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want to improve your love life? 6 great relationship hacks

want to improve your love life? 6 great relationship hacks

Even the happiest of couples can go through periods when they feel less close. At times like this couple relationships can start to slide into greater distance, so it’s at precisely times like this when we all need to get our couple mojo rising again: here are 6 proven hacks to revive your love life

  1. Communicate differently: the well-known saying “if you keep doing what you keep doing, you keep getting what you keep getting” is spot on here. Think of different ways to let your partner know you mean something special to you: leave a post it in his lunchbox, a dried rose head in her handbag, a short message of tenderness left on the phone
  2. Connect well: your connections with your partner are probably the single most vital and enduring part of your couple relationship, so fostering and maintaining good connections is a good couple relationship in itself. Take time to really savour the time you both spend together: connecting well is often not done by quantity but also by quality. Hold hands when you walk out.
  3. Create: creative couples have relationships that last, are playful and are filled with times of joyfulness. When do you find time to be silly, daft or whimsical? Dancing to the songs on Disney’s The Jungle Book, making each other a thank you card from otherwise discarded materials, “these foolish things” show that it’s the love not the money that counts
  4. Compromise: its simple, you can be right or you can be happy, rarely in relationships can you be both. Give in, who cares who is right or who has to win? If you work to be mutually happy, you both win
  5. Care and show you care: make sure you just don’t know that you care about your partner but show how you care for your partner. Think about what your partner really likes and enjoys in life, what makes them feel really special and provide it for them: a treat unique to them will show how much you know about them
  6. Be grateful: its simple, both of you find one thing every week that you feel grateful for in your partner. Put it on a post it note, let your partner see it and then pop it into an empty vase. At the end of the year you have over 100 ways in which you feel grateful for this relationship

 

sex with your BFF? Seven things to think about before you cross that line

sex with your BFF? Seven things to think about before you cross that line

The idea of having sex with your best friend can seem like a great idea. You’ve known each other for a long time, you care about each other, you’re really “comfortable in your own skin” when you’re together, and you share the same values and the same tastes in pizza. Why wouldn’t be a good idea-if the friendship is that good, the sex must be…well what?

But is not that easy, let’s see why…

As soon as you sleep with someone it all changes; we believe that we might be able to have sex with a really good friend and it not have an emotional content, but-hello! -it already has an emotional content, it just doesn’t have a sex content, until now, and you’ve just ramped up and skewed the emotional content.

And once you have had sex, you cannot unsex with your friend.

Let’s explore some of the issues:

  1. it might not be that great: you like the same things, you make each laugh, but the sexual fit might not be there, and it just might not be there to the extent that you are now looking at your best friend and in your head repeating the word “really?” endlessly….
  2. you now know their sex face. No going back. Never, never. And it might not be a good sex face, it might be a weird sex face. You can shake your head around and make that bleurgh noise but research has shown this does not turn time back. You’re stuck with sexface best friend
  3. now you have nobody to talk to your lover about, because the person you would have talked about is your lover. You’ve cut one of the best resources out of your helpline
  4. you now have feelings which are mutually ramped up: problem is, if they start seeing somebody new, you now have jealousy
  5. its not always easy to go back to being friends when you’ve crossed that line: what you’ve done, you’ve done and it has an impact
  6. all the time you were just best friends you were able to be really supportive because you never really knew what a clumsy, selfish lover they actually are. Now you know the truth about them, you either tell them and hurt their feelings or lie to them.
  7. Don’t assume that you really know what’s going to happen next; nobody does, that’s why sex is so good at times and yet at other times so…. not….

On the other hand, it could be fantastic, but once that line is crossed….

 

 

 

affairs: abuse or trauma? Why knowing the difference makes all the difference

affairs: abuse or trauma? Why knowing the difference makes all the difference

There is an interesting and quite heated series of conversations going on at this time in various amateur and professional blogs around the topic of marital affairs being synonymous with abuse, the faithless spouse therefore being an abuser.

A lot of bloggers are quite unequivocal and robustly defend their opinion that yes, affairs, or an affair, constitutes abuse. They point to the often-blatant denial of empathy, the misuse of shared finances and the devastating hurt visited on the faithful partner, who feels battered and bruised by the experience. I don’t doubt this hurt, and as a couple therapist I have repeatedly seen the chronic pain that the betrayed partner experiences, and the same when the betrayer attempts to make amends. It’s heart-breaking.

But I don’t agree about the label of abuse. I don’t see affairs and abuse as one and the same thing and I think both as therapists and as those in the situation of being impacted upon by affairs we might make a grave mistake to see it this way, and hence perpetuate this misunderstanding; we could even be potentially colluding in the ruin of the couple relationship.

I understand why folk might want to label an affair as abusive, the emotional devastation wreaked by an affair seems to be identical and therefore it might seem to fit into our politically correct, sensitive, liberal and risk aware/averse level of consciousness to consider it so, yet I would contend that to do so is a two-edged sword that both cuts the argument into the binary choice of only abuse, and blunts the complexity of infidelity.

Here’s why.

Let’s take the first “bull by the horns” and explore domestic abuse first.

There are a few similar-but-different definitions of domestic abuse, the one used most often in the U.K. is the one by Women’s Aid, (see www.womensaid.org) that of an incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening, degrading and violent behaviour.” And Domestic abuse is a gendered crime which is deeply rooted in the societal inequality between women and men. It takes place because she is a woman and happens disproportionately to women.”

This seems to suggest that there is a gendered dynamic of power enacted, not power with-which would suggest a more equal relationship, but power over a person; in this context, most likely a woman.

