Think for a minute about what you know about your partner. I imagine most of us can name our partner’s favorite foods, movies, TV shows, preferred conversations, political leanings, and hobbies. However, not very many of us really know the details of our partner’s preferences in the bedroom. While sexual issues are among the most common issues in relationships (at the top with financial issues) they are frequently not discussed in much detail, if at all. Generally speaking, when things are going “okay” in a couple’s sex life, they aren’t discussed. And unfortunately, couples often don’t discuss their sex life issues even when things are not so okay! Specifically, issues about sex are usually off limits, unless it’s about having it or not.
Even high-functioning couples who say they’re happy and have a good sex life don’t routinely discuss the subject, although it’s certainly a focal point in almost every relationship. Even if your sex life is good, why not make it better?
As mentioned above, sexual frequency is often the most common sexual issue that is discussed between couples. Although it’s definitely an important one, there’s a decent chance that the quality of your sex life might be what’s affecting the frequency. If the experience isn’t pleasurable and satisfying for one or perhaps both partners, it’s understandable that sexual interest would diminish. Overlooking or ignoring the importance of quality in your sex life can impact the quality of your overall connection.
While sexual compatibility seems fundamental to any lasting relationship, emotional distance can make the subject very difficult to discuss. Sometimes one’s family upbringing, or past (relationship) experiences, has made sexuality a taboo topic. Most couples find it much less threatening to talk about disciplining their children, dividing household chores, or planning a family budget than discussing their sex lives.
An ability to share the intimate preferences of your sexual needs and desires requires a deeper connection, and a willingness to become much more vulnerable with your partner, than a discussion on how to divide household chores. Without that connection and a willingness to be truly vulnerable, it’s much too scary to confront this highly sensitive topic. There may also be an underlying fear: “What if we both make the effort, but the quality of our sex life is not better?” Couples who are not connected emotionally are simply not ready to share any details of what they want in their sex life.
Consider the following list of steps to help you “break the ice,” and discover ways to improve your sexual relationship:
1. Examine the level of your connection to determine if you’re ready to take the leap and can respectfully communicate with each other. Without this closeness, it will be hard to go any further in the process.
2. Express the desire for a discussion. Together, pick a good time and place to talk in privacy – not before or after sex—and away from the bedroom.
3. Use “I” statements instead of accusations or insinuations that you know how your partner feels. “I want to make our sex life better” is a good conversation starter.
4. An exercise to try (maybe even before your talk): On a blank sheet of paper, have each of you draw your own body and mark the places you like being touched, as well as where you don’t like being touched. Unless you’re a talented artist, this approach can add humor and help keep the conversation lighthearted. Be willing to laugh at yourselves, and enjoy learning more about each other.
5. “Let’s practice and experiment and schedule a good time to learn more about what we like,” or “let’s see what works for us and what doesn’t,” are nonthreatening, introductory statements that encourage respectful communication and mutually-benefiting attitudes.
6. Don’t make this initial conversation a one-time event; plan to revisit the topic every few months to make adjustments. Remember: Change naturally occurs in every stage of our lives, including our sexual preferences. Stay flexible and open to your partner’s suggestions.
If the above ideas seem too uncomfortable to manage on your own, couples counseling can help implement the needed steps to effectively communicate with your partner. It’s well worth the long-term investment. Why not have the best sex life possible?
There are a wide variety of factors that are important in order to have a harmonious and happy relationship. Educational, religious, familial, and goal compatibilities are certainly important, among numerous others. However, recent research suggests that a high level of emotional intelligence (EI) is also a valuable component to deep personal connections and happier relationships. This finding is true for both men and women.
To mental health professionals, the emotional intelligence factor is hardly a surprise, but it may not be common knowledge to others. What is EI anyway, and just how does it affect our relationships?
A good definition of emotional intelligence is the ability to be aware of one’s own emotional state, the emotions of others, and respond appropriately to maximize our personal and professional lives. More specifically:
1. Being aware of your own emotions, and willing to experience and deal with them instead of pushing them away, is a good sign of high emotional intelligence. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses, as well as how your emotions affect your behavior and thoughts, is an important part of this component.
2. The ability to manage your more challenging emotions by self-soothing (having the ability to calm yourself) and transitioning into a better place is another indication of healthy EI. Managing our emotions in healthy ways helps us to adapt, take the initiative, and follow through with commitments.
3. The ability to tune in to the emotional state of others by listening, expressing, and understanding their emotions (having empathy) is an important asset in strengthening all of our relationships. Having high EI levels helps us communicate well, and work well with others.
The good news is that, unlike typical IQ measured ability, your level of emotional intelligence can be improved!
Here are some ways to increase your EI:
1. Take your internal “temperature”: Choose three intervals during the day (perhaps at meals) and take inventory of your emotions. What/how are you feeling at this particular moment in time? Note if you’re angry, joyful, anxious, frustrated, stressed, etc. Rate the intensity level on a scale from 1 to 10. Daily practice of the exercise will absolutely improve and heighten your emotional awareness (and your EI).
