For me, Christmastime heralds in a spirit of Joy, Hope and Togetherness. It's that time of the season where I just want to make everyone feel loved with homemade Mrs. Field's cookies and loads of Lindt chocolate, great gourmet-get-togethers and especially, sipping and sharing my new favourite wine. Not exactly a Rockwell-esque picture but let's just say that should a snow-storm arise in the forecast, I will be the first person to try and organize an old-fashioned, horse-drawn sleigh ride. Yeeha! "Oh what fun it is to ride..."
Family and friends are very important to me and reconnecting during the holidays even more so. But, I do things differently now. I used to stress by trying to find the imagination and time to pull off a decadent and festive celebration- usually à la Martha Stewart style. Yes, my nickname used to be Martha:-). Gratefully, those times are soooooo long gone! Today, the emphasis is less on the stress of the event-especially sweating about the small stuff- and more on the time we simply spend together. And, mercifully, we no longer exchange gifts. Do you know how hard it was to live up to making and outdoing oneself year after year with MS's handmade gifts? LOL! Today, I'd rather give the gift of "presence" and donate money and time to charity and good causes- especially to animal shelters or rescue groups- than exchange gifts. "All I Really Want For Christmas..."
Maybe I'm getting old and cynical. A true-blue bah humbug! But then again, maybe I'm just becoming more mindful and kinder to myself. I really don't know. What I do know is that I'm looking forward to the comforting rituals of taking nice long wooded-walks with Lotti, going x-country skiing, chatting up conversations by the fireplace with my husband and perhaps taking in a couple of films or playing a board game or two with family and friends. Simple Abundance. "It's the Most wonderful time of the Year..."
And, as we approach the new year, I know I will be spending some time in quiet gratitude and reflection, reviewing my challenges, difficulties, inspirations and successes, actively working on releasing resentments and any residues of negative emotions, in Hope of creating a life filled with even more Joy, purpose and passion...to go deep with all that I love and especially continue to teach about love, compassion and building stronger relationships ...so that we may all somehow aspire and aim to build even a better world Together.
Happy Holidays everyone ...wishing you the best of health and much love, always
Among other great skills required for life and love, I often teach my couples about the art of empathy. Empathy is a condition and skill of all functional interpersonal relationships. And, no, empathy is not about feeling sorry for someone. Rather, it is more about feeling with someone. Many of us frequently confuse empathy with sympathy. Think of it this way: empathy is about trying to step into someone else’s shoes, whereas sympathy is more about feeling sorry for someone else’s shoes:-). Ok, so maybe it’s not the best example, but I think you get the gist: empathy says, “I hear you and I want you to know that you aren’t alone….you can open up with me…I won’t judge you because even if I don’t know what you are going through, I am willing to show up”. Empathy is like the fundamental skillset for bringing compassion into life.
Empathy by Proxy
Empathy can be an equation between two but often seem like an interaction of one. That’s because empathy can be both a state of mind and a character trait. Nonetheless, empathy needs to be genuine: it cannot be faked. We need to first be aware and understand our own feelings so that we may truly tune into our partner’s feelings. Empathy has no room for judgement, and always makes space for humility…..especially during difficult times. Yes, we need to allow ourselves to be vulnerable with our own sense of brokenness (or what I call emotional raw spots) before we can ever genuinely begin to turn toward our partner and learn to appreciate their own so-called humanness. As I often say to my couples, “Empathy -like marriage- is never for the faint of heart”. :-)
“Empathy is a choice. And it’s a vulnerable choice, because in order to connect with you I have to connect with something in myself that knows that feeling.” Brené Brown
Empathy requires exposure of our private world of fears, failures, anxieties and uncertainties. It’s risky business. But, putting yourself “out there” is not a sign of weakness. Instead, it’s like building a foundation of support for your partner: so that they, too, can open up when life becomes messy and imperfect…and still feel like they are home or on solid ground-with you. In the end, it’s about being able to see a little of yourself in each other.
An Effort of Give & Take
I think it’s important to know that Empathy (and what you are attempting to achieve between the both of you) has as much to do with understanding as with dialogue. Giving or showing empathy is the effort made toward understanding another’s circumstances, even though we cannot fathom exactly what they may be feeling or going through. It has more to do with knowing the vulnerable experience of offering connection and presence, as in, “You’re not alone, I have also struggled”…even if you do not share the exact same point of reference. On the receiving end of empathy, we are offered the experience of acceptance and the knowledge of empowerment, or the courage and strength it takes to be vulnerable and feel less alone in our experiences when we choose to reach out. As you can see, there can be no empathy without vulnerability.