Let’s explore another way of thinking about domestic abuse. Michael Johnson in 2008 wrote an excellent book called “A Typology of Domestic Violence” a book taken up as core research that was used to inform Relate’s national policy of domestic violence, a policy that was to win the charity a coveted British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy award for its contribution to both assessing and discriminating how to work with domestic violence. In the book Johnson calls the type of abuse we are considering here “intimate terrorism” where the individual (the perpetrator) is violent and controlling, the partner is not: the partner is terrorised.

We can see from the descriptions of abuse above that there is in an intent by the perpetrator or abuser to coerce, manipulate or control the other for their own gratification. This sets up and often makes concrete a persecutor-victim pattern of behaviour, where over time and at times, often without their awareness the so-called victim is worn away, their self-worth is reduced, self-autonomy lowered and gradually their value system eroded until they cannot make the simplest of decisions without checking in with their abusive partner.

The power dynamic is so strong, so entrenched, that in almost every branch of couple therapy domestic abuse is seen clearly as a contraindicator: we don’t treat active domestic abuse in couple work, but we do treat affairs. There must be a difference here, if not we would not “allow” couples to be part of the counselling post affairs.

Now let’s look at the impact that abuse has on our emotional and relational regulation system. This is the “pop neuro” view of this, but I think it makes a valid point.

When we become threatened our sympathetic nervous system kicks into gear-we experience an amygdala hijack (as it is often called) and we launch into fight or flight. We all know this, and we all know that there is a third operation that kicks in, the freeze aspect. What we don’t often consider is that there are another two, that of submit and attach.

In abusive relationships the submit and attach operations are more likely to trigger (that is one of reasons why counselling a person who has experienced chronic abuse takes time and requires pacing; they may still be attached to the abusive partner, months after leaving). The so-called victim has, as a safety measure, submitted at times to her partners control and often becomes attached to this destructive pattern of relating. An example might include a woman who agrees to have sex whenever her male partner desires it, because this compliance keeps her safe. She might do this with or without full awareness, she might find herself strangely or even fatally attached to him, a kind of “Stockholm Syndrome” activity or attachment in a domestic context.

This is very different from most affairs.

Domestic abuse works by making the so-called victim small and powerless, binding the abuser in turn to a relationship where he has to retain this power over his partner; affairs work by making the cheater big and releasing a longdisowned power with towards the other man/woman. The cheater has very little interest in power over their spouse; in fact, most of the time they do not want to hurt their spouse at all. This can be very puzzling, since common sense and the evidence would plainly suggest otherwise.

When we work with couples, we notice that when an affair presents itself there are many other and quite different events that have often led to the affair. Upon questioning the couple, most will (but not all) admit that things were “going wrong” for years. What was going wrong? Lack of sex, lack of emotional intimacy, distancing in the relationship, loss of parents, acute weariness, boredom and many more symptoms. The relationship has often buckled under a series of mutual losses and differences which one person finds intolerable and seeks release in the arms (and bed) of another.

The relationship began to feel like a dead relationship, yet still a loving one. This last bit is quite crucial: an affair for the cheater does not signify lack of love or respect for their spouse (which might be a hard one to swallow) or even wanting to leave the primary relationship, it’s a sign often that they want to come alive, the last thing they want to do is hurt their spouse (not that that stops them, they do, and nobody should minimise the pain that ensures).

An affair produces acute and chronic flight, fight and freeze, yet very rarely does submit come into pay. We might better understand an affair, and therefore better work with it as couple therapists and partners experiencing it as relational trauma; indeed, there is some excellent work being done by Michelle Scheinkman[1] and Esther Perel[2] in exploring just this, backed up by comparative studies by Bessel van der Kolk[3] on trauma.

The intention and motivation on the part of the adulterer is qualitatively not the same as the intention and motivation of the abuser; the impact appears to be very similar (hurt, pain, prolonged devastation, chaotic thinking and a horrible sick feeling in the guts that causes retching) yet the cheater does not set out to terrorise or control (and usually does not) the faithful spouse.

The cheating husband or wife is, at heart, attempting to come back to life, to contact and experience a part of themselves that for years they disowned. To call this abuse would therefore also be suggesting that the other woman/man is either colluding in abuse or also abusive; this again is both domestically and therapeutically unhelpful and merely dumbs down what is actually happening.

Let’s also explore the gender dynamic in affairs: aren’t most affairs committed by men? Doesn’t that prove that there is some kind of gendered abuse of male privilege here? Well, let’s look at this. For a start, we might need to discount the notion that affairs are an example of some rotten or pathological mental health. We don’t know for sure how many folks are having an affair (they won’t admit it) but we guess it’s around 45%. A figure close to 45% suggests it is endemic in some way to human nature; quite frankly we need to study this closely: what is it about human relationships that makes us cheat? Are we meant to be monogamous?

Okay, the gender statistic: if the figure 45% of men are having an affair is correct, what’s wrong with this? What’s wrong with it is, who are they having an affair with? Women, mostly. So, it’s closer to 50/50 across the genders, it has to be.

This is not true of figures in abuse, where the percentage of perpetrators is hugely predisposed towards men. It’s closer to pathological.

We need, I think, to bear something else in mind too. It is common in abusive relationships, especially chronic ones, for the abused party-often the woman-to have an affair, to find in the arms of another the comfort, love, touch, soothing and validation that they do not get in the arms that chain them. As Perel says in her 2017 book The State of Affairs: “for those who live with physical abuse, trading the hands that strike for the hands that caress is a gesture of bold defiance”. Would we call a person having an affair whilst still in an abusive relationship an abuser?