2. Once you’ve become more aware of your emotions, see if you can notice patterns. For example: when you’re stressed out, do you snap more at your partner? If you’re feeling sad or anxious, do you overeat?
3. Becoming more connected to your emotions will, in turn, help you become more mindful and connected to your body. Discovering how to relax and nurture yourself improves your ability to regulate your emotions and it increases emotional intelligence.
4. Work on learning to empathize with others by putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. Practice this multiple times throughout the day. Repetition with any exercise helps imprint the process in our memory bank. Imagine what your waitress might be feeling, or your boss, your child, etc. Is there some way you can improve their emotional state and your relationship with this individual?
5. Notice other people’s body language; read the nonverbal cues. What do they mean? Paying attention can help facilitate understanding and connectivity.
In addition to the five steps above, going to couples or individual therapy to work on EI development is also highly recommended. The better we know ourselves, the more prepared we are to improve our relationships. When both partners work on increasing their EI, they are likely to noticeably improve their relationship even faster. Whether the goal is climbing the corporate ladder, bonding with our children, or having a better than ever sex life with our partner, increasing our emotional intelligence can be one important key to its success.
Couples all too often, when reflecting on an argument, say “It was about nothing,” or it’s over “just the little things.” It’s certainly true that many relationship conflicts don’t revolve around the bigger issues such as financial disagreements, parenting differences, or sexuality issues. While some arguments appear to be about nothing, are they truly not about anything? (As you can probably guess, the answer is “no” since I otherwise would have practically no reason to write this article!)
Recently, while browsing in an online professional forum, I came across an explanation of what is at the root of most relationship conflicts (including the aforementioned “bigger issues”). It was proposed that pretty much any conflict can be boiled down to occur for three reasons, or a varying combination of them.
Discord in all relationships is really about one or more of the following issues, which we usually are not aware of in the moment:
1. The need to feel significant and important.
3. The need for a sense of control.
The need to feel significant and important is common, and everyone experiences it from time to time. This need is frequently at the root of relationship conflict. For example, if one partner insists that their opinion or way of doing things is always right (how to spend money or discipline the kids), there can be some issues with self-esteem underlying why someone stubbornly believes that their way or decision is best. He or she needs to feel important or significant. Another example that comes up for couples is the desire for attention, or the amount of quality time together that one partner may need, which the other may not share. This desire can be looked at as a need to feel significant, or important to their partner.
On the other hand, a partner who never or rarely voices an opinion or disagrees with his or her mate regarding financial decisions, sexual preferences, or division of household chores, may have an underlying fear of abandonment. They may worry that if they rock the boat, their partner won’t accept them, and will ultimately abandon them. Suspicion and jealousy expressed in an intimate relationship are other examples of emotional reactions often covering the underlying fear of abandonment. This happens frequently, of course, if one partner has experienced trust issues in their current (or in a past) relationship.
The need for having a sense of control may in fact account for the most relationship conflicts. Underlying incompatibility issues with tidiness and cleanliness is often one partner’s need for having a sense of control over their environment. Another example is one partner insisting there is a “right” way to load the dishwasher. As you can see, many “little arguments” can often be about one partner’s need to maintain a sense of control.
As a couples counselor, while this notion of three basic root causes of conflict is important and helpful to consider, the biggest challenge is helping couples identify and express the underlying reason for their conflict. Once the core issue is uncovered, then the next challenge is a willingness to address it. Counselors can help a couple discuss underlying fears and needs, but it’s often difficult for clients to express them. A big challenge is for couples to be vulnerable enough to express their underlying fears and needs to their partner. Helping couples communicate their vulnerabilities is a challenging, but extremely important step in couples counseling.
Think back on your last conflict with your partner and see if you can identify the core reason(s) for your disagreement. Do any of the above-listed needs or fears help explain what contributed to your conflict?
If the same root fear or need recurs frequently in your relationship, it probably makes sense to seek (couples or individual) counseling. Taking time to figure out the source of your conflicts is well worth the time and energy and can help ensure your future happiness together.
Imagine yourself at Starbucks, and someone passing by knocks over your double latte. The offender then flippantly responds with “Sorry, didn’t mean to do it”—and keeps on walking out of the store.
While the above scene is certainly infuriating for the person with coffee in their lap, a slight from a stranger will likely pass within the day. However, getting that type of indifferent reaction from someone we know and care about, specifically our significant other, usually affects us a lot longer and hurts us much more.
Whether that hurt is caused accidentally or intentionally, it can be damaging to an intimate relationship if not properly repaired. After lashing out in anger, a “that’s not what I meant,” or even a quick “I’m sorry I didn’t mean to” statement given later by the offending partner, is not an adequate fix because the key issue is not about the intentionality of the offender. Similar to the Starbucks example above, where the offender never meant to douse you with your overpriced beverage, the damage has nothing to do with the person’s intentions. It is how the hurtful words or action impacted you that truly matters. The impact is what needs to be addressed.