Here are some examples of how to show empathy:
And here are some other helpful tips for improving your skills:
Lastly, here is a beautifully animated short video that really sends the message home!
Parents agree that raising children in a loving home is important. Yet, what children witness at home is even more significant. Affection between parents such as cuddling, hand-holding, hugging, and kissing not only lets kids feel more safe and secure, but it also teaches children that family and marriage are about love- which can ultimately help prepare kids for their own future romantic relationships. So much about parenting is modeling, after all.
So why is it that most parents report showing less affection-and intimate time- with each other than they did before they had children?
Today we marry for love and expect marriage to satisfy both our personal and social needs.
We want to be best friends, equal partners and lovers, to boot! However, we also live in a child- centric society, where “the more you do for your children, the ‘better’ you are as a parent”. Parents today are so busy shaping the next generation that everything else takes a back seat, including time for themselves and their partners. Planning activities and prioritizing fun often gets lost on the adults -with after-school sports, dance lessons, music classes, and so on. But, so does the energy, once you factor in careers, household chores, bills and even attending to the family dog:-). On their long list of to-do’s, it’s no wonder parenting couples frequently find themselves finishing last and gasping for air!
“Children need parents who have strong connections: both sexual and emotional. It gives them a confident space in which to grow”. Esther Perel
The magic formula for keeping passion alive in a partnership may be broad and complex but perhaps a good place to begin is to think like a child and take the time to play. We are all born with an innate sense of joy and play. It’s our life force. Play generates optimism, offers novelty and vitality, too. Because children take risks and prioritize play, they are creative, imaginative, and feel alive! In adulthood, as in marriage, it is purely a choice to experience pleasure and have fun. So go ahead, ask your partner if they can come out to play?
Seeing love and sex today are at the centre of marriage, couple preservation is even more important than ever before. Without it, family life won’t thrive, let alone survive. Children regularly need to see their parents having fun together, being affectionate and playful. The willingness to show affection in front of children and carve out some time together alone- lets kids know that the couple relationship- and consequently, their own environment- is both precious and secure. It can be a mutual growth process for both parents and children alike.
For more help about how to restore or keep passion alive while parenting, please book a private session or see Marriage Interrupted- www.letstalkaboutlove.ca
this article was originally written for YA Magazine-March 2017
A very dear friend of mine passed away recently. Before cancer devoured her, I had the opportunity to tell her how much she had meant to me all these years. She was a lovely woman who embodied endless energy, and was always heralded for her huge heart. It was because of her, both as a breeder and friend, my life became blessed with the gift of knowing the most majestic breed of dog as well as understanding unconditional love.
I don’t know how to begin my letter to you other than to say how much you mean to me.
I remember when we first met at the vet’s all those years ago- you with Xander and Xoee, me with my three cats. Let’s just say it was Love at First Sight:-) Love- for the most beautiful breed of dog I was yet to adopt, and love for a friendship with you and Pat I would forever hold in my heart. I know I never told you this before, Kiki, but you have always reminded me of my own mom. This was always so special to me because in knowing you, I somehow stayed connected to her, too. Although my mom was much older, she had the same European flair as you. Not to mention the same smiling eyes and dry sense of humour, too. Her love of dogs, flowers, gardening and books; her “no-nonsense“ and “waste-not” approach to life… oh my Kiki, I’m certain had you known one another, you would have been good friends, too.
Kiki, thank you for always saying such kind things about my work with couples. I also want you to know something. It is because of YOU that today I know and teach “Unconditional Love”. Yes, you! When Jethro and ElleMae came into my life, little did I realize that I began a journey of building better and more unconditionally, loving relationships with both family and friends. You may laugh, but I believe their purpose was to help me cultivate and understand compassion. I always tell my couples that, unlike humans, dogs never worry or hold a grudge about what happened yesterday. They actually remind us that we need connection on a daily basis. I tell you, Kiki, those furry kissin’-cousins taught me through their wags and wiggles that no matter how stressful life can be, there is always time for a cuddle, walk or a giggle. And talk about Loyalty and Undivided Attention! Today, I can literally walk through the front door a hundred times, and Lotti is always so happy to see me!!! I continue to tell my couples, “If you want lessons in Love, don't look up to a married couple for a role model, simply look down. We have much to learn from them because Dogs Get It”.:-) So….from my very full heart, Kiki, I thank you for my “therapy” dogs. They have helped me and others heal in so many ways.