I would hope not.

Seeing-in couples, therapy or training-an affair as abuse profoundly mixes up two seemingly similar but very different dynamics. To attempt to counsel those who have experienced affairs and label the couple as abused-abuser fixes the relationship as such and effectively kills in it any kind of genuine relational healing, robbing it of its erotic or intimate potential. As a therapist if we do this, I believe we are colluding in the death-the slaughter-of the couple relationship.

We would be better disposed to counsel the couple who have experienced an affair in the context of relational trauma, taking note of all the various disturbances in the person(s) and the couple narrative that trauma creates and skilfully helping the couple navigate through this to a new version of their relationship, and true healing.

[1] See http://michelescheinkman.com/

[2] See Esther Perel The State of Affairs

[3] See Bessel van der Kolk The Body Keeps The Score

Getting real love 14: love or lust? How to tell the difference

Getting real love 14: love or lust? How to tell the difference

At the beginning of a relationship intense sexual attraction is well-known for eradicating common sense and rationality in the most balanced of people. In fact, that beginning of a relationship has been likened by writers and poets as a kind of insanity at times; the so called “urge to merge” or feelings of limerence taking us over in a fire of chemical imbalance.

Why?

Well, lust is a kind of altered state of mind driven by a primal urge to procreate our species, but also because of the prevalence of social messages privileging sex. So, it’s a kind of nature and nurture that capture us at a very primitive level.

Studies suggest that the brain in this phase is much like a brain on cocaine: when lovers experience the powerful lust of physical attraction they’re as high as kites!

Also in the early stage of a relationship, when the sex hormones are storming, lust is fuelled by mutual idealisation, blind projection and our deep unconscious needs being met, needs that never before have been met this way; we feel complete and whole for the first time in our lives, and we see what we hope someone will be or need them to be, rather than seeing the real person, warts and all.

Getting real love, love not based on idealisation or projection, requires some time to get to know the other person.

Here are some ways to distinguish lust from love.

 

Lust

  • There are more of what the Belgian psychotherapist Esther Perel calls “waves” rather than “anchors”. Waves are what keep the desire, the fire and the excitement going, anchors are what keep us grounded and probably in the relationship long term. Too many waves will sink us. We need both to make it work, but lust makes us feel as if we can’t keep our boat afloat and we’re crashing on big waves all the time
  • When we’re in lust were totally focussed on sex; the sex is primal and fierce at times, deeply caring at others but we don’t get into conversations, the mutuality of each other or really getting to know each other that well
  • We’re needy, and when the person leaves we feel a great big hole in our guts that threatens to -Alien like-break out
  • We’re jealous and we don’t feel we can really trust the person, our feelings are what are often known as emotionally “labile” or full of change
  • we don’t really know much about each other

 

Love

 

  • we are building anchors as well as experiencing waves: we need both to keep our love alive with desire but we seek to create a kind of stability and safe house in the relationship
  • We feel built up, our self-worth is greater, we feel regarded and respected
  • we want to do more than just have sex with each other
  • we share a tenderness and vulnerability
  • we really start to listen and get to know the other person
  • we feel secure, trusting, and our emotions are more settled

 

lust is process of getting caught up in a chemical stew of driving emotions and feelings; nothing wrong at all in this, but it is only part of the journey we take in getting real love.

 

 

 

building your couple relationship on the 7 pillars of mindfulness

building your couple relationship on the 7 pillars of mindfulness

“relationship itself gives meaning to life” -Jon Kabat-Zinn

life is difficult; it’s fast-paced and driven, full of family, relationship and work stressors. This living, along with the ever-increasing pressures of keeping up with evolving digital technology and society, can really take a powerful toll on your couple relationship.

Mindfulness can help!

You don’t have to be a Buddhist to benefit from practicing mindfulness in your couple relationship. Mindfulness allows you to become more present to everything in your life, and this can include your partner’s life, too.

Jon Kabat-Zinn wrote about mindfulness in his book Full Catastrophe Living and he created what are now known as The 7 Pillars of Mindfulness. They are

  1. Non-judging
  2. Patience
  3. Beginner’s mind
  4. Trust
  5. Non-striving
  6. Acceptance
  7. Letting go

 

How might these apply to our couple relationships?

 

