causes distance between us and our companions? 

In order to understand this, we have to first understand a little bit about the most basic of human needs: love and acceptance.  All people have an innate need to be loved and accepted by others.  It is at the very foundation of all other human needs.  It is so important to us that nearly all we do in any social situation is in someway aimed at fulfilling this need.  We may be careful with the way we talk, dress, laugh, or any number of other things because we do not want to be rejected by others.  Even our selfless desires to serve and help others may in some way be traced back to our desires to be accepted by God.  Somewhere in all our actions that motivation almost always exists. 

Because being loved and accepted is such a deep-rooted need, we also do everything we can to protect that need.  When we are defensive we have a strong tendency to view complaints as attacks on our character.  More importantly, we see them as messages that we are in some way unlovable and/or unacceptable.  This causes a pain that strikes us at our very center.  Having no desire to experience this pain, we then fight back to defend ourselves against the notion that we are unacceptable.  We do all we can to convince ourselves that we are actually ok.  We take blame off ourselves and put it on the other.  We justify our actions, hoping that if we can give a good enough “explanation” the other will see that our behavior makes sense.  We attack back, criticising the other in hopes that they will realize they are the ones who are flawed, not you.  We make all these tremendous efforts simply to protect ourselves from the pain of feeling unloved and unaccepted. 

So, let’s now go back to the question again.  Why are we defensive even though it causes great damage to ourselves and our relationships?…  We are defensive because the pain of feeling unloved and unaccepted attacks with greater speed and greater depth, and is far more vivid than is the damage done by defensiveness.  It is a simple issue of whether we would react more quickly to placing our hands on a hot stove as opposed to a warm stove.  We will always naturally react to the greater pain first. 

The next question is, if we always react to the greater pain first, how do we ever stop the damage done by defensiveness?  I like to think of the solution like this:  if we put up our shields each time we see a sword flying at us, we must change the sword into a rose.  When you first read this statement you may get the impression that I am recommending that we change the other person in some way.  Certainly, there is much to be said for letting your companion know that it’s easier for you to receive their comments when they are delivered calmly and politely.  However, your main focus cannot be in changing your spouse if you hope to overcome defensiveness.  When I say we need to change the sword into a rose, I am actually referring to how you perceive your partner’s comments. 

As I mentioned before, we become defensive when we view comments as attacks.  Rather than viewing them as attacks allow me to present an alternative interpretation.  There are two parts to this new interpretation.  First, any form of criticism we receive is an opportunity to learn how to be better.  We are able to become aware of potentially destructive behaviors or habits we might have that we may not have been aware of.  I once heard a statement by a very wise individual.  He said, “Whenever I receive a criticsm, I always look for the truth in what was said.”  He then explained that he does this so that he can learn how to bring himself one step further in his progression.  When we resist feedback, we are actually working to stay stagnant.  As I have discussed in previous posts, there are few things that cause a person greater misery than stagnation in the face of high growth potential.  By receiving what it is our partner’s are trying to convey to us, we are also allowing ourselves to move toward that potential, and that growth feels great!

The second part of this new interpretation of feedback has to do with the true message our companion’s are trying to convey to us.  Understanding that the core needs of everyone are love and acceptance, with the underlying need of closeness within a relationship, we can now also understand the purpose behind nearly all complaints.  We receive complaints when our actions, or non-actions have somehow sent the message to our companion that we do not love them, accept them, value them, and/or want to be close to them.  This is the message that they ultimately want us to understand, but the key to this message is this: these things only bother them because they want to be loved by us, they want to be accepted and valued by us, and most importantly, they want to be close to us.  They are telling us that they want to be close to us, but our behavior is making it difficult for them to feel that.  Did you ever consider that when your spouse is complaining to you that what they actually want is to be closer to you?  That thought can really boggle the mind, especially if we have always viewed complaints as intentional attempts to inflict harm on us, with no desires to be closer.  When you really think about it, can you think of a single complaint you have ever made to your spouse that did not stem back somehow to a desire to feel loved, accepted, valued, or closer to your spouse?  It can be a powerful realization to understand that complaints are nothing more than invitations to be closer. 

When we change how we view complaints we open ourselves up to a world of opportunity for growth and greater happiness in our marriage.  We no longer believe we have to protect ourselves from harm because we no longer see complaints as harmful, but as instructions for love.  We can then put away defensiveness because we realize that the only things we are actually defending ourselves against are growth, peace, confidence, selflessness, humility, happiness, and increased love. 