Over the years I have always enjoyed receiving emails and photographs from you. They were often the highlight of my day. From your extended family of Bernese folk and furry kids- to your very own precious family of Pat, Tim, Cornelia, Matthew, and Alexander- I have always loved the way you proudly posted updates on everyone’s antics and achievements. One of my all-time favourite pics is one where you’re driving a tractor and Pat’s drinking a margarita while petting a cat!! It’s really the essence of you (and also of Pat:-). In my eyes, you were forever the dynamo with the steely determination to get things done! A great role model for sure! I think the only thing I never saw you do is ride a polo pony!!!
Kiki, as much as I don’t want words to fail me now, I hope by writing you I haven’t done anything to upset you, either. Like I said, I just want you to know how much you have touched my life. I know I can’t take away your pain or find a cure for this damn disease, however, I truly hope you find some comfort in this letter. I’ve never done well with goodbyes. So, I’d rather say Thank You…thank you, Kiki, for honouring us with your life, thank you for being such a dear friend to both Dick and I, for deeply enriching our lives, and especially for giving us the gift of knowing unwavering love through the heartfelt bond of canine companionship. Priceless.
Love you forever, Lydia, Dick & Lotti ox
At the heart of every marriage is conflict. No two people are ever going to agree on everything. Actually, a relationship without conflict would not be able to move forward. Facing obstacles and overcoming them together is part of healthy and happy married life. Along with growth and change, however, there will always be complaints, disagreements, compromises, new challenges and responsibilities with each partner making mistakes that may hurt the other. Normal!
But did you know that it’s what you are doing when you aren’t fighting which can make all the difference in the world- not to mention in your words -when you do fight?
Research consistently shows that couples who regularly maintain their friendship -alongside fondness and fun- actually repair the bumps and bruises of their relationship battles much better than most. Yes, how well a couple connects when conflict is not part of the conversation is what can ultimately protect and preserve a loving relationship.
It’s All About that Base
Friendship is at the core of commitment, respect and trust. As my all-time favourite marriage educator, John Gottman PhD says: “Couples with deep intentional friendships have mutual respect and enjoyment of each other’s company. They tend to know each other intimately – they are well versed in each other’s likes, dislikes, personality quirks, hopes and dreams. They have an abiding regard for each other and express this fondness not just in the big ways but also in little ways, day in and day out.” Most importantly, because of these positive efforts made through their daily connection, couples automatically create a common bond, which naturally buffers their stress and helps sustain soothing love between them…even during the worst of times. By default, it’s their goodwill and shared history together which allows them to give each other the benefit of the doubt, communicate and repair rifts together, offering them an emotional safety net, especially when needed most.
Maintaining a healthy partnership takes time, energy, and commitment. But, building that base is important. Keeping the following in mind can help you stay on the right track:
1. In a digital world where shiny screens and silent communication seem to be replacing face to face human emotions, Pay More Attention To One Another! Put away the phones and reconnect the old-fashioned way!
2. Create Rituals with Each Other that have special meanings. What did you used to enjoy doing together? Coffee in the morning? Glass of wine or walk at the end of the day? Or, perhaps create something new?
3. Storytelling can allow for more mutual self-disclosure and connection. Go down memory lane together. Talk about your childhood. Get to know each other again. Emotional intimacy can help a relationship grow.
4. Say Thank You. These two words often get taken for granted but are so vital in helping us feel loved and appreciated.
5. Break out of your routine. Book a play date together. Keep it interesting and fun.
(originally published for Young Authors Magazine Sept 2016)
From Harvard to High School to Home
For over twenty years now, my mission has been to help people get more passionate about love and their relationships. I actually teach couples and individuals about life, love, family, sex and relationships. I offer couples new insights and skills so that they may improve the communication and connection between them. Ultimately, my goal is to help people add more value to their lives.