  1. Non-judging. The traffic in our minds that we get caught up in is largely characterised by degrees of categorising, evaluating, scoring and comparing. We often believe that we have an objective hold on what’s happening, yet most of our judging is deeply subjective. This projects out into our relationship: we judge our partners, ironically often silently measuring them against our own self-criticism. We do this in our relationship by reacting when our partners don’t make us feel good (as if that was their job!) and hence make us feel bad. Yet often in couple relationships if we stand back and begin to watch our mind with a degree of impartiality, we step out of automatic pilot, our judgments fade and we make closer couple connections.
  2. We’re running all the time, from one email, one task, one job to another; we often skim like a stone through life, desperate to get the next big thing done until we collapse in fatigue. The stress that this visits upon us can be expressed in an angry, intolerant, impatient tone. Who receives this most? Our partners. How much better might it be to simply give our partners-and ourselves- space to breathe and be, allowing them to come to their own conclusions in their own time. This-essentially-compassionate gesture can infuse the couple relationship with calm.
  3. Beginners mind. You have been in this couple relationship for 10, 20 years, you might think you know everything about your partner. Meet them again, as if for the first time. What is about them that you are curious about? Perhaps there is still so much to get to know about them (as there is with you). Cultivating a Beginners Mind approach encourages us to see and relate to our partners afresh, not with the screen of our relational history.
  4. Cultivating a sense of trust in your own experiencing is a foundational part of mindfulness training. Trusting your partner is a product of relational mindfulness that allows you to see deeper into them, recognising and appreciating their inner goodness; but you can only do this if you are aligned to your own experiencing, that is you trust yourself first.
  5. Non-striving. You have to put in the work to make the relationship work is a very basic truism, but at the same time we also need to let a relationship configure its own shape, almost as if the relationship itself were our teacher and guide, rather than two hard working egos who want to get their own way. Asking ourselves this basic question: what if we both took our feet off the pedals and let the relationship tell us which way to go? Or What does the relationship need right now? This deeply reframes the perspective in the relationship into kind of reciprocal mindfulness where the couple relationship unfolds and evolves without so much stress.
  6. It’s difficult not to assume this is the same as non-judgment, and it certainly has some similarities. Yet we often get into a situation into our couple relationships where comparisons become quite invidious; why is my partner of 30 years not so slim anymore (or why am I not!) and become locked into a kind of denial off what is, distorting our very view of reality. Acceptance allows us to see more clearly what is, and frees us from experiencing our partner with a lens of criticism.
  7. Letting go. It’s true that we get caught up in our thinking and our feeling, caught up in future anxiety and past resentments. Letting go allows a relationship to become less Velcro and more Teflon for past conflicts; in this relational mindfulness we then meet each other here and now, as we are, rather than getting snared up in our stories.

 

 

couple relationships and microfrictions: what is it, what can be done about it?

couple relationships and microfrictions: what is it, what can be done about it?

There probably does not exist a couple relationship that has not experienced some kind of conflict; in fact, conflict resolution might be a key component in maintaining a healthy couple relationship. But conflict takes many forms, some of overt, some of it a little more covert, and some downright habitual. It’s this last form that this post concerns itself with, specifically the expression of microfrictions in couple relationships.

What are microfrictions?

These are low level forms of behaviour, negative relating that, over time become habitual patterns in a couple relationship, they effectively appear to become stitched into the relationship.

For example, Betty and Sue had been living together for 5 years. They had a strong, passionate start to their relationship, but over the past 18 months things has changed. Betty felt cornered by Sue, as if she was perpetually in the wrong. Sue felt at a distance from Betty, and at times was quite confused as how to cross this intimacy gap that had opened up; she longed for the mornings when they would wake up and be in each other’s arms. A typical conversation between them might go this way:

Betty: I was wondering if we might go to-

Sue: where? Not the park again?

Betty: well-

Sue: I don’t need to hear this. (firmly) I’m not going to that skanky park

Betty: (annoyed) so come up with something better!

 

This had been going on for some time

Microfrictions sneak up on couples; at first, they are minimised, by (e.g.) ohh Mr Snotty’s at home today type of comments, but gradually they can become habitual, the negative strokes taking the place of more positive, affirming and loving ones.

They create small yet significant distancing in couple relationships, over time producing “silo couple relationships” where remoteness and a certain wariness around intimacy proliferate, as if the couple are now two individuals living under the same roof. Sex is habitual, either performed on a kind of automatic pilot or a safe routine, a kind of “recycled sex”.

After time the couple relationship turns into a kind of threat saturated relationship (these low-level conflicts and frictions add up) and since the human autonomic nervous system only knows one way to respond to this-by flight, fight or freeze-the relationship itself feels soaked in threat. It becomes difficult for the couple to respond in a truly intimate way, yet intimate connection is what we all hunger for, so often one person finds it in the arms (or bed) of another.

What can we do about microfrictions?

Microfrictions can’t be wished away: they require an alert and proactive response. Here are 7 steps to reducing microfrictions in your couple relationship:

  1. Pause: try not to throw petrol on the fire by getting stuck in a viscous cycle of tit for tat
  2. Acknowledge what’s happening here, call the communication what it is, and don’t deny or distort the impact
  3. You have three choices now, to turn away from each other, to turn against each other (which will ramp up the microfrictions further) or turn towards each other. Turn towards each other.
  4. Be empathic: ask, what is this like for my partner, it can’t be easy to be in this
  5. Create the Good: make a decision to foster greater connection in the relationship, e.g. make a date night, stick to it
  6. Take in the Good: savour the (e.g.) date night by taking pictures, making an album of memories

Don’t let microfrictions take over your relationship!

iGen: 9 ways this generation will change it all!

iGen: 9 ways this generation will change it all!

“Marriage is boring because you’re stuck with the same person for the rest of your life. It’s like having chicken every night for dinner. So people are waiting until they don’t have any other option but to get married” -Caitlyn, aged 22, quote from iGen: why today’s super-connected kids are growing up less rebellious, more tolerant, less happy and completely unprepared for adulthood by Jean Twenge

Born in 1995 or later, a new generation is beginning to make its mark. They have been called iGen, the internet generation, because they do not know a time before the internet; they have Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram accounts as a matter of course, and come complete with smartphones which they appear to have an instinctive skill in operating. The average iGener checks their phone over 80 times a day, tucking it under their pillow at night.

At worst they appear to live in a constant state of distraction, not really embedded in the world of form, but connected digitally and powerfully to a vast network of social media. This is their world, these are their connections.

What seem to be the characteristics of this generation?

Twenge outlines this in depth and detail in her book (above), and in this article, I have mainly focused on the relational aspects of iGeners’ lives.

