A Valentine Gift

By Ann Klein based on imagery of Hedy Schiefler and Imago Couple’s therapy

The couple sat face to face
Holding hands
Looking into each other’s eyes
Studying the landscape of the other’s face
With new discoveries
In the ‘sacred space’ between them

Taking long, deep breaths
Thinking of the kindnesses each has received from the other
Filling the ‘sacred space’ with positive, nurturing energy

The host inviting their partner to visit
The visitor accepting with curiosity
Crossing the bridge to where their partner lives
Listening with understanding and compassion
Keeping safe the ‘sacred space’

And so the visits continue back and forth
To open up to new ideas
To see each other in new ways
Honoring each other’s differences
The miracle of ‘connection’
In the ‘sacred space’ between them

Giving gifts of kindness
Sharing words of love
Each helping the other to grow
In the ‘sacred space’ between them.

Ann Klein – Columbia Marriage and Relationship Counseling teaching couples effective communication skills to resolve conflicts, reestablish intimacy, and restore caring and connection in their relationships.

Long Term Relationships: Eight Essential Tips to Keep Your Relationship Vibrant Over The Years

In long-term relationships (25+ years), it is natural for couples to find each other annoying at times, and even worse take each other for granted. Furthermore, relationships go in cycles when you are closer to each other and other times more distant. How can you keep your relationship fresh and vibrant over the years?

  1. Tell your partner one thing you appreciate that she/he has done over the week. Be a spy and look for those ‘caring behaviors’ your partner does, especially for you, instead of focusing on what you didn’t get.
  2. Ask each other what ‘little things’ you can do to show your love. Write them down and then do 2-3 a week. Be on the lookout to find surprise gifts (you may notice your partner is looking at a magazine or a book).
  3. Have your own interests and also share common interests. Be curious and excited about your partner’s hobbies and achievements. Watching your partner change and grow can be a real turn on.
  4. There is no room for criticism (attacking your partner’s character, such as, saying ‘you’re a slob’). However, you can make an appointment to discuss a complaint (‘I hate when towels are left on the floor’). Choose your complaints carefully on a scale of 1-10.  If it’s below a 5, let it go. You are trying to keep putting positive energy into your relationship. It’s difficult to reverse years of criticism and negativity.
  5. Listen to what your partner is saying without putting in your own opinions and judgments. Find out if your partner wants to vent to or wants you to give a solution.  Be there, work on understanding where your partner is coming from and show empathy for her/his situation.  Read more about this subject by clicking this link: Couple’s Difficulty In Communicating.
  6. When you fight, see if you can take a time out so you can get out of your ‘reactive selves’ and will be able to listen to each other.  Get rid of the words ‘always.’ ‘never, ’’right, ‘ and ‘wrong.’ You don’t want to put your partner down.
  7. Have regular sex dates. Having orgasms releases the hormones oxytocin and vesapressin which help couples bond.  Being a long-term couple, variety is needed to spice up lovemaking. Some ideas include where and when you make love. You can plan on going to different kind of hotels dressed for the occasion and pretend you’re meeting for the first time (this includes ‘flirting’ and coming on to each other).  Another idea is going shopping together for sexy lingerie. You can share fantasies and make love at different times of the day in different places. Get rid of the ‘performance’ expectation of your youth.
  8. Laugh, have fun, and tell your story over and over again of how you met, what you valued about each other, and all the good memories.

Ann Klein – Columbia Marriage and Relationship Counseling teaching couples effective communication skills to resolve conflicts, reestablish intimacy, and restore caring and connection in their relationships.

Relationship stories from one tradition

Here are some stories of wisdom I share with my couples. They are universal tales, passed down from one generation to the next, which demonstrate giving each other ‘gifts’ by stretching emotionally.