Bill Gates once said, “Teaching is About Relationships”. He meant that good teachers build relationships with their students. I couldn’t agree more. When I think about all the great teachers I’ve ever had, they were more than just experts in their field, they were kind and friendly, patient and sympathetic. They stood out from the rest. They often made learning interesting and fun. They were also caring, supportive and believed in you. We may not have had a label for it back then, but today we know this as Emotional Intelligence (EI) or EQ.
EQ is a measure of how aware you are about yourself and your relationships. It involves recognizing, managing and effectively communicating how you feel while responding appropriately to others. It’s about knowing how to find words to express vulnerable emotions such as affection, anger, fear, guilt, sadness and shame as much as it is to be able to deal with stress, listen with compassion and cope with conflict and change. No small task but the nice part is these skills can be learned!
I always teach my couples that the most important relationship in any family is the marital one-that the best gift parents can ever give their children is to love each other. Loving each other means knowing how to keep the partnership on track: from repairing rifts together to choosing to spend time together. Loving isn’t just about the words, it’s showing it through everyday actions and behaviours.
Children automatically learn from their parents, so if the parents’ marriage is healthy and happy, chances are children will emulate the same for their own. After all, parents are teachers, too.
The compulsory R- Relationships
Although Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic are important to academic achievement, research shows that no amount of book smarts will ever make up for the lack of communication and social skills required of our relationships and especially living a balanced life. In fact, for almost 80 years now, an ongoing longitudinal study out of Harvard has consistently demonstrated that the strength of relationships with partners, family, friends and community are the most valuable predictors of true happiness. Forget fame or fortune, income or IQ. What matters most in life is the quality of our Relationships. Yes, the consensus among psychological research is that emotional intelligence not only adds greater value to both career and relationship competence, but becomes generalized across other domains of life, too. No wonder parents most always want for their children what they want for themselves: happiness and well-being!
Healthy relationships are necessary for success at school, work, home, in raising kids and everyday life. We should all do our part studying up on this other kind of smart!
The topics of pleasure, passion and play have been part of my Life’s journey for a very long time now. And, I must admit that ever since the erotic trilogy and literary sensation of 50 Shades of Grey swept over our planet, my role as a relationship educator has taken on a few new colours and kinks (pardon the pun) of its own: from engaged couples to newlyweds, mid lifers to empty-nesters, couples and individuals have since come calling, mostly curious yet often confused, sometimes cautious, even concerned, but almost always complaining of a waning sex life with their partner and hoping to get some better sex soon. Who knew that such a cultural juggernaut would become such an intimacy icebreaker and help ignite sexual conversations between couples in such an uninhibited way?
However, for anyone who thinks the subject of sexuality is easy to talk about, well, I have news for you. Unless we were raised around the kitchen table talking openly about sex, and schooled at the primary level exploring the topic of pleasure in addition to the reproductive parts of the anatomy, chances are we evolved into more or less closemouthed, erotically-challenged adults ourselves. Yes, it may be 2016, and yet even with the informational vastness of the internet, the popularity of social media and especially the proliferation of porn, talking candidly and comfortably about sex still remains pretty much taciturn and taboo!
In fact, just last month after a homegrown study published in the Journal of Sex Research that close to half of the 1000+ Quebecers surveyed showed a healthy kinky side among both men and women…meaning revealing no anomalous behaviours or desires otherwise classified as psychopathological… I received several calls from past clients wanting to know whether I would help them navigate or talk through some trending topics of their own: bedroom bondage, power plays and even peeping into the world of voyeurism and the pleasure of pain. For the first time I found myself helping couples learn more about their own unique erotic blueprints, while stepping into a new world of exploration and imagination, finally claiming pleasure more consciously, even if by pure fantasy alone.
And, although my own upbringing, education and training has been stereotypically vanilla, I must say that the few progressive people which have graced my professional path in recent years have also allowed me to develop better counselling and critical thinking skills, in addition to keeping up to date with emerging scientific research while exploring the topic of sexuality with couples. Whether it was through the dynamic teachings of the world-renowned sex educator-Jaiya- or a dominatrix by the name of Lady Victoria and a kinky dungeon curator called Kathleen …or the ever-so eminent Esther Perel- whom I consider to be both a cherished colleague and “the” champion crackerjack connoisseur on the theme of erotic desire… well, let’s just say that all have greatly taught me how to help clients discover more personal agency as well as a more honest and comprehensive language when communicating sexual wants and desires in their relationships, too.