  1. They grow up slowly. iGen is not really interested in getting a job over summer break in High School. They privilege Gaming and not going out, not going out to the mall but hanging out in a virtual space instead. They rely heavily on their parents help and are in no hurry to learn to drive, not rushing to leave home and find a place of their own. They are scared of what they call “adulting” and will often prefer movies meant for ages 2 or 3 years younger than them.
  2. They are very practical about the workplace. They do not except to find their dream job or sense of meaning or fulfilment in a job (compared with millennials who are meaning seekers). They prefer job security to adventure, a certain predictability about the workplace. Money earned is not about money for shopping, but we should not confuse this with a sense of non-materialisation, there is a sense that they really couldn’t be bothered to be materialistic or not.
  3. In later adolescence they are not bothered about sex. Sex is often seen as nothing magical; iGen is porn saturated, since they have had smartphones from when they were very young (and know just how to switch off the parental controls) they have watched hardcore porn from the age of around 11 or 12. This has either come to bore them, or they have come to except a sexual relationship to be like a porn show. Hook-ups are often the thing, hot sex and cold feelings are the name of the game, a kind of tindersex or swipeysex where relationships are to be avoided at all costs.
  4. They are very sensitive: one of the reasons why they do not do relationships is because they privilege safety (hence the safe spaces opening up in Universities…coming to your workplace soon?); they have been brought up in a culture of hyperpolitical correctness, filled with the threats of microaggressions and the notion that challenging words equate to violent acts.
  5. iGeners do not want to “catch feelings” -since romantic, connective feelings are so easy to catch (most are products of our dynamic unconscious in relationships so we hardly see them coming) then making sure they don’t catch feelings is an airtight iGen priority; acting as if you actually need somebody is thought as pathetic.
  6. They ghost: iGeners will treat relationships as chat rooms, creating multiple choice partners then cutting off an option, literally disappearing from the others device like a ghost, which can deliver a traumatic, rejecting blow to the ghosted other.
  7. They want to get it right before being in a committed relationship. This means being wild and free, no cuddles in a hook-up because that is connection and a connection equates to shameful behaviour which might lead to you compromising yourself. There is a sense of “you do you” (with all of its narcissistic implications) before you do “we”
  8. Getting it right means that iGeners are the primal force behind the capstone rather than the cornerstone marriage (if, that is, marriage is not seen as a redundant arrangement), relationship is seen as what you do when you are sorted, an endpoint, what you do when you are formed, rather than letting the relationship form you.
  9. Therefore, children arrive later: in previous generations young parents were in their twenties, now first-time iGen parents can be in their early 30s: when adulthood is postponed, so parenthood is, too.

Resistance to adulthood. Post materialistic. Sexually avoidant. Sensitive. Emotionally avoidant. Throwaway contacts. Committed to self. Capstone marriages. Postponed parenthood. These are fascinating shifts in attitudes amongst a new and flourishing generation, so different from the Boomer generation long before them with its long but often superficial search for authenticity and meaning, but do we recognise where, in effect, this could be seen as the inevitable product of the Boomers who let it all hang out and happen this way, with their (our, my!) fetishism of freedom and sexual liberation, alterative anythings, therapeutic wallowing, cars and tech and loving myself.

Chickens coming home to roost, anybody?

There appears to be a discourse in iGeners that personal development and learning occurs with greater efficacy outside a relationship, whereas an alternative to this might suggest that emotional and psychological (and spiritual) growth occurs optimally by embracing both. To negate the relational aspect is to live, perhaps, lopsided, and I wonder where that suppressed interpsychic aspect goes? What happens to that relational self? What actual stage of development is it at when it is eventually accessed? (hint: not mature). This is going to be a goldmine in a minefield for couple therapists.

The notion that only when you’re complete as an adult can you be in a relationship is a thought-provoking one. What does it mean to be complete? Sorted? Completely what? What if being in a relationship, learning to connect, care, and compromise actual completes more of you more quickly, and more profoundly?

The iGeners come to adulthood after a prolonged adolescence, which for an older generation looks like an arrested development, though may just be a response to an altered set of circumstances (going out in the 70s dressed as Ziggy Stardust was hardly thought of as mature by the parents of that generation).

The iGeners have spent their formative years glued to a small bright screen that tells then they are liked-or not. They are superconnected, but not to trees and walls and bricks and flesh, but to cyberspace and virtual others, and in “meatspace” they can be brittle and at times quite naïve, yet at times fiercely practical about their chances, about economics and politics and the workplace and love.

We had better reach out and understand them. Soon they will change everything.

The myth of male power? glass ceilings and glass cellars

The myth of male power? glass ceilings and glass cellars

Who has what kind of power in your relationship?

In 1993 the author Warren Farrell published “The Myth of Male Power” a book that Camille Paglia called “a bombshell…forces us to see our everyday world from a new perspective”. Farrell was (is?) the only man to have been elected three times to the board of NOW: the American National Organisation for Women. He is not so well known in the U.K. though, not well enough known to provoke the kinds of protests against him such as this on YouTube in 2012: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iARHCxAMAO0

So, what the big deal here?

Well, in a nutshell, Farrell challenged the stereotypes around male and female discourses of power, both acknowledging the age-old and disabling power of the glass ceiling that prevents women from rising higher in the workplace, yet empowers men to rise to stellar heights, but also using the term “glass cellar” to describe how men are encouraged to fall into dangerous and life-threatening work yet women are prevented from the same.

