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Milwaukee Couple’s Therapists Share…What Happens to Couples Under Stress

Relationships are hard, even when we are not in the midst of a global pandemic. Nobody knows this more intimately than the Belgian psychotherapist and author Esther Perel, whose hit podcast, “Where Should We Begin?,” allows listeners to play fly on the wall as she conducts actual couples’ therapy sessions. Perel is also the author of the best-selling books “Mating in Captivity” about sex within monogamous relationships, and “The State of Affairs” about navigating infidelity.

In late March, as countries across the globe were enacting social-distancing measures, she launched a special podcast series called “Couples Under Lockdown.” In the series so far, Perel has done therapy sessions with couples in Italy, Belgium, and New York City, counseling them through the challenges of this very anxious, and often exasperating, time. “If we want to look at the challenges of communication, of sexuality, of desire, of conflict in relationships, this is such a Petri-dish moment,” Perel told me recently over Zoom. During our conversation, which has been edited and condensed, we spoke about how to fight with your partner during quarantine, how to go on dates from home, what to do if your partner’s habits are driving you insane, and how to maintain a sense of self when you can’t escape each other.

I saw your husband just walk through the room. Are you together in the house?

We are together, yes. [laughs.]

How’s that going?

You know, right now we are both working, doing psychotherapy. We are in our own professional worlds and then we come together, at different times throughout the day, and have a lot to share. I think what helps a lot is that both of us feel like we’re doing something quite meaningful at the moment, with what we know, what we have practiced. We are physically removed, but we are professionally and psychologically very, very close to what’s going on and, therefore, to each other as well.

I was thinking the other day about one of your first books, “Mating in Captivity.” With what we’re going through now, the captivity has become quite literal.

“Mating in Captivity: The Quarantine Edition.”

You’ve often pointed out that too much is expected of modern relationships: your partner is supposed to be your best friend and your lover and your psychotherapist and your child-care co-worker and, you know, your dishwasher. Everything. And those roles, historically, used to be spread out within communal structures. And it seems like this pandemic has only magnified the degree to which we’re forced to rely on our partners.

I think that, really, what is essential at this moment, especially when we have just one person to give us what an entire village should be providing, is that we create boundaries, routines, and rituals. There needs to be, as best as possible, a separation between daytime and evening, week time and weekend, working time and idle time, family time and individual time, moments that are task-oriented and moments where we stop for a bit. When we’re going to eat, are we going to reset the table or just push our work stuff away a little bit so that we have room to put a plate down? I think that, more than ever, the routine that creates a structure, that brings a certain sense of order in a world that feels so chaotic and so unsure, is crucial. The ritual is what separates the ordinary and the mundane from something that becomes more elevated, more separated, more sacred. All of these three things are essential.

Some of my friends have commented that being at home with their partners has made some of the “invisible work” they do, which their partners took for granted, quite visible. For example, they’re, like, “Who did you think cleans the house and does the dishes? Suddenly, you see all that that I’m doing.” Or, vice versa, maybe someone says, “You have finally seen what I do at work. And you see how hard I work. And you’re not acknowledging it.” What effect does that have, to have these things suddenly visible in a new way?

What is happening now, in this expanded view of ourselves and of our partners, can go in two directions. In one direction, you say, “I’m curious. Tell me more. I never knew. I really appreciate it. I realize how clueless I was, how I let you do everything.” And it becomes really a source of connection. In the other version, it becomes a source of blame: “You want me to tell you how much I’ve been doing? I just did the laundry! I just cleaned the sinks! You would just live in a pigsty! What’s the matter with you?” You begin to complain in such a way that insures that the other person is going to try to chew you out as fast as possible, and you’re not going to get the help.

This brings me to the question of how people should fight. Couples are going to get into arguments and log jams during this time. But you literally can’t walk away. I’m wondering how you are seeing couples work through things when they cannot physically separate.

You don’t need to have a door to leave the house. You can be somewhere there without being absolutely present. I think that couples, by definition, go through harmony, disharmony, and repair. This is a dance that we do no matter what. By definition, we fight. What matters is how you fight. When you get really mad at something, can you afterward say, “O.K., got that out of my system—how are we going to solve this?” or “Look, I realize I was quite unfair. Let me first say what I do appreciate about what you do before I dump on you the whole list of stuff that I don’t think you do”? That’s why I play this little exercise of ten yeses and ten nos, which my colleague Dan Siegel taught me. It’s so powerful. Because, if you start with the yes, you will fight differently. You will actually have a different argument. You can defuse it with humor.

Begin by saying to yourself, “What are the one or two things that they have done that I can appreciate?” Otherwise, it’s whatever is negative I will highlight, and whatever is positive I will take for granted. If we made it on time, it’s because there was no traffic, and, if we got there late, it’s because of you. The negative is attributed to the other person, and the positive is just taken as “that’s the way it should be.”