But, before you decide to clip on a pair of hand-cuffs or throw your partner your best left hook, let me be clear: for many of us, if not most…unlocking a conservative imagination and deciding to foray into the forbidden together is no easy feat! Good sex -be it kinky or not- is all about the ongoing relationship you have with yourself, and more specifically, how you communicate with your partner. It actually begins outside of the bedroom. For example:
“How do you see yourself? Adventurous? Curious? Playful? Open? Rigid? Reserved? Now, how do you see your partner? Do these labels help or handicap your relationship? Do you build each other up or bring each other down? Is there a lot of fondness and appreciation for each other? How do you live your life? Are you more of a participant? Or a spectator? Do you live to work or work to live? Do you have a pleasure-loving side? Do you give yourself permission to play? How do you play? What does sex mean to you? What would make sex more meaningful to you? What does intimacy mean to you? When do you feel most erotic? What do you prefer, want or need? Are you comfortable asking for what truly works for you? Or do you dismiss your needs or put up a wall? Is this wall more about your values, morals, expectations, or body image issues? When do you feel inhibited in your relationship- not just sexually? Are you holding yourself back because of certain inhibitions? Or is this barrier borne from your relationship somehow? What’s negotiable, what isn’t? Why? How do you experience “giving” sexually? Taking, or owning pleasure? Do you feel worthy of pleasure? Do you like to initiate or do you prefer to surrender? Which of the 5 senses is your favourite? Touch? Smell? Taste? Sight? Sound? Do you ever feel fear, guilt or shame? When? How and when do you feel love? How and when do you feel desire? What do you long for? Can you recognize and separate your needs, wishes, feelings, and desires from others?”
Your sexual desire is deeply connected to the way you feel about yourself. Sometimes knowing what you want from sex is sublimated in why you want. It really helps to learn more about yourself before you propose your partner with an alternate path to what you desire. Talking about sex more openly in a non-sexual context has much to do with learning to become more comfortable when self-disclosing in intimate situations.
These are just some of the questions I coach couples to explore, in addition to “what turns you on, what do you fantasize about”? I have found such a wide range of points to be very useful- especially when consciously discussed- in helping couples think not only outside the box but to think about their answers in relation to their partner, all the while examining their oftentimes unconscious but self-imposed constraints: breaking down myths and misconceptions, entering the sexual realm of their relationships not only with a better understanding of the socio-cultural expectations they’ve been most influenced by, but also equipped with the renewed expectation that they will now continue to communicate about how they really feel about their erotic lives, with more clarity and compassion, honesty and respect. Exploring sexual fascinations more fervently can greatly heighten the imagination and erotic energy, as well as the meaning and pleasure we derive from sex.
emotional maturity +
So here’s a good place to begin: Ask yourself: is my relationship built on collaboration? Compassion? Creativity? Critical thinking? Good communication? If not, what things can you change right now? This type of couple curriculum is fundamental to cultivating a richer and better sex life together. Because how you feel about your erotic experiences after the fact always influences your feelings about yourself and your partner, and will probably contribute to whatever feelings you project toward your subsequent sexual experiences, too. Getting involved in kinky play out of guilt or pressure or just to please your partner is rarely ever a good idea. Setting out to explore and expand your imagination because the idea turns you on, however, can positively affect not only your feelings about your partner and your relationship, but your feelings about yourself, too. Consensual sex is vital to connection with self and other. When sexual disconnection or problems occur, feelings of confusion, dissonance, hurt, shame, guilt, and resentment can halt conversation altogether. The aim of great sex is to build a person up and never break them down, even when transcending into the world of dominance and submission:-) Thus, creating a safe place to explore suggestive topics -and trust- is crucial. And, so is a healthy respect for personal boundaries. Before you can merge erotically as a couple, you need to know who you are, individually.
Remember, passionate sex -as in life and love- isn’t always black or white, and sometimes it can be a lot more fun to live with a little bit of grey.
Thanks for reading….Lydia
PS. If you get a chance to see Kinky Boots, the musical….it’s playing in Toronto until mid-May….amazing!
