Friday, May 19, 2006

How To Reignite Passion Into a Relationship

Ruben and Gloria sit in my office on opposite ends of the couch. Gloria hangs her head so that her long, thick curly hair hides the tears that want to flow. Ruben stares at the clock on the wall. He looks like he wants to be anywhere else but here. He appears annoyed but I know he’s afraid.
Ruben, 39, and Gloria, 34 have been married for 8 years and have two children: a 5-year-old boy and a 3-year-old daughter. They decided to seek marriage counseling after Gloria discovered that Ruben has been emailing a lady he had met in an on-line ‘chat room’. Gloria herself is trying to control a growing crush she has with a much younger co-worker. 

Ruben and Gloria have known for months that something is missing in their relationship. They just weren’t clear on what was happening. They tried to ignore the growing distance between them. Both hoped that things would just get better in time. Now the red flags are flying too high to ignore. They know they are entering dangerous territory. Hopefully, marriage counseling will re-direct their path and lead them back to each other. 
Ruben and Gloria are typical of many of the couples I see. They are thirty-something, educated; career oriented, and have one or two young toddlers. They appear to be happily married. Yet as the years pass, the distance between them seems to grow. There are family matters, children to care for, illnesses, finances, mortgage payments, job changes, and deaths along with life’s everyday challenges. When focus is predominately on outside events, couples often drift apart. 
It happens slowly and insidiously. Couples who were once close, feel the passion is now gone. Sure, they have their children and their possessions in common. But what about the original bonding that brought them together in the first place? Values, goals and special feelings get buried under the grind of everyday life.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking a person outside the marriage can provide the tempting, often missed charge of 'being in love’. While it may be a short-term fix, it’s ends up being a long-term disaster. Why not fall back in love with your  actual partner? Most people just need to give their marriage a ‘tune-up.’              
Here are some tried an true tips I recommend to my patients on how to re-ignite your original passion: 

When was the last time you sat down and really talked to your partner? I’m talking about the way you used to talk when you were first getting to know each other. Human beings grow and have new experiences on a daily basis. Make it a point to talk and listen to what your mate has to say each and every day.

Take a Genuine Interest in Each Other’s Experiences
Talk with each other, not at each other. Listen attentively without planning what you’ll say next or impatiently waiting your turn to speak. Pay attention to the tone of voice, body language and eye contact. Ask questions. Validate positive experiences. Offer support and empathy when needed.

Just the Two of You
All parents love their children but most marriage counselors agree that it is important for a husband and wife to have some ‘alone’ time. Get someone to baby-sit while the two of you go out on a date. Do something that will allow you to talk, have fun and feel close to each other. Do the things you used to do before you were married. Try something new. Be seductive and flirtatious with each other. Dress up and take the time to look your best. There is only one DON’T; avoid talking about the kids, money or work. Tonight is about the two of you.

Get Involved
Work on a project together. Create something. Learn a new language or musical instrument. Play games. Build something for your home. Write a book for your kids. Make a short homemade movie. Take a class. Try making a photo or video scrapbook of old family photos or video footage.
Working as a team will naturally bring you closer together. It happens at the workplace all the time. Invite this feeling of accomplishment into your own home. It really works.

Spruce Up Your Bedroom Activities
Sex is the most obvious thing we think of when we say the passion has gone out of our relationship. I don’t agree. Boredom in the bedroom is a result of non-communication and lack of intimacy. Sex becomes routine because the rest of the relationship is routine.
Intimacy is the result of feeling close to someone by sharing feelings and experiences. When couples learn how to improve their communication skills they will naturally feel more comfortable sharing their wants and needs in the bedroom. Straightforward talk will ultimately lead to more satisfying, fulfilling sex.
That being said here are some easy ways to add zing to your sex life:

Seduce and romance your partner like you did when you first met. Kiss and make out in public. Be affectionate with each other. Reminisce about your first date. Look at your wedding album. Sexy lingerie, candles, a bottle of wine, silk sheets are all good aphrodisiacs. Read erotic literature to each other in bed. Act out the parts you like best. Be spontaneous, playful and carefree.

Share Your Secret Fantasy
Allow yourselves to share your sexual fantasies or secrets no matter how outrageous or silly they may seem. Promise to be non-judgmental. Be open to play out these scenes as long as they are not uncomfortable for you.