The rose is before us, we only need receive it.red_rose_1.jpg Red Rose image by Chopman001

 

Carnival of Family Life: The Paper Toy Edition

Making a Marriage Even When You’re Not Feeling the Love

There is a great paradox that exists within the complexities of repairing hurt in a relationship.  This paradox creates a great deal of confusion and can even make it seem as though healing wounds is impossible.  It goes something like this…  When we are feeling harmed in some way by another our natural tendency is to push away from that person.  We may have hurt them just as badly, but our own hurt feelings keep us from fully absorbing that fact.  The other person may even apologize to us, yet our hard feelings remain.  The apology we received does not change the fact that we were hurt.  Because those hard feelings are still there, we continue to remain distant and cold.  While we are being distant and cold, we recognize that we don’t like it out here by ourselves.  We want to feel closer, but how can we feel closer when we are so hurt- apology or not?  Despite the others efforts, we certainly don’t feel like doing anything loving toward the other, feeling the way we do.  Apologies may not take that away. 

This is where the great paradox comes into play: we pull away because of the hurt we feel, but the hurt we feel also keeps us from doing anything that will bring us closer together, even when our spouse might be making efforts to draw us in.  It is the feelings of love and closeness that motivate us to act lovingly, so we wait for those feelings to return before we do so. 

This scenario reminds me of an experience I had while on a camping trip with a group of boy scouts.  It was in the middle of winter and we decided to be adventurous and camp without tents.  Instead, we brought a role of painters plastic and fashioned a meager shelter in the wake of a large ditch…  We absolutely froze!  I probably slept all of twenty minutes the entire night.  My sleeping bag was frozen to the ground and my body was so cold it literally felt as though I was frozen in place!  The only movement I could muster was forced upon me by my convulsive shivers!  It was an absolutely miserable experience (one of those we call “character building”). 

As I laid in my sleeping bag, it became very obvious to me that I was not going to get any warmer.  I needed to build a fire.  The problem was, the thought of having to get out of my sleeping bag and brave the outside air caused me to shiver even more.  I kept thinking to myself, “I just want to warm up a little bit before I go build the fire.”  I continued to say this to myself for several hours, but never managed to warm up any more.  In reality, I probably only got colder as the the frigid temperatures penetrated more and more into my bones.  Finally, after realizing my hopes of warming up without a fire would never be met, I peeled myself out of my sleeping bag and had a nice hot fire roaring within five minutes (with the help of a scout’s best friend- lighter fluid).  It still took a bit of time for the flames to chase the cold completely out of my body, but just to be warming up at all felt like heaven.

No matter how badly we want the heat of love to return to our relationship before we build the flames, all we’ll ever actually get are the shivers.  If we want the heat, we have to build the fire- no matter how cold we feel.  The efforts of others might keep us protected from the frigid outside temperatures, as my sleeping bag did in this story, but we cannot warm up completely until we make our own efforts to stoke the relationship.

It is very empowering to me to think that I don’t have to wait to warm up before I can build the fire and feel the flames.  This is empowering to me because I know that I have the ability to influence my relationship in a way that will bring me closer to my wife, even if I don’t feel particularly close in that moment. 

Some people might say that to act lovingly when you don’t feel that way is “fake.”  That we are not living “true to our feelings.”  As far as being fake goes, last time I checked nobody wins extra points in heaven for treating another like dirt because they don’t have the best feelings towards them at the time.  On the same note, I do seem to remember something about loving our enemies and doing good to those who persecute us.  Acting lovingly isn’t being fake, it’s just being a good person. 

As for “living true to your feelings,” I can say from personal experience that many times our feelings are flat out idiotic.  Idiotic in the sense that, when they are negative, they tell us to do things that won’t do anything but hurt us and others.  One very popular message our feelings may send us goes something like, “You should really tell her off right now!  Wouldn’t that feel good?!”  Yup, our negative feelings give us GREAT advice (yes, I do hope you hear the sarcasm dripping from my words)!  I don’t believe I have ever encountered any situation where telling someone off ultimately did any true good for anyone.  Basing our actions on what our feelings tell us to do is like always betting on the weather man to be right; we’re betting on a pretty unreliable standard. 