The Spoon Story
One day a couple went to God (or spiritual leader) and asked God what was the difference between heaven and hell. God brought them up to a room and they saw a couple trying to feed themselves from a big cauldron of soup with large ladles. They were starving because the spoons could not reach their mouths.  God said, “This is hell.” Then God took them up stairs to another room. In this room, they saw another couple with a large cauldron and long ladles; but this time they were feeding each other and were well nourished.

This story deomstrates that when one partner ‘visits’ with the other, listening and keeping the space between them safe is imperitive, so their partner can take a risk and share difficult issues.

The Bird Story
One day a student (could be male or female) was very envious of his teacher because the teacher (could be male or female) was so wise and seemed to know all the answers. So the student devised a plan to fool this teacher and make her look like a fool in front of the other students. He found a bird and covered the bird in his hands.

Then he went to his teacher and asked her if the bird was dead or alive. If the teacher said the bird was alive, the student would crush and kill the bird. If the teacher said the bird was dead, he would open up his hands and let the bird fly away. So, he went to his teacher and said, “Oh wise one, is the bird I hold in my hands dead or alive?” The teacher said, “My child you are holding life in your hands, choose well.”

The following story demonstrates the concept of validating each other’s truths and perceptions instead of finding the ‘truth’.

The Angel Story
One day in heaven the angel of truth and the angel of peace were fighting to come down to earth. God could only pick one. So God threw down the angel of peace. The angel of truth said, “Why did you chose peace over truth?”  God said, “If I sent truth, there would never be any peace.”

This story helps couples understand the concept of ‘healing’.

Healing or Cure
There is a folktale in which the king was given a beautiful diamond. The shine, size and glow were magnificent. As he turned it from side to side, he could not believe how stunning it was until he turned it to the last side where he discovered a huge, deep, ugly scratch right down the middle. The king demanded that the royal jeweler fix the diamond. No matter how hard the jeweler tried; he was not able to fix it. The king then sent his messengers out into the kingdom to gather the best jewelers there were and to promise each a wonderful reward for eliminating the scratch from the diamond. However, none could ‘cure’ the diamond; none could return it to its original state. Finally, a straggly no-name man came into the courtroom claiming to be able to fix the diamond. The king was desperate; and though no one really believed this ruffian, the king gave the man the diamond and made the same promise he had made to all the others. Days later the stranger returned and handed the diamond to the king. As the king turned the diamond, he was again impressed by the beauty of the unblemished sides. Then he slowly turned to the final side and stopped in amazement. Instead of erasing the scratch, the jeweler had carved into the stone a beautiful rose using the scratch as the stem. The rose shone brightly on the diamond. No one had ever seen such a beautiful specimen before or since. That is the difference between being ‘cured’ and being ‘healed.’ All the previous jewelers were trying to ‘cure’ the stone. The stranger ‘healed’ it.

I invite you to share stories and metaphors about relationships from different traditions.

Ann Klein – Columbia Marriage and Relationship Counseling teaching couples effective communication skills to resolve conflicts, reestablish intimacy, and restore caring and connection in their relationships.

Update on Emotional Affairs

In my previous article (located on my website) on Why Men and Women Cheat, marital researcher Dr. Shirley Glass, author of Not Just Friends, wrote there has been a ‘crisis of infidelity’ in the workplace where both men and women work as peers. This can even occur when the coworkers are in good marriages. She further states that “this infidelity is between people who unwittingly form deep, passionate connections before realizing they’ve crossed the line from platonic friendships into romantic love.” This continues to happen. However, this phenomenon is also going on through the Internet; especially on Facebook. What does this mean?

Couples ask, “Well it’s on the Internet, how can it be an affair?” Even the partner on Facebook claims they have no intention of having an affair. They may say, “I’m just curious what happened to an old ‘love,’ especially my first one.” Do you need to worry?  In many cases, yes.