Farrell’s own words from the book above: “Both sexes contribute to the invisible barriers that both sexes experience. Just as the “glass ceiling” describes the invisible barrier that keeps women out of jobs with the most pay, the “glass cellar” describes the invisible barrier that keeps men in jobs with the most hazards. Members of the glass cellar are all around us. But because they are our second-choice men, we make them invisible”.

The relationship therapists Dallos and Dallos in their book “Couples, Sex And Power” describe very different discourses of power in couple relationships. These include

  • Economic/financial power
  • Ascribed power (given roles, rules by society)
  • Informational power (who is the expert?)
  • Language power (who is more articulate, better at persuading the other, better at putting over their point of view?)
  • Invalidational power (ability to dismiss or discount the other’s opinions, put the other down, or have knowledge of the other’s weak spots)
  • Physical power
  • Contractual power (the power to leave)
  • Relational power (links with friends and family; gender alliances, relationship with children)
  • Affective power (emotional power; who loves the most, who needs the other the least)
  • Sexual power
  • Legal power
  • Social power (including who is the most socially confident)
  • Coping power (who will be better alone?)

 

The point about these different discourses of power is that some are held more by men, some are held more by women.

Is it time we had a different conversation about power in relationships?

What might that look like?

ghosting: what is it and why does it hurt so much?

ghosting: what is it and why does it hurt so much?

So…you’ve been talking to somebody via text for a short while, or you’ve hooked up with them, slept together and then suddenly they are…not there anymore, they just…disappear.

You feel confused, rejected, you thought he or she cared for you, you thought you were moving forward in some way, you were seeing this relationship develop.

What’s going on?

Ghosting is a relatively new relationship phenomenon that breeds utter devastation in the person who has been ghosted. It could be seen as the predictable outcome of having both a vast array of digital choices on the dating scene, but having so many choices that it becomes automatic to search for the best, then a better search result; so there’s swipe, swipe, swipe and by the second swipe a previous relationship in the making is now in the breaking. But this is not communicated, except by an absence.

It’s a brutal from of breaking up.

It leaves you wondering how to react if you are the victim: what if the other person is ill, has something happened to them? you just don’t know and if your details are blocked you will never know. It hurts, like a physical pain hurts. You feel disempowered and, in effect, silenced.

If you are ghosted it is really important that you remember that this says nothing at all about you (because literally it says nothing at all about you) or your self-worth; your self-worth must not be contingent or held to ransom by another’s dysfunctional social skills.

Don’t close yourself down or decide to get tough in future relationships: be true to your way of entering relationships and enter into the next one with pride, dignity and sincerity: don’t become fearful of ghosting!

 

See  http://www.therefinedwoman.com/ghosting-so-thats-like-a-thing-now/

The death of monogamy?

The death of monogamy?

Never assume was the motto of a woman I worked with for over 20 years. But we do, and possibly one of the areas where we assume with great gusto and little reflection is in the practice of marriage, specifically monogamy. Where couple relationships are concerned our history has sort of been

  1. Boy meets girl
  2. Boy and girl suss each other out, checking out their mutual prospects both biological and social, working out if there is a chance their respective needs will get met
  3. Boy and girl couple, both have a family and defend against a third who could possibly be a homewrecker

That’s it, in a nutshell.

There’s a very obvious heterosexual bias here, but what other bias might exist that we can’t even see? What have we assumed?

We’ve assumed that not only monogamic relationships are the norm, but also that they are the best, the one type of relationship that provides the best chances for emotional security, financial stability, child rearing and a place to get all our needs met. Is this valid? Could it be that the monogamous relationship and hence the nuclear family is more an adaptation to cultural mores, an expression of societies conditioning rather than a true yearning of human sexual and relational evolution?

Willing slaves

Long before the agricultural revolution, human beings fashioned their lives in small village sized groups where the concept of sharing-shelter, food, expertise, parenting, comfort and sex-was practised wholeheartedly throughout these ancient human settlements[1]. This was not some hippy love out; life was hard and left little time for romance but plenty of time for cooperation. The time spread here is approx. 200,000BC to 8,000BC, or 90% of the history of human society[2].

Then along came the agricultural revolution, and with it both surplus and control of food in terms of storage and distribution. From agriculture to industry this small percentage of human history is then privileged, with the human family organised around smaller units living in towns and cities. Cue Kings and patriarchy, the disempowerment of womankind, social control, the burning of witches, dominator hierarchical religions and the New Norm: monogamy and the nuclear family prompted and promoted by economists, politicians, the media and therapists in what could be seen as an unconscious need to control, marshal and direct human relationships, and therefore humankind[3].

The agricultural revolution, then, could be seen as the point at which human beings stopped existing in a dynamic and cooperative relationship with each other and the Earth, and effectively became indentured and willing-and possibly collusive-slaves to grain and wheat. And so it goes through the industrial revolution. The financial structure of power required to retain this dominant discourse expresses itself in overt and covert elements of subjugation such as sexual mores, monogamy and the nuclear family, and we assume it’s normal. The filmmaker Adam Curtis calls this a state of hypernormality, where we are spun a series of lies that we know are lies, and governments know we know are lies, but we all collude in[4].

Monogamy, therefore is a social construction. This must be so, since it amounts to such a small percentage of human relational history. In fact, when we take this perspective, monogamy could be seen as both deviant and construed as pathological. Perhaps deep within our genetic structure, way past our cultural conditioning, we’re really not monogamous people at all.