So now that we’ve established that following our feelings isn’t necessarily the most productive path to a good relationship, how do we actually get ourselves to act in a way that seems to be contrary to our feelings?  Ultimately, it really comes down to a question of what our goals are.  Is our greatest purpose to act according to how we feel, or is it to have the love and closeness in our relationships that we always wanted.  This may seem an easy question to answer, but I know that my actions have not always shown my goals to be what I believed they were.  We may swear up and down that our goal is to have an amazing marriage, yet when we distance ourselves due to hurt feelings or a lack of love, we are really showing that our greatest priority is self-preservation and maybe even selfishness.  That is exactly why considering our goals is the ultimate question…  By comparing our actions to what our stated goal is, it allows us to see very clearly how well, or how miserably we are actually working toward it.  If we make the decision to manage our actions based on what our goals are, our actions will inevitably lead us in that direction.  It will certainly feel as though we are working against what feels natural at times, but the feeling of discomfort is also the first sign of growth.

No relationship can bring the feelings of security, peace, and love that a marriage can.  But these feelings only come when the fire is constantly stoked, regardless of how cold it may be outside.  So, before you decide that you will not return your spouses love until you feel love, ask yourself the question, “How long do I want to be freezing out in the cold before I will build the fire?”  The warmth may not be as far away as you think.

 

Beware of Bad Relationship Advice

Good relationship advice can be very hard to come by, particularly when you’re seeking it from friends or family.  This is primarily because most of the advice we receive is founded on principles of selfishness rather than love.  Comments like, “You need to take care of yourself.”, or “How can you put up with that?!  You should leave!”, seem to be universal answers for every problem.  Sadly, even many therapists, speaking from the baggage of their own failed relationships, may give this type of advice.  Those who give this advice always mean well.  They are not trying to cause further damage to our relationships.  They are merely trying to be supportive.  Unfortunately, being told we are right is not always what is right for us or the relationship.  Well meaning people can wreak great havoc by promoting selfishness and separation.

Even if the advice you receive from others seems like good advice, considering the information you have given, it is very important to remember that their assessment of your situation is only based on half of the information.  I am constantly amazed by how masterfully we can paint ourselves as the ultimate martyrs in our relationships.  I remember one couple I met with particularly well.  The husband started the session by constructing a perfect picture of his wife being a perpetual nag, while he did nothing but serve her and do her will.  The wife then jumped in and told the story of an uncaring distant husband, who only saw her as his “whore.”  Had I only heard one side of their story I would have been ready to call out the hangman’s mob to bring the other to justice!  It is not only unwise, but completely wreckless to give advice when only having half the information.  At the same time, it is even more unwise and wreckless to take advice when you know you have only given half the information.  Remember, YOUR story is not THE story.  The true story usually ends up being some kind of average between your perspective and your spouses. 

This brings us to the question, “So, how do you know when advice is good advice, and should be taken?”  For starters, if you are sincerely looking for advice and not just someone to tell you you are right, then begin by making sure that the third party has as much information as possible.  If possible, give them the opportunity to speak with both of you.  You will be doing you and your relationship a great disservice by only offering your perspective.

Second, in listening to others’ advice, look for signs that they may be reacting particularly strong to certain issues.  This could be a sign that they are speaking from their own relationship baggage, which could drastically affect the reliability of their advice.  The best advice comes from those who are able to be as neutral as possible.  If they have a strong emotional connection to a certain aspect of the issue, they will likely be speaking from their emotions rather than their wisdom.  This is an extremely common reaction, one that even some therapists fall in to.  It causes great bias in how others view our circumstances, so be very vigilant of this hazard.   

Finally, ask yourself the question, “Is this advice based on principles of love or selfishness?”  This simple question can reveal a great deal about the quality of the advice you are receiving.  It reaveals whether you are receiving constructive or destructive advice.  If you have seen the movie Fireproof  you may remember the scene where the wife is surrounded by her friends, telling them about how awful her husband is.  The scene rapidly switches over to her husband complaining to his best friend about her.  The scene goes back and forth, showing the reactions of the friends of the couple to the news they have heard.  The friends of the wife say things much like the other blind, selfish phrases I mentioned at the beginning of this post.  Things like, “You are so right”, “You need to leave him!”, or “He is no good for you!”  On the other side, the husband’s friend reacts very differently.  His response is to put the responsibility back on the husband, asking him what he is doing to make the relationship better. 

