Eight Dates Challenge – Week Three – Sex and Intimacy

Welcome to the third week of our progress in the Gottman 8 week couples challenge!

Quick recap:  Joella and I have decided to read and participate in the activities featured in the Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love by John Gottman, Julie Gottman, Doug Abrams, and Rachel Carlton Abrams and then share some of our reflections on the experience.  Last week, we addressed conflict in our intimate relationships.  This week, the topic moves on to addressing sex and intimacy.

WEEK THREE

Administratively, week three registers at twenty pages of reading.  It was very quick and got right to the point, while still making and admirable effort to be inclusive, including vignettes that represent a variety of couples.  The authors are transparent about the lack of research to support any recommendations for transgender couples and make a call for more research in this area.  About 20% of the content of this week’s chapter was dedicated to giving actual guidance and advice on how to make this date happen for couples.

REFLECTIONS

This might just be my therapist attitude toward life… but this chapter made me realize how difficult it is to write about sensitive topics.  I’m certain that I could write a book about how to cook gluten free biscuits that would be very helpful and informative for some with food sensitivities, but would infuriate a large percentage of my fellow native Carolinians (that’s not a real biscuit!!!), or might induce some to try a recipe that would be ultimately unsatisfying (if you can still ride the gluten train).

Food examples aside, I want to emphasize that this chapter and the last chapter about conflict could be distressing for some readers or couples, based on their lived experience.  Joella and I agree that these books were written for a very specific audience, namely couples who are looking to improve the quality of their relationship.  If a reader with a history of sexual trauma or intimate partner violence, or grew up in an environment where violence or control dynamics between partners was common, these topics would probably be better discussed with the guidance of a qualified, skilled and experienced therapist.  This is one of the main reasons that we insist on doing an in-person consultation before we take on couples clients.  It helps us identify whether some clients may need an opportunity to work through specific primary concerns or challenges in order to be able to safely benefit from all that couples work can offer.  This is not a criticism of the book, it is just a reflection on its targeted audience.

Most of the information shared in this chapter is similar to themes from other Gottman publications.  They encourage developing open communication around sex and intimacy,  creating rituals in the relationship that foster intimacy, highlight some of the most common “Sex and Intimacy Killers”  that invade our relationships from time to time.  They share some of the findings of their research about sex and intimacy, which has spanned nearly four decades.  For example, that married couples have sex more frequently than unmarried couples, or that couples that are able to talk openly about sex have more sex, and that the women in these relationships have more frequent orgasms.

I appreciated their efforts to normalize the individuality of our sexuality.  They define normal levels of desire for sex or intimacy as “Whatever frequency is comfortable for you…”  Not everyone is on the same page, and not everyone will be able to get on the same page.  Learning to navigate that in a open, curious and connected way is the formula for creating a more satisfying relationship.  The Gottmans and Abrams/ Carlton Abrams return to that theme again and again, whether the content of the chapter is sex, money, conflict, etc.

The  specific recommendations for the date on page 109 are highly detailed and well thought out, and I would be comfortable handing it out as a verbatim homework assignment for some of the couples that we work with.  It is a great way to close out this chapter and practice the research-based principles.  I especially like the affirmation at the end of this chapter.  These affirmations are designed to be recited together in order to cement some of the principles of connection that this work espouses.  It’s a great way to develop the habit of using rituals to enhance connection because it is something special that you only share with your partner.

We hope that the readers are finding these reflections useful and we welcome your comments and reflections of your own, whether you are reading the book, participating in the online (e-mail based) Gottman 8 week couples challenge, or just browsing the blog.  Let us know what you think or if you have any questions.

Next week the program dives into work and finances and we are eager to dive in!

 

 

 

Repairing a Relationship

It has been an embarrassingly long time since I have sat down to reflect and write in this space. Michael and I have been spending most of our time providing therapy to some incredible couples over the past few months. Time flies when we are working together… it is such a privilege to do this work.

Something we keep running into time and time again is the myth that when couples enter therapy the past wounds will be covered with immediate action like homework. Clients are eager to ask for the next task but the work is a little harder to spot and it certainly cannot be checked off a to do list.

The work lies often in holding both realities. The reality that the relationship is being worked on and will improve and the reality of the damage that has been done. Part of repair then is being able to sit with your partner in those tense moments when one or both of you lacks confidence in the relationship. Having compassion for one another and being able to see that the past hurt is just as real as the new future you are creating together.

The magic ingredient is not letting those moments set you back. Instead have confidence that this uncomfortable space of rehashing isn’t the past argument, it is a new conversation because it now exists in the context of working on the relationship. Rehashing for couples before therapy often happens in the context of “will we stay together” or “is this relationship healthy for me/us.”

Can you hold both the past hurt and the desired future just long enough to start to see it change?

Remember, change in humans is the same as a growing plant. It is hard to detect until you look for it.

 

Resolve

I still love New Year Resolutions. I love that there is a time of year that people feel some sense of inspiration about their future. There is a magic in the air as one year closes out and a new one begins. A magic that seems to help some people give themselves a chance to dream or reimagine themselves.

The problem comes when they wake up two weeks later in a culture that doesn’t support change and growth. We live in a time when it is easier than ever to keep the status quo, avoid personal responsibility, and busy ourselves into oblivion.