What is an ‘emotional affair?’ It involves secrecy from your spouse about another relationship; deception-being told ‘nothing is going on;’ when it is; and sharing personal, intimate information with another person instead of with your spouse or significant other. According to Peggy Vaughn, author of The Monogamy Myth and DearPeggy.com website, most people who get involved in an ’emotional affair’ were not looking for one and didn’t intend to have one. According to her research, an‘emotional affair’ between friends and in the workplace can move from emotional connection to a sexual one from six months to a year. Online, the intensity can escalate quickly in less than a week. Why is that?

Dr. Sherry Turkle, author of Life on the Screen: Identity In the Age of the Internet, wrote “It’s what’s withheld that makes these relationships so fantasy-rich and intense.” People are connecting in this fantasy world without really knowing each other. This can become even more intensified when you reconnect with a former love, who may have changed over the years and may not be the same person you met when you were younger. This fantasy can quickly turn to feelings of ‘romantic love,’ whereby each person can experience the ‘chemical high’ of falling in love. In Peggy Vaughn’s research, 79% of people she surveyed who had online affairs claimed they were not seeking an affair and 49% eventually developed into a physical sexual relationship. Dr. Janis Abrahms Spring, the author of After The Affair, wrote that some people compartmentalize the two relationships – they may not want to replace their partner, but may want the ‘extra high.’

So what should you do? Here are some suggestions:

  1. Be aware that many of us can be susceptible to ‘crossing the line’ from friendship to an emotional affair with no intentions of doing so. This is especially true in the workplace where colleagues are working closely.
  2. Be honest with your spouse. For example, if you are having coffee with a colleague every morning (which is not business) or if you bump into an old flame, share that information with your partner.
  3. Dr. Shirley Glass uses images of ‘windows and doors’ as boundaries to safe guard the relationship. Keep the ‘window’ open to your partner, sharing intimate details of your life and keep the ‘door’ closed about your personal life to colleagues or friends, especially those you find attractive.
  4. If you are curious about what happened to your friends from the past, find out together as a couple on Facebook without being secretive or deceptive.
  5. If there are problems in your relationship, find ways to sort them out. If you can’t do this by yourself, you may contact a specialist in couples counseling who can also guide you in bringing more ‘spice and aliveness’ into your sexual life.

Some Website Links for Your Convenience
Shirley Glass
Peggy Vaughn
Sherry Turtle
Janis Abrahms Spring

Ann Klein – Columbia Marriage and Relationship Counseling teaching couples effective communication skills to resolve conflicts, reestablish intimacy, and restore caring and connection in their relationships.

Practical Tips in Choosing A Mate

June is the month when many couples plan their weddings. What about their marriages? It’s hard to know what to expect unless you’ve been through it before. Hopefully, couples with ‘successful marriages’ can bring wisdom from their experiences. I will share with you their thoughts of how to choose the ‘right’ person for marriage.

  1. Beware of the ‘chemical high’ of ‘romantic love.’ Yes, it’s important to be attracted to your partner, but it is not enough for a long-term marriage. You want to find ‘lasting love’ which takes time and hard work (see Blog 5).
  2. You probably already know to find someone with common values and interests. Of course interests can change over the lifetime of the marriage. This can have a positive effect, bringing in new experiences for both of you to share. Yes, before marriage you need to decide how you will handle finances, in-laws, religion, etc.
  3. Pick someone with ‘good character traits.’ Some of the most important ones are being kind (not only to you, but towards others); responsible (follows through on promises, is dependable); respectful (listens to your concerns without putting you down); flexible (willing to compromise); loyal (being there for you, being supportive); and thoughtful (thinking of you and your needs and not always their own).
  4. One of the most overlooked qualities that are so important in living with a person is their temperament. What research has shown, based on the work of Dr. Stella Chase and Dr. Alex Thomas, is that we are born with certain temperaments through our genes or other biological means. What this means is that some of us are easy-going, adapt to new situations without a fuss, and handle frustration with relatively little anxiety. Others of us tend to react to the world negatively and intensely, become easily frustrated, impatient, stubborn, and have difficulty adjusting to new situations. And many of us fall in between. The important thing to remember is that we are born with these temperaments. Yet, they are not set in stone. We can become aware of some of these behaviors that interfere with our relationships and compensate for them. In a relationship, look for someone who is slow to anger and doesn’t carry a grudge and can handle anxious situations with relative calmness (even if they have to do deep breathing or walk around the block to cool down).
  5. Find someone you feel emotionally safe with. This means you can fully be yourself, express your thoughts, feelings, and concerns without being judged or feeling controlled (otherwise, this can lead to an abusive relationship). Make sure you are friends who make each other feel good about who you are individually and as a couple.
  6. Pick someone who puts you first before extended family, work, the Internet, and hobbies. This does not mean giving up your families and there will be times you will be needed to help a sick relative. You want to be connected to your families (especially, if they are supportive) and at the same time establish your own rituals as a couple.
  7. Be cautious of your partner’s use of alcohol as this easily can lead to an addiction and can ruin a relationship.
  8. Certain behaviors of your partner you cannot change, such as, character, personal hygiene, and many habits. So don’t expect to. However, know in ‘good marriages’ you both can help each other reach your ‘full potentials,’ becoming  confident, competent human beings.