As the movie goes on, the effects of these different approaches become very apparent as the husband gradually makes more loving and committed efforts to the relationship, while the wife slowly drifts further away, even to the point of becoming involved with another married man.  Fortunately, the wife eventually recognizes the efforts of her husband and comes back to him, but it does leave you to wonder how much faster that would have taken place had she had the type of friends her husband did.

 Don’t fall into the trap of giving or accepting gifts of destruction.  Much advice can appear appealing as it is wrapped in the alluring wrapping paper of confirming our beliefs and justifying our wrong actions.  But, when that package is opened, we find nothing more than a ticking time bomb waiting to explode on our relationships.

Making Love Everyday: The Solution

After reading my previous post, The Diagnosis, you may have realized that you have some tendencies toward being a neurotic investor.  I hope that you were not too devastated by this realization, since practically everyone has these tendencies at times.  At the same time, this is an issue that must be taken very seriously if you hope to have a truly happy marriage. 

Now that you understand what the neurotic investor syndrome looks like in marriages, let’s get into the most important part of the issue; the solution.  How do you end this devastating cycle of hurt, withdrawal of love, and misery?  You begin by living according to the moral sense you were born with.  I realize that this may sound a bit philosophical, so let me put things into a more practical perspective.

 After having a long day of housework and taking care of the kids, Tammy is exhausted.  When her husband Eric comes home, Tammy immediately proceeds to tell him about how difficult her day was and asks him for a massage.  Eric, also feeling exhausted from a stressful day at work, asks if he can do it later, after he’s had some time to wind down.  They eat dinner, spend some time with the kids, and put them to bed.  They then sit down in front of the TV and start watching a show they both enjoy.  As they are watching the show, Tammy is continuously wondering when Eric will follow through with her request for a massage.  They finish their show and go up to bed, Eric having forgotten completely about the massage.  When they get into the bedroom, Eric starts giving Tammy his usual signals that he wants to make love.  Tammy has the thought that she should make love to him.  She rejected his past couple of attempts, and knew he would be hurt if she did so again.  But, upset that she didn’t get her massage, she pushes him away and says she’s too tired.  Both of them go to sleep feeling unloved, hurt, and rejected. 

In addition to feeling hurt and unloved, there is another issue that Tammy is now faced with.  When Tammy had the thought that she should make love to her husband, despite his forgetting her massage, she was receiving a message from her innate moral sense.  This is a sense that all of us have.  Some people are very good at ignoring this sense, while others are very in tune with it.  It sends us hundreds of messages everyday on anything from whether we should allow someone to merge in front of us in traffic, to whether we really should bomb our boss’s car after receiving a rebuke. 

When Tammy made the choice to go against the message she received, she betrayed her own conscience.  This is an action that does not go without consequence.  We cannot go against our conscience without our actions quickly being followed by feelings of guilt and shame.  If Tammy is like many people, her first response to these feelings is to rationalize and convince herself that the actions were completely justified, in hopes that she can fool her conscience into thinking she is in the right.  In the end, all she truly accomplishes is lying to herself, damaging the relationship,  and lubricating her cycle of selfishness, due to the justifications she has put in place.  There is nothing more damaging or exhausting to an individual than betraying their moral selves.  We may convince ourselves that it is the relationship that is draining us, but in truth, the greatest drain comes from knowing we are not acting according to the goodness we truly have.

In considering this situation, you may be thinking, “But Tammy is completely justified in not having sex with him!  Why would she when he isn’t giving any attention to her needs?”  If this were a question of fairness, you would be absolutely correct.  However, if you are looking to have a successful marriage, you must never ask the question “Is this fair?”  Instead, you must always ask the question “Am I living according to my moral sense?”  Put in simpler terms, “Is this the right thing to do?”  The reason why it is so important to ask this rather than what is fair is that when you are seeking what is “fair,” you are also agreeing to make your behavior contingent on your partners.  We act lovingly only as long as we believe our partner is doing the same.  When we do this, we have also given our partner the power to decide what kind of people we are going to be.  They act selfishly, so we must also be selfish.  The ultimate result is that you and your spouse walk hand in hand toward a horrible marriage and an absence of personal integrity. 

There is another thought that may have gone through your head as you have read this post.  It may have looked something like this, “But if she just went along and had sex with Eric, then she would be letting him completely take advantage of her!”  This type of thinking dominates our view of relationships today, which may also be a good explanation for the current divorce rate.  In addressing this, I have one important question: at what point did we convince ourselves that it is a greater wrong to be taken advantage of than it is to act without love?  Think about that question very carefully…  When did our pride become a greater priority than a successful marriage?