Role-playing is liberating, offers options and taps into your creativity. It’s an amazingly effective, safe way to get variety into your sex life. Be someone else in the context of a scenario. Hero, villain, teacher, student, spy, Casanova, etc. Wear costumes, wigs and play roles that you’d find fun.
Many couples enjoy ‘picking each other up’ as strangers in a bar. They have a few drinks and go home with each other. I even know a couple that employs his wife as his ‘prostitute’. In that way he feels more comfortable relating some of his more offbeat desires. In her role as a sex worker, she feels more knowledgeably about sexual variations. She also has the authority to ‘negotiate’ and decide what acts she will or won’t perform.

In Summary
It’s not too late to turn up the heat in your relationship. Don’t get caught up in the trivial pursuit of your life. Remember that you picked your partner for a reason – you felt strong, intense desire for each other. That desire is still there. It may be hidden by life’s distractions but smoldering ashes can be re-ignited with your loving energy.

This article was originally published by the 4 Therapy Network January 2006.

© 2006 Jackie A. Castro, MA, MFT

Friday, January 20, 2006

For Better Or For Worse, And Other Things That Didn't Come True: A Look At Divorce

    I never thought this would happen to me. I was raised to believe that marriage is forever. My parents never divorced. Neither did any of my sisters and brothers. Why did I pick someone that did not honor the commitment? I can’t believe my husband left after only 3 years. Thank goodness we never had children.     - Elizabeth C.

    I just couldn’t take it anymore. The fighting was out of control. The day my husband and I split, I felt relieved. Finally some peace but now the reality of being alone with three young children is hitting hard. Part of me wants him back. The other part of me knows that our relationship was way too flawed.     - Melinda T.