And you can be all entitled about this and say, “Well, there’s no reason I should appreciate that, because I have done a whole bunch of things, and you haven’t appreciated them either.” But the productive thing is to start with you. You want to change the other? You change you.

Stay focussed on the task. When you want to talk about the dishes, don’t end up talking about five different things, two of which are years old. Don’t “kitchen sink” it. Keep yourself to the one thing that you’re upset about at this moment.

Also, make a request and not just a protest. Tell your partner, “I really wanted you to do this. I counted on you. Can we agree you’ll do it by twelve o’clock today?” Fight from a place of enlightened self-interest, as [the family therapist] Terry Real says, not just to get it out of your system. To get it out of your system, call your friends. Vent as much as you want. And then go back to your partner and be strategic about it. Because you don’t just want to get it out of your system. You actually want a change.

How about sex: There are jokes going around about how many babies will be born in nine months, just so many babies, but how do you create space for sexuality when you are trapped indoors with pets, kids, jobs, etc.?

There are such myths that need to be debunked around what actually preserves erotic interest in a couple. The idea that there is no mystery because I’m in the same room with you is somewhat true, if you simply think that being away from the person is enough. By definition, we need to create that space. For those who have little kids in the house, look at what they do: they don’t need to leave the house to suddenly become the captain of a ship, or the officer of the fortress, or the driver of the truck. They just enter into a character, and, from that “play mode” through their imagination, they transcend all the borders and the limitations of reality. It is the same with the erotic mind. It is the adult version of what children do when they play.

There’s a couple you interviewed on your podcast, a married couple in New York City. They are nearing divorce, and the husband has a girlfriend, and even under quarantine he still wants to go out to visit her. What are you seeing or hearing about issues of infidelity while people are in lockdown? How is that playing out?

Look, the question of infidelity is the same as it always is. It starts with “What do people define as infidelity?” We know that people are spending a lot more time on porn right now. If you consider that an infidelity, well, then there is more of that. Do people have the opportunity to go and meet their lovers in physical terms? No, many don’t. But do they have access, online, to connect with hosts of people? Of course they do. Can they do it while they’re next to their partner? That’s the whole issue with modern infidelity: you can have a full-blown affair with somebody while you’re lying next to your partner in bed. So there’s not that much of a change in that respect.

For people who do have another partner and can’t go see that person right now, I think what’s happening is that, in some cases, people are reconnecting with their partner and disconnecting from their external interests, and, in other cases, people are disconnecting from their partners and becoming more eager to connect with all the other opportunities that they may have on the outside.

Yes, in another episode of the podcast, there’s a German couple where the woman has returned to the man after a period of painful separation because she wanted to be back home during the outbreak.

Before the lockdown, they couldn’t resolve their standoff. “You abandoned me,” she said, and he said, “You abandoned me.” And they were in a real lockdown. But the virus made the decision, and so nobody won. Nobody had to give in. It’s the virus who made it happen, and they could say, “Because of the virus, we are together.” And then, on top of it, once they are together, they realize how much they do appreciate each other.

Let’s talk about other positive stories. Are there ways in which this could be an amazing time for couples?

I think that, in times of distress, our priorities get reorganized, and the superfluous often gets thrown overboard. And disasters function as accelerators as well. So people are making decisions: “We will move. We will change jobs. We will go live closer to our parents. We will have another child. We will start to do the thing that we’ve been meaning to do for so long.” These things are happening a lot. There’s a lot of wonderful, positive things going on. There are so many new openings. But they often don’t get the same media time as the bad stories.

I think, in general, when people live in acute stress, either the cracks in their relationship will be amplified or the light that shines through the cracks will be amplified. You get an amplification of the best and of the worst.

I want to hear your thoughts on people who have recently started dating. How are you advising them to spark new relationships during this time of isolation?

Things are much slower. You’re talking more, a lot more than the typical dating has allowed us; you’re not able to hook up so quickly, so you actually want to have conversations. And the conversations are deeper. New couples talk instantly about “Where are you? Are you safe? How’s your family? Have you had contact with them?” People are sharing a lot more important parts of themselves.

Are you saying that relationships are deeper when you don’t have sex right away?

You know, one of the beautiful sexual formulas is attraction plus obstacles equals excitement. This is what happens in affairs all the time. It’s what people who are apart from each other do. They pine. They gush. They fantasize. They dream. When you can’t meet the person right away, you are prevented from doing the shortcuts, and everybody has their own versions of shortcuts—maybe you have hookups where you don’t even know the person’s name. But, in this moment, people are really in the mood to meet somebody. And I am amazed by how many people are starting real love stories.