We don’t have to defend our surplus any more, supermarkets do this for us. Our work has changed; indeed, futurists are suggesting that in a few generations there might be no work[5], added to which our expectations around human relationships have increased exponentially[6] as has our sense of entitlement: the old ways do not fit.

Breakdown or breakthrough?

Perhaps now things are changing, rapidly. The concept of the nuclear and family and monogamy is being challenged by the very folk who know the system best: the people who live in it:

  • 15% of children live in one parent families[7]
  • 24% of children live in a step-family[8]
  • 42% of marriages end in divorce (ibid)
  • 67% of second marriages fail[9]
  • 20% of couples are close to breakup[10]
  • The average relationship lasts less than ever before[11]

It’s clear that if we were offered the chance to buy a kettle and told it would only have a 58% chance of working we’d probably not buy it, yet we do this with marriage and monogamy to the point where we even “buy” a second marriage with its 33% success rate!

Paradise lust

Adding to this, our seemingly rapacious need for sex. The pornography industry is one of the biggest industries in the world, reported to earn a hundred billion dollars annually. According to a recent Sunday Times Magazine report (28/08/17) 23% of millennials who visit Pornhub are female and 60% of the sites overall visitors are between 18 to 34. This new generation finds little on the site that shocks them, and unsurprisingly teenagers are finding it difficult to separate the online sexual experience with its thrusting angry male sex gods and submissive women from reality. The result? Reality changes to fit the pornsites depiction of sex.

Porn is now accessible and free via the internet and not just distributed via financially driven porn sites, but by private (not so private!) folk videoing themselves on their phones and posting to social media: a private individuals twitter account can serve now as an open porn site. It’s clear there has been a second sexual revolution without the need to burn bras, write a polemic or a publish a pamphlet: you just upload a video.

Till death us do part?

Divorce rates are going up to around 50% in America (falling in U.K. which might be due to less couples getting married and more living together) and affairs are rising to 45%[12] (it was thought that affairs were a purely male driven activity, yet who is it men were having affairs with?). The website Ashely Madison was incredibly successful at generating an arena for just this kind of activity. “Till death us do part” works well if your marriage lives to 50 years of age, but babies born today might have an extended life of 120 years or more, requiring two of three marriages.

When we explore these figures-and we actually don’t really know how accurate these figures are, given that many folks who are having an affair will deny they are, then it suggests something quite powerful.

If upwards of half the population are having affairs, breaking up, if 30% or more of children are living in non-traditional families, if huge numbers of people are surfing the net looking at pornography and great numbers are posting videos of themselves naked, masturbating or having sex then these numbers either suggest that half of the population are dysfunctional or something else entirely.

The future’s not what is used to be

This number could simply be too large to be labelled as deviant or pathological: it could well be that, given the freedom, technology and communication we have now, that human relationships are ready to express themselves in ways not conditioned or confined by 10,000 years of cultural habituation. It could be that the desire and yearning, the relational need to have more than one partner might actually not only be the evolutionally norm suppressed for thousands of years, but also could, with 21st century insight, data and technology, be a higher form of relating.

It is possible that the next generation will view monogamy and the nuclear family, sexual fidelity and current two parent child rearing with the same disdain that baby boomers view the Bakelite phone, a mere relic of the past.

Couple relationships have been organised around monogamy for thousands of years, yet as a couple therapist I am acutely aware that few of us know, beyond a surface level of understanding, exactly why we are in the relationship we are in, and why we were in the relationships we used to be in. This unprocessing or not-knowing can powerfully traumatise couples more when their relationships undergo difficulty or potential breakdown. If we want to enjoy freer and more nourishing relationships that meet 21st Century needs, it seems clear this will have to change.

Octavio Paz called relationships the double flame of love and desire[13], and when love and relationships break the bonds of their conditioning, when desire is not only understood but more deeply freed, perhaps when affairs are seen as not as the culturally conditioned end, but a messy renegotiation of a new version of the relationship, when coupledom is also accelerated by digital hyperstimulation, the very structures of society will change.

It’s clear, of course, that our elected representatives in this context will not only be the last to know, but the slowest to react and the most resistant. Even in 2017, when same sex parents come to record their new baby the birth registration form asks for father and mother. Governments react so long after the starting pistol is fired that the smoke from the barrel is but a memory. When governments do respond to a new stage it simply means the next stage is emerging. People are the present and the future: by comparison government is past and dead (there can be no better example of this than Prime Minister Mays hopelessly out of sync and politically paralysed response to the Grenfell Tower tragedy).

Make no mistake, the conventions and stuffy rules of the old will be no match for this. Why? Because, in just a few years’ time the number of people who are not hooked up to the digital village will be insignificant, no one of any consequence will operate outside this matrix and billions and billions of pornographic, digitally driven dollars are behind this. Governments will not stand a chance, because by the time they react it will be a done deal and they will look quaint and feeble in their response. Prime minster May’s response will be to look awkward, jut out her jaw and spew out vacuous soundbites. Think Trump is actually in charge? No: the chaotic and constipated administration that is the White House show us all directly that this is not where power lies. Power now lies in small groups who can quickly and with deft skill reach out to, relate and connect meaningfully and then adapt with millions on their phone via social media and digital enterprise. These are the folk who are watching the people who watch the people, and they are light years ahead of the politicians and big corporations.

These are the folk who will create and sustain new forms of relationships, a kind of Silicon Valley model or adaptation. The new revolution in relationships and sex will not be one where governments and old rules are fought, it will be one where they are irrelevant.