So, what is it that I’m trying to say in all of this?  There is only one way to cure the neurotic investor syndrome.  That way is to do what is right… period.  To act lovingly… period.  To honor your moral sense… period.  No contingencies, justifications, or rationalizations.  Just do it.  You will be amazed by what can happen in a relationship when love is no longer contingent, but unconditional.  It enlivens, excites, and motivates the couple to seek for even more ways that they can please each other, and both have their needs met in ways that were never before possible when they were neurotic investors.  Does it take time and enormous patience to reach this point?  Absolutely.  But so what.  Isn’t it worth it?  As the saying goes, anything worth having is worth working for.  I can’t think of anything more worth having than a wonderful marriage.

 

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Published in: on March 12, 2009 at 2:26 pm  Comments (4)  
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Making Love Everyday: The Diagnosis

After reading my first two posts, I hope that you have begun to understand that my purpose is to assist in bringing about lasting changes in your relationship.  I think it’s important that I emphasise that, when it comes to marriage, there is no such thing as a “quick fix.”  I’m sorry to say that there is no pill you can pop that will bring about these kind of changes.  This is a devastating realization for many of us as we come to understand that achieving the relationship we want requires far more “umph” than what we were hoping to have to give. 

To illustrate what I’m talking about, allow me to describe a scenario I have seen more times than I can count.  One spouse, determined to change the relationship, puts in a mighty burst of effort.  This may last a few days, or even weeks.  However, all the while they are doing this, they are watching carefully for a very specific type of response from their spouse.  If they do not see this response, they begin feeling as though they are being taken advantage of.  After all, it’s not fair that one partner should make all the effort while the other basks in the spoils, right?  And, of course, being taken advantage of is one of the greatest sins of all. 

Once this feeling of being taken advantage of sets in, the individual will throw up their hands in exasperation and say, “I will not be taken advantage of anymore!”  They feel hurt, bitter, and unloved.  All their efforts are withdrawn, and the marriage goes on in an even more miserable state than it was previously, due to the compounded feelings of resentment. 

The scenario I just described is a classic example of what I call the neurotic investor syndrome.  This is also the most dangerous barrier to making love everyday.  Let me explain.

As you look at the state of the economy today, there are varying opinions as to why it is the way it is, and what will make it better.  However, one point that seems to be universally accepted is that the economy will not improve until the public begins to invest in it once again.  Businesses simply cannot thrive unless the consumers will invest the money necessary for them to stay afloat.  Unfortunately, many consumers, panicking that they are not seeing returns on their investments, pull their money out, hoping to save themselves from further loss.  This, of course, only results in further damage to the economy. 

In my work I have seen a great many individuals and couples who treat their relationships as they would any other investment; they invest themselves in it only as long as they are getting back exactly what they want.  As soon as there is the slightest sign that they are not getting a return on their investment, so to speak, they pull out.  Hence, they earn the diagnosis of neurotic investors. 

One universal attribute of neurotic investors is that their goal is individual happiness.  On the surface, that doesn’t seem so bad.  After all, who doesn’t want happiness?  But, it is not the desire for happiness that is the problem.  It is the desire for individual happiness. 

I want to make something very clear…   If your goal is individual happiness, your marriage will not succeed.

No one can succeed in marriage unless their goal is not individual happiness, but relational happiness.  These two goals are very different, as are the means for accomplishing them.  To begin with, it’s important to understand exactly where your own goals lie.  It can sometimes be difficult to figure this out.  Most likely, you quickly thought in your mind, “Of course my goal is relational happiness!”  But, in truth, many people convince themselves that their goal is relational happiness, when their thoughts and actions speak very differently. 

In order to assist in determining where you are at, I’ve compiled a list of common “symptoms” of those who are focusing on individual happiness.  Consider each of these points slowly and honestly.

1.  You are convinced that you have tried everything and nothing has worked or will work. 

2. You see your spouse as stubborn and/or unchangeable. 

3. Your spouse’s flaws are far more apparent to you than are his/her strengths.

4. You have caught yourself saying or thinking something along the lines of, “If you are not going to _____, then I won’t______.”

