How Asking Two Questions Can Keep You From Getting A Divorce

 

I co-hosted a show on A&E called "Surviving Marriage(link is external)," which tends to air on Tuesday nights- but most recently aired on Sunday. My job on the show was to provide expert commentary on where the couple is functioning and what their treatment goals are if they are to have any hope of "surviving."

The show is sort of a survivor meets couples therapy type scenario. The couples are plunked into an isolated island in the South Pacific and asked to work together to survive on the island, as they work through their unique issues.

As a couples therapist or psychologist- I am often asked for relationship advice. If everyone in a relationship could ask themselves two questions- they could immediately change their own chances of survival; "what do I need to give myself?" and "what do I need to start giving my partner?"

Although a bit simplistic- if the couples on this show were only able to ask and answer these questions- they might not find themselves on this island in the first place.

In week one, we saw April and Cleburn struggling with passivity and anger issues. If Cleburn were only able to ask "what do I need to start giving my partner?" He might have been able to realize that he needs to be able to let go of his anger regarding his unfulfilled dreams as a UFC fighter and stop lashing out so much at his partner.

In week two, Josh and Alethea again demonstrated how powerfully damaging it can be to a relationship to hold on to old hurts. If Josh could only ask himself "what do I need to give," and realize that he needs to let go of his anger around the idea his wife "trapped" him so long ago, he would stop being so passive aggressive in his attempts at control in the present. If Alethea could only ask "what do I need to give myself," she might be able to finally give herself permission to become a whole and learn to stand on her own two feet.

In week three, Dennis and Tamar showed us how incredibly toxic it can be to not let go of the past either. While Tamar did commit a serious breach of trust by calling her partner's command and having him removed from his job- Dennis held on to this resentment and allowed it to paralyze him to the point he was able to sit at home for years and passively watch as his wife worked twelve hour shifts to support their entire family inside and outside of the home.

Week four focused on Ty and Mahogany's relationship. If Mahogany were only able to ask herself "what do I need to give myself," she would have realized it was the validation she originally sought outside her own marriage. She needed to feel desired and attractive. So too, did her partner- and thus the reason for multiple affairs. If they had only realized that only they, themselves can give their own validation- all of this unneccessary hurt could have been avoided.

 

Sex and Why You're Not Having it

 

5 Ways to Rekindle Your Spark Today

The Sexual Landscape of Most Couples Today

Many couples that come in to me for help, come in with sexual desire issues. They understand that their sexual relationship with each other is not quite what it used to be, but don’t know how to fix it.

Some believe “if only my partner would change, we wouldn’t have a problem.” Many people subscribe to the new car theory of relationships, assuming “if I only was with someone _____ (more attractive, more sensitive, more ambitious, more involved with the kids, etc) I would be happier.

The reality is that everyone reaches sexual desire issues in a relationship if they stay together long enough. It is actually a sign that things are going right. Yes, if we are together with one person long enough- we will hit a tipping point, where our self-growth must take place in order for us to move forward. Problem is- many of us don’t want to put in all that effort of changing ourselves and would rather just change our partners.

Sex as a Matter of Life & Death?

Freud conceptualized our internal conflict as coming out of two things; eros and thanatos. In Greek mythology eros was the personification of love, sexuality, life energy, and reproduction, while Thanatos was the personification of death. So in essence, when we aren’t having sex- we’re dying.This is why, if you leave sex and passion out of your relationship for a long time, you may find yourself subconsciously “stirring the pot.” You might be drumming up fights for no reason, dragging out baggage from the past, or to a larger extreme- engaging in an emotional/sexual affair outside of the relationship.

We all share the common need for eros, passion, life, and sexuality. The problem is- our partners soon create an atmosphere that seems counterproductive for achieving that.

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Til’ Death Do Us Part
When we take our vows- we make a commitment to our partner to love them unconditionally, forever. So, as soon as we do this- we regress back to what we know- childhood. What other relationship provides us with the expectation of unconditional love and security forever?

Now we are presented with a problem. How do we sustain a robust sexual and erotic dynamic in a relationship that now is akin to the one we got from our parents?

When we trade the insecurity, uncertainty, and instability that comes with new love for security, safety, and stability that is our implicit agreement in marriage (or long term partnership/companionship)- we lose eros. We lose the erotic, anticipatory will-he-come-back-tomorrow, type force that is present early on in relationshipsCan We Have it All?
My answer is “yes, but it doesn’t come as easily this time.” There is no magic “spark” or “flame” that can be flipped back on like a light switch. It takes concerted and repeated hard work. The work must be put back in to cultivate a relationship with your partner that goes beyond being roommates. However, I have seen that transformation take place with many couples.

Here are 5 ways you can begin recreating the spark again:

1) Remember when we used to spend hours listening to our partner? Now after riding the bull of life- we are lucky if we get two seconds of eye contact before turning out the lights. Try to give your partner 10 minutes of uninterrupted listening time. Ask questions, be curious, be genuinely and authentically interested in what they are trying to convey.

2) Bad communication = bad sex, but better communication doesn't necessarily translate to better sex. If we want more eros- we must focus on eros. First why do you want more eros? Set your values. Then, set aside time in your week to focus on this. Maybe its a massage, maybe its writing your partner a flirty email, maybe it is just giving your love a heartfelt compliment.

3) Be the change you want to see in your relationship. If you want someone who takes better care of themselves- toss your flannel pj's and start wearing better nighties. If you want someone who has more patience, begin to practice patience yourself.

4) Take out the trash. As David Schnarch puts it "we must be willing to call out the worst in ourselves from the best parts of ourselves." Sit down and identify how you yourself have been contributing to dulling the spark and make a commitment to change it.

5) Take the S.o.M.A six week signature relationship building course (cheeky right?)

Can Parents Have Passion Too?

What is the School of Marital Arts for Couples with Kids?

The School of Marital Arts is a six week program designed to bring your relationship from just surviving to thriving. This is not your typical "I hear you saying _____," reflective listening bs, or simply teaching you to use I statements. This six week program is based on Dr. Colleen's cutting edge approach to couples therapy based on the idea that our deepest relationships push us to grow in ways most of us are resistant to. Through this program, you will be challenged to grow and connect in ways you never thought possible.

Over the course of this program you will learn:

  • The reasons why parents often disconnect with each other and how to reconnect once and for all
  • How to create better boundaries within the home so that you are both no longer just defined as "mom" or "dad"
  • How to identify past parenting trauma from your childhood and create corrective emotional experiences towards healing
  • The principles of well-being that go into making us more balanced individuals capable of maintaining more balanced relationships
  • The main causes of divorce/breakups and how we can avoid them.
  • How to look at family patterns and how they affect you and your partner(s) in relationships.
  • How to identify your primary growth points that are being challenged and how to overcome emotional gridlock in your relationships.
  • How to identify and transform long term behavioral patterns that cause disconnection.
  • The principles that transform relationships and allow couples to continuously rebuild throughout a lifetime.
  • How to re-vamp a stale or non-existent sex life.
  • How to cultivate one's own sexual desire or get it back.
  • Having the hard talks: How to navigate difficult but necessary conversations.
  • Knowing when to fold them- identifying key deal breakers in a relationship.

S.o.M.A Average Self Help Course Cost = $299 for 6 weeks = $50/week                      

Traditional Couples Therapy = $250/session (per week)