During a 1 ½ hour flight from Italy to Amsterdam a short while ago I talked to the guy next to me. He was 32, Lebanese and spoke in a kind of soft Californian accent. He spent most of his time working whilst travelling. His base used to be in the U.S. but he did not approve of the Trump administration. So, he shrugged his shoulders, and left. For him this was America’s loss, and it was clear that his connections and portfolio transcended geopolitical lines and hence old models of operating. I asked him politely about his relationships. He smiled good naturedly, and reminded me that no place on earth is far away now, and hinted at his capacity for multiple loving relationships with all involved on board.

The double flame is the starting point, since love and desire have been the two ways in which the mass (that’s us) have been conditioned and crafted into docile bodies[14]. When we (re)configure our relationships, and shape them into the way we want them to be, when we refuse to allow our relational and sexual lives to be dictated to by old and redundant systems that serve to subjugate us into a shame based discourse then this might herald the death of monogamy and the getting of real love.

On the other hand…

The death of monogamy? Well, no, not quite. It is said by some that the 21st Century will experience a global shift previously unseen in world history, partly as a result of the multiple megacrisis’s facing humanity[15]. Cultural conditions can change in a fast and loose way, but often this kind of superficial adjustment does not produce lasting change. As such, monogamy is probably going to be around for a long time, though it could be that the change that results from (e.g.) global disasters, creates more one parent families and stepfamilies, then also weakens the weight of cultural expectation on monogamy and its form changes.

Here are (briefly) 4 possible ways we might create relationships to fit the demands of the 21st Century:

  1. Unconscious monogamy: our couple bonds are a mixture of what we know about each other and what we do not know, the unconscious bond between us; our need to get our unmet needs met by our partners being the most pervasive yet often changeable dynamic.[16] Unconscious monogamy will resemble many traditional forms of relationships, forged in the white-hot heat of passion yet rarely explored in depth. This form of relating has both great emotional bonding to it, yet its weakness is in it not understanding in any depth the covert deal in the relationship and hence it will see issues such as infidelity as a deal breaker and the fault of the cheater, full stop. At its best, it will be a durable, loving and mutually respectful partnership lasting decades; at worst a kind of tense, resentful and bitter kind of zombie monogamy, half lived and living
  2. Conscious monogamy: another way of describing this might be mindful monogamy, where the couple relationship is regularly explored in a sustained way to refit its sexual, emotional, psychological, social and spiritual needs and expectations over time. Issues such as an affair will not be seen as the death of the relationship but a signal that the couple container-the relationship itself-requires healing. The trauma that occurs after an affair will be lessened since the buy-in to societal shame and the requirement to blame will be less. This is a more profound understating of love and desire.
  3. Monogamish relationships: a phrase coined by Dan Savage[17] where committed couples have an understanding that over a (say) 40-year relationship it is unreasonable to be sexually exclusive; the involvement of other sexual partners helps to invigorate the primary relationship
  4. Multiamory relationships: multi or polyamory relationships are too complex to cover here; the sustained, wise and skilful use of open communication to negotiate the various requirements in a relationship that-sexual or not-contains many persons agreeing and conflicting demands, yet potentially providing a loving community for parents and children to be nurtured and grow. Polyamory relationships may be a higher, more satisfying form of human bonding, addressing the multiple and complex 21st Century needs in a way that monogamous relationships cannot. [18]
  5. Solo-amory relationships: one parent families may not be in a position, or want to form couple relationships, yet they may have a primary other, a lover or a sexual buddy who transcends a mere hookup. This would require, perhaps, a more conscious way of approaching the relationship, again with a skilful use of negotiating skills.

Conclusion

Relationships are slippery, so there really is not, nor should there be, a conclusion to this: except to recognise that the tried, tested and often failed ways of being in a relationship may not fit the digitally driven, autonomously charged and sexually freer climate of the 21st Century. This leaves us all with a simple choice in our loving relationships: we either understand them more and live more compassionate, respectful, creative, nourishing and loving relationships free of age old and often redundant complexes and conditioning, or our relationships are half lived simulacrums of what they could be.

[1] Yuval Noah Harari Sapiens

[2] Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha Sex at Dawn

[3] Yuval Noah Harari Sapiens

[4] Adam Curtis at http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/adamcurtis (is it possible that monogamy is the best example of a hypernomative myth?)

[5] Ray Kurzweil at http://www.kurzweilai.net/the-washington-post-were-heading-into-a-jobless-future-no-matter-what-the-government-does

[6] Esther Perel Mating in Captivity

[7] https://www.oecd.org/els/soc/47701118.pdf

[8] http://bit.ly/2goCi28

[9] https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-intelligent-divorce/201202/the-high-failure-rate-second-and-third-marriages

[10] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-36373299

[11] http://www.thedebrief.co.uk/news/opinion/the-average-relationship-now-only-lasts-two-years-and-9-months-2014026398

[12] See http://www.express.co.uk/life-style/life/615820/infidelity-rates-UK-revealed-shocking

[13] Octavio Paz https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/1052280/the-double-flame/

[14] Michel Foucault Discipline and Punish

[15] Edmund Bourne Global Shift

[16] Henry Dicks Marital Tensions

[17] See http://www.cbc.ca/radio/thecurrent/the-current-for-march-26-2015-1.3010107/monogamy-can-be-damaging-dan-savage-prefers-being-monogamish-1.3010140 and https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/shameless-woman/201107/the-monogamish-marriage-what-if-its-not-cheating-cheat

[18] See Kathy Labriola Love in Abundance and Deborah Anapol Polyamory in the 21st Century