5. You put in great flares of effort, but soon stop when you believe your efforts are not being matched.

6. You read articles and self-help books thinking all along the while, “Boy, does he/she need to read this!”

If some, or all, of these statements are true for you, then I have good news…  You have just discovered the problem in your relationship, and now you can solve it. 

In fear of turning this post into a novel, I will save the solution for my next post.  It’s also much more fun for me to leave you hanging.  🙂  Until then, consider this question very carefully: “How would my thoughts, words and actions be different if my true goal was relational happiness?”

Keep making love!

Published in: on March 6, 2009 at 11:51 am  Comments (2)  
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Making Love Everyday: Foundations

In my previous post I introduced the idea of making love everyday and gave a few simple suggestions as to where you can begin.  If you haven’t read Making Love Everyday yet, I recommend reading it first so that you have the background for what I’m trying to accomplish in this post.  In this post, I will begin to discuss how to make love everyday by addressing the the most important ingredient in this process.  It is as significant to making  love everyday as flour is to bread. 

Before I can reveal what this “key ingredient” is, I need to give some explanation.  Much of the relationship advise you find out there focuses on specific skills and actions.  Many people buy book after book looking for the one self-help solution that will change their world.  In truth, much of what is contained in these books is great information.  Unfortunately, those reading the books often find themselves frustrated when, after pouring over the information and feeling inspired to achieve new levels of greatness, the changes don’t happen.  There is a bushel of reasons for why this is, but I am going to focus on the area that seems to be addressed the least.  It is also the key ingredient I referred to earlier.  This mystical solution is simply this… being present in the relationship.  No change can happen without the presence of mind and emotion required to make it happen.

In order to explain what exactly being present in the relationship means, I’d like to tell a little story.  In my work, I spend a good deal of time on the road.  As I am taking these long drives, it is a regular practice of mine to take the most direct route possible, set the cruise control, and before long, be completely zoned out.  I am usually in deep thought about something during the time, but I often awaken from this trance and realize I have driven a hundred miles without the slightest memory of any scenery I passed, the cars on the road, or even when I changed lanes to pass.  It becomes very obvious to me that it was not just the car that was on cruise control.  The last thing I would ever say about myself in those situations is that I am present. 

However, there are other times when I am present while driving.  I was recently caught in a major snow storm while driving.  The snow was coming down very hard.  So much so that there were times when I literally could see nothing but white.  I knew that if I was not very careful, I could easily go off the road.  I became hypervigilant of everything around me.  I was aware of every bump, every potential obstacle, every car, and the slightest slip in the tires.  I thought deliberately about every move I made, focusing intently on staying safe.  I can guarantee you, I was very present in that situation.  In this case, my whole motivation for staying present was simply self-preservation.  By the time I arrived at my destination the muscles in my neck and shoulders felt as though they were tight enough to snap.

There is one other situation in which I am present while driving, but that has a very different effect.  This is when I turn off the cruise control, open my eyes to the scenery around me, and just allow myself to drink it all in.  I become aware of the colors, the scents, unique features of buildings I pass and every other detail my senses can detect.  I feel very much a part of the scene around me, and I feel at peace.  This, to me, is the very essence of being present.

Now, what does all this mean to relationships?  To begin with, consider a couple of questions…  How often are you in cruise control in your relationship?…  How many days pass with you going about your routine in a semi-robotic fashion without giving any thought to what you are doing to  make love that day?  If you’re like most people, this probably happens fairly regularly, if not constantly.  We become consumed by the routine of life, just passing through each day as methodically as the one before.  For many the most attention given to the relationship is more in the form of trying to avoid conflinct than it is in making love.  Of course, avoiding conflict isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but if your goal in doing so is to maintain the status quo, what you are really doing is working to keep that cruise control on. 

Our goal in relationships should never be the status quo.  A good synonymn for status quo when it comes to relationships is stagnation.  We use the word stagnant to describe such things as a pond that has been sitting untouched by rain or outside influences.  It becomes overgrown with slime and algae, and looks and smells like a big pot of rancid spinach soup.  Stagnant is also a great word to describe what happens to relationships that are on cruise control.  They are boring, lifeless and overgrown with unresolved baggage.  To put it simply, they stink. 

The good news is that all you have to do to get rid of the stagnation in your relationship is to turn off the cruise control.  As my little story depicted, there are two ways to do this.  The first is by driving into the problems head-on.  You don’t avoid conflict at all.  You become hypervigilant of the dangerous territory you are treading in and hope you can stay safe.  You will definitely stir up the pot with this approach, but it will likely become very stressful and could potentially end in disaster.  Needless to say, I don’t recommend this approach.