As specifically pointed out in the Everyday Feminism article “Intent versus Impact: Why your Intentions Don’t Really Matter,” when you’ve hurt someone, it doesn’t matter whether you intended to do so or not. It’s how you rectify the situation that counts.
The healthiest couples don’t simply focus on intent (which may be sufficient if the offense is only of a mild or moderate degree); they address the impact of their words and actions. Missing an occasional appointment or engagement because “I thought it was on Friday, not Thursday” happens to the best of us. However, serious disregard for a partner’s expectations (such as forgetting your anniversary or “date night”) cannot be as easily overlooked. The damage must be repaired to keep the relationship connection strong.
When repairing the connection, it’s the way you make amends that truly matters if you’ve seriously offended or emotionally wounded your partner. You must address the hurt, and how it affects him or her. Even if you’re let off the hook, if you don’t take time to discuss the issue, you’re missing not only the opportunity to understand how your partner really feels, but the opportunity to connect on a deeper level as well.
A sincere and thorough apology needs to include much more than “I’m sorry.” Someone seeking to make amends must understand the damage done, and how to prevent it from happening again.
The following is a list of steps necessary to repair relationship damage:
1. Sincerely apologize.
2. Bear witness to the other person’s pain or hurt. Ask for specifics, such as “Tell me how it affected you when I didn’t remember our important day.”
3. Engage in reflective listening to make sure your partner knows you got it: “You felt (frustrated/sad/angry/disappointed) when I didn’t show up.”
4. Address the future in terms of how you’ll ensure you won’t repeat or cause the same damage again: “I’ll put all future appointments on two online calendars. “
Remember, the whole issue isn’t about who you are as a person. “I’m not racist, sexist, or a bad person” statements miss the point. The steps mentioned above are about addressing how your actions or words affected someone else, which is an essential step to achieve, if you want to maintain a deep connection in relationships.
So whether you accidentally knocked over someone’s drink at Starbucks, missed your wedding anniversary, or lost your temper and said words you now regret, it’s how you repair the damage that matters in the end. By extending a heartfelt apology, trying to understand how the other person was impacted, and doing our best to act more accountably in the future, we can improve relationships of every kind.
Here’s some good news for a change! There is now scientific research actually supporting the notion that long, happy marriages are possible – and occurring.
Humans are born to love, but because of the escalating divorce rate in our society, we have become cynical. The assumption has been that long-term love, while desirable, is unrealistic and hence next to impossible to obtain, not to mention lasting for decades. The news media and entertainment industries don’t focus on good, high-quality relationships, but love can and does last. We are wired to do this, to be monogamous.
Published research in the Social, Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Journal found that specific brainwave activity in couples who had been married an average of 21 years was similar to people who had recently fallen in love. Proven with brain MRIs, both groups revealed high activity in the reward and motivation centers of the brain, suggesting that not only can we love for long periods of time, but we can stay in love with our long-time partners.
Sustained romantic love has cognitive rewards, including “the reduction of anxiety and stress, feelings of security, a state of calmness, and a union with another,” stated Adoree Durayappah, psychological researcher, in Psychology Today. There’s no surprise then that our lifespan is longer if we’re in a (loving) relationship!
Another study conducted by the University of Geneva came to the interesting conclusion that only one personality trait predicted long-term romantic passion: “love blindness.” At first, it’s easy to worship the ground your lover walks on. But, as we become familiar with their habits and other traits, holding the same high opinion can be difficult. Being able to maintain positive illusions about your partner, despite knowing all their negative attributes, helps couples remain happy with each other over time.
Other research has shown that if a potential partner has every single desired quality you’d want in a mate, with the exception of being in love, we are not inclined to marry them (91% of women and 86% of men would not marry if not in love).
In summary, some good points to remember include:
1. It is advisable to maintain a sense of awe about your partner, and focus on the positive traits, instead of the little things that bother you.
2. Keep your relationship fresh and interesting by trying new things together, and by going to new places. Self-expanding activities will make life more enjoyable for both of you over the long term.
3. Maintain some individual independence in order to avoid suffocating or stifling each other. There is no neediness or caretaking in desire. Watching your partner do something he or she excels at can definitely add to the spark and mystery. Encouraging and sharing in each other’s success (and failures) increases intimacy and keeps you connected.
4. Having a passion for life in general will carry over into your relationships, and can help sustain them in the long run.
5. Try to think of your marriage as a life journey together, and use this intimate partnership as your vehicle for self-fulfillment.
Our generation actually has a better chance of finding, and keeping, long-term love than couples in the past. Research today also supports this theory, finding today’s long-term marriages to be stronger and happier, compared to those years ago.
Perhaps the social mores of past generations, as well as gender role expectations, kept relationships intact, but today’s marriages are about more than meeting basic needs for survival. We want them to be satisfying and contribute to our personal sense of well-being and fulfillment. However, maintaining a long-term passionate relationship still requires a sufficient time and energy commitment by both partners to live happily ever after.