Still, I believe in people. I have the honor of seeing people change their lives all the time… not just in January. I also know that sometimes people need a few false starts. Sometimes the journey is trying out new ways of being and discarding what doesn’t work. I don’t blame people for quitting gyms after two weeks. Have you been to most gyms during January? The place is packed and its cold and flu season… gross. Maybe it will lead you to finding the right gym, the right workout community, or the right sport that keeps you fit. Sometimes we make progress in quitting.

But I digress.

I promised myself this wouldn’t be a blog of “Joella’s new year opinions.” Rather, I wanted to talk about Cascadia Family Therapy’s resolve to provide the highest quality couple and family therapy we possibly can. We are more committed than ever in 2018 to creating massive change in the lives of our clients and in our industry.

It is time for the old way of therapy (you know the once a week, bill your insurance, only to get a bill months later, all the while wondering what your therapist is trying to accomplish with you kind) to get out of your way. It is time for a new way of therapy. Therapy that is transparent, empowering, and collaborative. Therapy that trusts the clients to do the work and believes in people’s resilience and possibility. 

We are here to do that work. When a couple or family is ready for change, we are here to work, support, encourage, provide skills, whatever it takes.

We believe in YOU to build the life you want. Make your resolution stick!

At The Speed of Life

Sitting down and writing about therapy is one of my favorite things to do. Being a marriage and family therapist requires a lot of reflection not just on what clients bring in but on what I am saying, doing, suggesting, inferring, the list goes on!

For me therapy is equal parts where have you been and where you are going. In fact, the best part of my craft is that I have the honor of dreaming for my clients. When hope is low and obstacles seem insurmountable, I have the freedom as an outsider and a trained professional to dream of different approaches, perspectives, or narratives. This is also part of the pleasure of running a fee for service business, clients get a therapist who makes time to reflect. But I digress….

I have felt myself having to just crank along this past week. Michael and I moved a couple miles up the road and it has felt like a sh*t storm  (yes, that is the clinical term). Boxes, chapped hands, microwave meals, and lack of sleep have all driven us into the ground. I try my best to shield my clients from these stressors and keep my office a sacred space but I know I am not perfect. I was reminded of this when I saw my last blog was so long ago. It seems the website and blogging are always the first off of my list.

All that being said, this season to me is all about reflection. With the new year approaching, the short days, and long nights, it feels like mother nature forces us all to slow down. I look forward to having some extra time  off to catch up and get back to the creative part of being a private practice. Michael and I have some massive goals for 2018 and hope to reconnect many more couples!

 

Things to ponder…..

How do you make time to reflect?

How do you reflect? Writing? Talking?

What are your intentions for 2018?

Showing up for life 

The theme of my week has been the importance of showing up. In a world where with the click of a mouse and/or the swipe of a debit card we can send condolences, comfort, and pseudo connection I’ve been struck by the power of showing up. No one can read your mind and often our intentions are assumed by others. By showing up we communicate our thoughts and intent clearly. 

Here are some ideas of how to show up in your life for those most important to you:

Take flowers to someone

Say thank you in person

Look people in the eye

Compliment what you admire

Shake someone’s hand

If you love them, say it! Again and again.

When you feel the urge to say just about anything to make someone feel better; hug them instead.

Hold your loved ones hand

Be patient with emotion. Feelings come and go but some linger… that’s ok.

Human interaction truly matters. Don’t let the digital world fool you into thinking otherwise.

The Resistance

Over the summer I have been pursuing all sorts of creative endeavors. Painting, music, videography, anything and everything that piques my interest. To me having a creative outlet is a key ingredient to self-care. And as a therapist, I am always seeking to add to my self-care repertoire.

These creative endeavors lead me to the book The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.  I have not been able to put this book down! The concept is that art is a part of our souls and often a higher calling but it is commonly met with different forms of resistance. From alcohol to love to procrastination, Pressfield describes in detail the many faces of resistance.

In reading these descriptions of resistance, I couldn’t help but think of therapy. Therapy is often an artistic endeavor where my professional expertise meets the wide variety of human experience and together we create a new paradigm for the future. When I reflect on it that way, I can’t help but ponder how the resistance may show up for my clients.

  • Dreading sessions perhaps?
  • Too afraid to pick up the phone to even schedule a session?
  • Perhaps beating yourself up for even feeling as though you need a therapist?
  • Ignoring the issue hoping it magically disappears?
  • Trying once again to solve it all yourself?
  • Too stuck to even find a therapist?

Resistance is a powerful force that often prevents us from moving forward. But as Pressfield articulates, “the greater the resistance, the more important the work.”

autonomy

The longer I practice therapy the more passionate I become about client autonomy.

Autonomy from a sociological perspective defined by wikipedia is, “the capacity of a rational individual to make an informed, un-coerced decision.”

The foundation of my work is in reflecting back what clients present as the problem or their perspective, educating clients about what I know (typically what research says) and sharing my perspective as a professional. With these components clients will often uncover more options.

More options create a sense of autonomy. It’s the shift from this is happening to me to I am happening to it.

My goal is for clients to leave sessions feeling like their life is back in their hands, they are no longer held captive by patterns or habits, and that they are armed with information and options.