Many proclaim that the institution of marriage today is in a state of crisis. But, hasn’t this always been the case for marriage? I mean, historically-speaking, hasn’t marriage always been in a process of constant evolution? Or shall I say, revolution? Always adapting to change, be it socially, culturally, economically or politically? Think back to ancient Greece & Rome where
<in marriage> patriarchy, polygamy, politics and money ruled the day. Love had very little to do with it and if it did, it was mostly revered or sanctioned between men. During the middle ages, when the Church took over, marriage was still viewed as a means of property exchange but likewise elevated to the status of a holy union, whereupon the regulation of sexual activity and carnal desire was also now strictly supervised. Missionary…two thumbs up …….anal…well, that will cost you 10 Hail Mary’s:-) Yes, Sin and Shame now entered the marital picture. Or the Victorian era, where intimate or passionate love between a married husband and wife wasn’t even expected, let alone tolerated, implying that it was somehow unbecoming (considered too chaste and too pure), but wait for this: deemed very acceptable and even en rigeur if one turned toward one’s friends or lovers, instead. Talk about “Love thy neighbour”, or what! And how about the sexual revolution of the 1960’s? Make Love, Not War….and in marriage, too, please:-). Although in the Western world marriage wasn’t quite yet about equality, both men and women sought to reshape and redefine marriage by promoting both Pleasure and the Pill. Premarital sex was gaining acceptance, and so were other radical and unorthodox institutions, such as “swinging” and open marriages, eventually paving the way for same-sex marriages, slowly but surely loosening the moral underpinnings of marriage in favour of personal fulfillment. So there we have it…the foregone conclusion of the endless Marital Crisis: shifts in attitude toward marriage brought about by the perpetual confusion between personal choice and cultural commotion. Now truly, isn’t this always the case anytime there are new societal practices and customs still under construction?
Or, maybe it’s just that there has never been much room for expressive individualism in an institution? Maybe the two just butt heads! Believe me, I don’t mean to make light of this but, when people are forced or coerced into making mandatory choices- because they really didn’t have much choice in the matter to begin with- they are less likely to be happy and fulfilled. Personal agency is important. We, as human beings, need to feel like the decisions we are making are truly coming from us. Personally, I know I’ve always disliked the two words <Marriage & Institution> together: Sorry, but I’m with Groucho Marx on this one: Somehow “marriage & institution” always makes me think of a couple sitting in a jail cell….as in solitary confinement?
Fortunately, I think we are at a time in history where most people believe that a marriage recognizes a commitment between adults as much as it exists for the happiness and benefits between adults. The notion today is that marriage is about love. In the past, men and women mostly thought of marriage as a business-like relationship but today it’s central purpose has more to do with personal fulfillment and self actualization. I think, if given a choice, most people today would want –and expect– to marry for love. And for sexual attraction. And for companionship. And for mutual interests. Marriage today is mostly about having a relationship and also embracing one’s sense of personal identity and agency. A human being’s ability to make effective choices and exercise control over one’s life is a key aspect of well-being, let alone a mutually-gratifying marriage. We can’t turn a blind eye to this. Patriarchal structures and unequal gender relations no longer hold court in society. Marriage is no longer so much an essential institution as it is an interpersonal one based on individual freedom.
As Stephanie Coontz notes in her book: Marriage, A History: From Obedience to Intimacy, or How Love Conquered Marriage: “the main things that have weakened marriage as an institution are the same things that have strengthened marriage as a relationship. Because marriage is now more optional, because for the first time ever, men and women have equal rights in marriage and outside it. Because women have economic independence. This means that you can negotiate a marriage, and make it more flexible and individualized than ever before. So a marriage when it works is better for people, it’s fairer, it’s more satisfying, it’s more loving and fulfilling than ever before in history.” [sic]
But my question for you is, despite all the changes and progress made, do you think it’s any easier? Or, do you think couples have to deal with a new form of disappointment when it comes to marriage? After all, high (and often unmet) expectations can cause disappointment. True, the marital tables may have turned: instead of society expecting a lot from its married couples, couples today expect much more from each other, instead. What do you think: Are couples’ expectations of marriage today more unrealistic than not?
I guess, in the end, the “institution” resolutely endures, though never without controversy or change.
Hope you are enjoying your summer and as always, would love to hear back from you, too:-)
Did you know that the look of contempt is like the acid in your relationship? Bit by bit, or in one fell swoop, it conveys disgust. Now imagine when your so-called loving partner sends this signal your way? How do you feel? Angry. Hurt. Rejected. Unloved.