Ann Klein – Columbia Marriage and Relationship Counseling teaching couples effective communication skills to resolve conflicts, reestablish intimacy, and restore caring and connection in their relationships.

What is Love? How Do You Keep It Once You Find It?

Many couples come into my practice disillusioned about love. When they met or some time after, they said they experienced intense feelings of ‘love.’ After a few years of marriage, they wonder where this feeling of love went to. We talk about ‘romantic love.’ According to Helen Fisher, anthropologist and author of Why We Love, couples in love experience great changes in their brains. The dopamine level rises and the serotonin decreases giving the brain a ‘chemical high;’ thus creating a wanting and craving for their partners. Many couples become obsessed with each other. At this point, they may overlook many of the traits of their partner that will cause disagreements later on. According to Dr. Fisher ‘romantic love’ is a way of bringing couples together. In addition to this, when a couple experience orgasms in their love making, the bonding hormones oxytocin and vasapressin are released. So what should you do to keep the love going?

While romantic love is a feeling, real love is a verb. This means it is important how you treat your partner and it takes being conscious of the relationship and the needs of your partner to sustain love: moving from the idea of ‘You and I are one and I’m the one’ to ‘we are two separate people and we are not expected to always agree.’ How to do this takes both discipline and patience. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Come up with a plan to deal with disagreements in a respectful way. See my earlier blog, Couples’ Difficulties in Communicating, for suggestions.
  2. Be careful of the words you use. Rabbi Joseph Telushkin wrote a wonderful little book called, Words That Hurt, Words That Heal: How to Choose Words Wisely.
  3. Language is so important in a relationship. Be intentional how you bring up a complaint without blaming or putting your partner down. Tone and gestures are crucial too. Raising your voice will also raise your partner’s blood pressure according to the research of Dr. John Gottman.
  4. Dr. Gary Chapman, a pastor, wrote a book called the Five Languages of Love. He wrote about small, caring behaviors that each partner can do for the other. Each partner has a favorite one or two. What are they? He lists them as words of affirmation (saying, “I love you,” giving compliments); acts of service or kind deeds (bringing tea, emptying out the dishwasher); tangible gifts (flowers, magazines); physical touch (holding hands, giving a massage); and spending quality time together. The key is to give your partner what they want, not what you think they want. Just ask and write their answers down such as,  “I feel loved when you . . .”

Yes, there is a lot of work being in a relationship. Love is a choice. By the way, Dr. Fisher discovered that some couples in long-term marriages still experience ‘romantic love’ along with feelings of strong attachments.

Let me know what works for you as a couple.

Ann Klein – Columbia Marriage and Relationship Counseling teaching couples effective communication skills to resolve conflicts, reestablish intimacy, and restore caring and connection in their relationships.