The second method is to consciously turn off the cruise control and allow your mind, body, and senses to soak in the wonders of your spouse.  It is a regular habit of mine to “soak in the scenery” so to speak, by simply watching my wonderful wife as she goes about her normal activities.  I think about all the little ideosycrosies she has that I adore.  I reflect on how deeply I respect the amazing qualities she has, and all she does, intentionally or not, to make me happy.  Much like my experience when I turn off the cruise control in my car, I feel a deep sense of love and peace.  When I am in this state, there is nothing I want more than her happiness, and I go out of my way to bring this to her.  I am completely present in our relationship. 

It is very important to understand that turning off the cruise control is not simply something that happens.  There is no particular event that will magically cause this to happen.  It is a literal conscious choice everyday, but just like anything else in life, it can be made a habit.  Begin by giving yourself some type of reminder that you will see throughout the day.  There is a simple trick that can work very well for that.  I call it memory tagging.  All you do is focus on a particular object and say in your mind what you want it to remind you of when you see it.  You can choose an object in your home, draw a small letter on the nuckle of your index finger, or use your wedding ring for this.  When you do this, you literally tag the object (or symbol) with a reminder.  Now, each time you see that reminder, take a moment to reflect on how present you are.  Open up your eyes to the wonders of your spouse.  Finally, express what you see to them, and act on your desires to make love with your spouse.  You can feel all the love and respect in the world, but if they do not feel that from you through words and actions, it may as well not exist.

So now, off you go with a new level of insight and understanding.  Turn off the cruise control, wipe the dust off your relationship, be present, and make the love you want in your relationship.

Published in: on February 26, 2009 at 12:44 pm  Comments (6)  
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Making Love Everyday

 holding_hands.jpg Holding hands picture by dhonray_015

When you see the title of this post your first thought is probably either one of two things; “Wow, what a great idea!” or “Is he crazy?!”  So, before I go any further, I should probably clarify what I mean by making love everyday.  When I use this phrase, I am actually not referring specifically to having sex, although sex is definitely part of it.  What I am really referring to is our need to create love everyday. 

Allow me to give a bit of background.  I have always been amused by the terminology we use for love as opposed to sex.  When we have sex, we refer to it as “making love”; “making” being a word that implies deliberate action.  But when we are talking about love we use the phrase “falling in love,”  as if loving and being loved were some kind of accident.  When I hear this phrase I get the image of someone strolling down the street, tripping over a crack in the sidewalk, doing a complete face-plant, then jumping up to find someone in front of them and saying, “I’m in love!”  Love, true love, not infatuation, requires a great deal more action than our terminology would imply.  In truth, we fall in love only when someone else makes us feel special.  This occurs through acts of service, speaking kindly, spending time together, physical contact, and through expressing admiration.  All of which take a great deal of action and attention to complete. 

Now I come to the real point of this post.  We do all of this work to “fall” in love, but what about staying in love?  To me, it only makes sense that if you are not doing the things that caused you to fall in love to begin with, then you cannot expect to stay in love.  It would be like filling your car up with gas once, then expecting it to run forever without continuing to refuel it.  Making love must be a daily event.  This is not something you do only on special occasions, or even on a weekly basis.  It must be done daily.  Consider how your spouse would have felt when you were dating if you only did the things you do now to show that you cared.  Do you think they would have been pounding on your door begging to know when they could sign up for life with you?  If your answer is no, then you are reading this post at the right time. 

I will be writing a great deal more on the specifics on how to make love in the most effective way in future posts.  For now, start by considering what you did when you were dating that was most significant for you and your spouse.  See what you can do to start implementing those little things daily in your life.  As part of this, do not overlook the importance of consistent weekly dating.   And I’m not talking about a date where you go grocery shopping, zone out to a movie, or spend the whole time talking about budgets, schedules, and kids.  Remember, these were not the activities that caused you to fall in love to begin with and they won’t keep you in love.  No, I’m talking about dates where you can interact and have good old-fashioned fun.  Try these things out and see what a difference it can make in bringing the spark back into your relationship.  You might be amazed what making love everyday can do!

Copyright 2009 by Matt Wilson

Published in: on February 23, 2009 at 9:46 pm  Comments (3)  
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