    The ending of a long-term committed relationship is a traumatic grief experience. Even if we think it’s for the best it is still one of the most shocking, most difficult losses to endure. In many cases, it’s more difficult than dealing with death.    When a marriage ends, many people go into shock. They can’t believe they are really separated from the person that they vowed to be with ‘til death to us part’. No matter what the reason, the end is never easy. Most of us have no idea how to cope or what to do.     Friends give us well-meaning advice that usually doesn’t help:     “You’re better off.”     “He was no good.”     “I never liked him.”     “Men are like trains. Another one will come soon.”     These well-intentioned platitudes don’t help. Ultimately, the newly divorced female feels alone and confused.     Note: Though much of this information is non-gender specific, for purposes of this article, I am choosing to write from the female perspective. The Female Stereotype: It’s Still Out There     Women are taught that a relationship is everything. Even today, little girls like to play with dolls and ‘play house’. They fantasize about a mom, a dad and having babies. Women are geared towards the role of being the nurturer and caretaker. Even those of us who have important jobs and careers still put those other roles ‘on hold’ in order to make a baby and give it a home. Society still supports the idea that it is primarily the female who keeps the relationship and/or family together.     Little girls are brought up with the notion that all they have to do is wait for their ‘prince charming’. Somehow, somewhere there’s this magical being that will sweep her off her feet and protect her from the mean, dark world. Even when women suffer horrible break ups or endure the most painful of relationships they still daydream about this mythical man. They can’t help it. These myths and fairy tales are deeply ingrained. Adults view these same tales in romantic movies, romance novels, tabloids, soap operas and love songs. The Pain of A Break Up     When a marriage breaks up women feel particularly devastated. They tend to blame themselves. Oftentimes, the relationship was emotionally or physically abusive but the woman stays in the relationship way longer than necessary. This is because she feels pressured to keep things status quo and together. When the marriage finally ends, women often feel ashamed and embarrassed. They imagine themselves as damaged goods. Thus, in addition to the natural feelings of grief as a result of loss or change, comes an unnatural loss of self-esteem.     Women are taught to keep up appearances. Society tells up to ‘keep a stiff upper lip’. Shameful feelings foster feelings of pain, anger, loss of trust and bewilderment. Oftentimes these emotions get stuffed down or pushed aside. We’re taught to ‘deal with it later’. The ways we deal with things later often get convoluted into other situations that are ultimately dangerous. Hazards and Pitfalls     Most of us are unprepared when it comes to loss. We really don’t know what to do. The break up of a marriage is particularly confusing. We took a vow ‘till death do us part’. We never consider the fact that sometimes our partners stray, become abusive, fall in love with someone else, develop conflicting desires or the partnership simply becomes incompatible. In a perfect world, we would learn to ‘screen’ better but nevertheless, marriages break up at an alarming rate. Elizabeth and Melissa are examples of two women who just didn’t know how to cope. Destructive Behaviors     Elizabeth took the opportunity to go wild. She had been brought up in a religious household with conservative beliefs. When her husband left without warning, Elizabeth literally went into shock. Her world was shattered and her family was disapproving. Elizabeth’s broken heart developed into an insatiable hole. She went from relationship to relationship. All of them unsatisfying. Each worst than the next. She unsuccessfully tried to replace the loss instead of looking to herself for the answers.     Melinda just got angrier and angrier. She tried to soothe her anger with lots of alcohol but that only created another problem. So frazzled was she that the state intervened, and she lost the children she loved. Now she’s dealing with one loss on top of the other. Happily, Melinda’s fall to the bottom is finally getting her the help she needs. Melinda is in rehab now exploring unresolved anger issues and hoping to be reunited with her kids real soon.     Elizabeth and Melinda sound like they went to the extreme but we all rely on short term relief to solve long term loss issues. Over eating, drinking, drugging, sleeping, sex, shopping, exercising, running, working are some of the ways we indulge ourselves in order to cope. We simply don’t know what to do and rely on distractions rather than acknowledge the pain. Isolation     Some women tend to isolate after a break up. They no longer want to see their friends because many of these women were the other half of the couples they and their husband socialized with. Likewise, some of these ‘friends’ don’t want to go out with them either. They feel like divorce is a disease and it brings their own vulnerabilities to the forefront. This situation is an unfortunate bi-product of a break up. Fortunately, when one looks deep there are usually other divorced or single co-workers or acquaintances that can be of enormous help. Some of these people turn into life-long friends. Fast Recovery     Beware of being OK too fast. Women have always been taught to put on ‘a happy face’. They act strong for their children. They seem extremely functional to their friends. It’s hard to imagine that anything is wrong in their lives. This very fast recovery can be as dangerous as any of the more overt destructive behaviors. Usually these are women who want to please or not burden others. They act recovered even when they aren’t. Feeling Tired     It takes a great deal of energy to conceal feelings. Many women are so busy stuffing their feelings that they literally wear themselves out. Many people in grief talk about loss of energy or motivation. They don’t understand it takes energy to hold back the tears. A broken heart needs to be acknowledged and nurtured.     There’s no doubt that the break up of a committed affair leaves us feeling bewildered and abandoned. Something has happened that we didn’t anticipate. Someone we trusted has abandoned us. We feel vulnerable. Our hearts our broken. If You Are Experiencing A Break Up Remember, you are not broken. It’s your relationship that has failed. You are still a whole person with a whole life to live. It may feel absolutely crazy right now, but it’s the situation, not you that has fallen apart. Dig inside and remember that you survived many years without him. You can do it again. Do not create false memories.     Elizabeth kept going back to the wonderful romantic times she had with her ex. She tended to lament the relationship because the beginning was so magical for her. She quickly forgot her husband’s cold and withholding attitude. As she forgot, she began to mourn a person who didn’t really exist. She made herself feel worse and worse about the break up, blaming herself for not being able to hold on to such ‘a wonderful guy’. She became self punishing by getting involved with men that were in some way unavailable and repeated the same self destructive behavior over and over again. Elizabeth self-punished for years because she created a distorted picture of her marriage. Do not stuff your feelings.     Let yourself cry. Allow yourself to mourn. Remember taking a pill or eating a cooking will only make you feel different. They will not make you feel better. Do not blame yourself.     You are only 50 percent responsible for the breakup of your marriage if it’s even that much. Take partial but do not take full responsibility. Each of you made mistakes. Allow yourself to learn from these mistakes so you can do better next time. Be gentle with yourself. Recognize you are in crisis. Your world has been shattered into pieces. You feel like you are going crazy. Remember it’s the situation and not you. Do not worry about your age.     Many marriages dissolve when people are in there 50’s, 60’s and even 70’s. Our life expectancy is much higher today. There’s a whole community of people in your age range who are in same boat as you. You are not alone. Join a support group to help you meet others in the same boat as you.     Get help. Therapy is a good place to talk. It’s safe, confidential and you will be heard without judgment. It’s never too late to make changes. Learn how to love and nurture yourself. You deserve it. In Summary     It’s not uncommon for newly divorced women to engage in dangerous behaviors as a result of a broken heart and unresolved grief. When traveling down a new path, it’s OK to seek out the help of a guide. Perhaps it’s someone who’s been there before or someone who is has studied the road. Now is the perfect time to seek guidance. You don’t have to be alone. This article was originally published by the 4 Therapy Network January 2006. © 2006 Jackie A. Castro, MA, LMFT