In my line of work, we refer to contempt as one of the lethal weapons of communication. But it doesn’t stop with the sneering lips. Rolling your eyes into the back of your head, as your partner’s explaining something to you, is yet another form of contempt. And, so is sarcasm or hostile humour.
Contempt is like contamination and eats away at a loving relationship most rapidly. In fact, it is the most insidious of the four patterns of behaviour which predict divorce: criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling… weighing in with like 93% accuracy. Ouch!
To paraphrase my favourite marriage educator in the whole wide world (and also the mastermind behind this very helpful research), John Gottman, PhD : “When we communicate in this state, we are truly mean. In whatever form, contempt is poisonous to a relationship because it conveys disgust. It’s virtually impossible to resolve a problem when your partner is getting the message that you’re disgusted with him or her.”
In his relationship blog appropriately titled <The Gottman Relationship Blog>, Gottman often writes about these lethal weapons or what he regularly refers to as The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and says that contempt is almost always fuelled by some kind of resentment or long-simmering negative thoughts about one’s partner, and is also delivered in the form of an attack from a position of relative superiority. Think belittlement. Inevitably, contempt almost always leads to more conflict than to any reconciliation. Take Jan for example. Coming home from a long day with the children to find her husband on the couch, she asks him for help in making dinner. When he tells her he is tired, she snaps:
“You’re ‘tired’?! Cry me a river… I’ve been with the kids all day, running around like mad to keep this house going and all you do when you come home from work is flop down on that sofa like a child and play those idiotic video games. I don’t have time to deal with another kid…just try, try to be more pathetic…”
Or imagine Luke and Emma at dinner, after she tells him she’d rather he not go out with his friends that night, he lashes out:
“You don’t want me to go out with my friends tonight? Surprise! When have you ever been okay with me going anywhere? Would you like to tie me to something in this living room to ensure that I never leave you?”
And, it gets worse. Gottman also reports in his research findings that couples who are regularly contemptuous with one another seem to have weaker immune systems, catching colds and flus more often….lending more evidence to the fact that your body does respond to the way you think, feel and act. The Mind-Body connection.
I hope you can see by these examples that contempt is more than just complaining. I always tell my couples that you can complain “until the cows come home” and it’ll be okay, but the minute you communicate under the guise of criticism or contempt, you begin to embark on a cascading sequence of maladaptive responses which, when left unchanged, ultimately erodes your relationship satisfaction. Worse, you will feel unloved by one another.
Contempt kills the spirit. Period.
So how can you prevent it? By expressing more appreciation, fondness and respect for each other, in small-like little ways, every day. How often do you tell your partner, “Thanks for doing the dishes?” Or, “Wow, do you ever look nice today”. These type of words often get overlooked or taken for granted, especially in committed relationships. However, these are also the words that protect and preserve your connection as well as create a buffer, for when times get frustrating or stressful between you.
The look of Love
I once read somewhere that true love is like an act of endless forgiveness, a tender look which becomes a habit. I also think the look of pardoning love is all about the repairing of the emotional damage which takes place during a dispute. Moreover, according to happy couples research, repair attempts, or the way a couple processes a fight, is a telling indicator of both the quality and stability of a couple’s union. Good relationships have the good habit of making good repairs.
I always know which couples in my Really Engaged workshops will most likely do well in marriage. They are the ones who make and receive repair attempts, push through the conflict, soften up and turn toward each other despite their hurt feelings and sometimes even listen to each other’s conversation, if need be. Even if they don’t arrive at a solution, they don’t leave each other in pain. They pay attention to one another. They accept each other’s influence. Acknowledgement.
And this type of acknowledgement comes in many forms: I’m sorry. Can you please just listen to what I have to say? Let’s not fight, ok? That felt like an insult. Take that back. Please stop yelling. Can we just take a 15 minute break? Can we compromise? Let’s agree to disagree. Will you forgive me?
Hug. Kiss. Smile.
I love you.
What are some of your repair attempts? How do you try to fix things or help hold your relationship during tense times?
My favourite repair attempt is the “puppy dog eyes”. I think this look says it all: “I am sorry, please forgive me, and let’s not waste any more time arguing”. I also think I learned it from my dogs:-) After all, they are the masters of unconditional love!
Funny, how oftentimes the strength lies in the vulnerability or weakness.
Hi, I'm Lydia- a modern-day warrior of the heart with a mission to reconcile the mystery and mastery of Love.