There was a great essay in the Times by an editor whose husband got very sick with the coronavirus, describing the incredibly intense experience of caring for him. What would you say to people who are suddenly having to care for each other in this new and incredibly anxiety-making way?

Look, thirty-seven million Americans are caregivers at home on a daily basis, in normal times. [The actual figure is more than forty million.] So we shouldn’t idealize the world before covid-19 and suddenly think that all of this is new. You need three things: you need help for the person who is sick, you need help for the person who is taking care of the person who is sick, and you need structural support. Right now the ones you’d normally rely on may be living too far to actually come to you. So your support system is no longer just your familial group or your friend group. It has to be whoever is physically able to come to you. And since so many people want to be helpful, want some sense of purpose, want to feel less guilty about the fact that they have more than others right now, it’s about engaging people around you like that. You have to geo-locate strangers. And that’s new.

I want to do a kind of lightning round of some current lockdown scenarios I’m hearing about, to hear what you would recommend off the cuff.

Let’s do it.

O.K., this one comes from my mother. My father, in his retirement, has become really obsessed with playing his banjo, and my mother cannot stand the sound of the banjo. They are together all the time now, and she feels like she cannot get away from the noise. And yet playing is his stress relief. What should they do?

If you start with “I can’t stand the noise of this thing,” then you know exactly what conversation you are going to get. But if you start from “I know this gives you tremendous joy,” you can say that, “At the same time, it’s hard to listen to as often, and can we come up with a schedule of some sort? Maybe I can put some headphones on. Maybe you know not to do this in the morning when I haven’t even had my first coffee.” You say to the other person, “Look, I totally get that this is your thing, and I’m so glad you have that thing.” But then you tell them, “As much as I appreciate it for you, I would like to find a way for it not to become the instrument I have to listen to the whole day.”

This is good. I’m going to pass that along to my mom. O.K., next. There is a couple in a studio apartment. One person has a very high libido right now; the other person has no sex drive. How do you suggest they deal?

Does the one who has more interest want to engage with the other one, or are they O.K. with self-stimulation?

O.K., next: If a member of a couple is doing virtual therapy, or talking to their friends on the phone, should the other member of that couple put on headphones?

I think that couples need to regulate togetherness and separateness all the time, with confinement or without. In a situation like this, whether you are in your tiny studio, or whether you are on the verge of separation, you need autonomy. You need space for yourself and space with other people that are not shared necessarily with your partner, regardless of conflict. Your therapy session is private. Your conversations with your best friends are private.

How about a couple where one person always cooks? Should the other person always do the dishes?

You can say, “I know we both have a lot of things we have to take care of. Can we sit down and make a division of roles here? I don’t expect things to be fifty-fifty, but I expect them to feel fair.” Like, I hate to do the garbage, you know?

Does your husband do the garbage then, Esther?

Yes. We divide by the thing that the other person minds the least. Like, I don’t mind emptying the frickin’ dishwasher. I know he really doesn’t want to do it. We have thirty-five years together, and we joke, like, “I don’t do that.” “I don’t fold,” he says to me. And then he comes up to me jokingly and says, “Thank you for folding,” when I haven’t done anything yet. So I get the message. You need a dose of humor, or you are going to take each other by the throat.

What’s the one thing that everybody could do daily to improve their relationship while they’re stuck together during this crisis?

I would say that it’s really important to normalize this. You need to know that this is what happens to couples under stress. They will turn on each other and they will take things out on each other, because they don’t feel that they can control the bigger picture. This is normal. Instead of fighting about it and getting into the “who has it worse here,” just admit it together, and go from the “I and you” to the “we.” “What is this doing to us? What does ‘us’ need at this moment?” If you can think about that third entity called the relationship, and do certain things because the relationship needs it, even if it’s not what you need, that will give you a very hopeful framework.

Article by: Rachel Syme of The New Yorker

Milwaukee Relationship Experts Discuss Dating After A Breakup

It can be very hard to get back into the dating world after a breakup or divorce. Some clients that I work with were in a relationship for a short time, and it’s not as hard for them to get back into the swing of things. However, for some who were in decades-long marriages, they are now out on their own trying to figure out the dating world. It can be daunting and scary, and some people give up after only a few tries because they feel overwhelmed.

There are some things to consider when you’re getting back into the dating world or even considering dating.

Getting “back out there”

First thing is to make sure that your friends and work colleagues know that you are ready to start dating again, since it always helps to have friends on your side. They may know somebody they could set you up with or suggest a coffee date with a friend of theirs who might be a good fit. It is good to think in terms of just getting to know new people rather than having to feel like it’s got to be an instant, lifelong connection. Sometimes it can just be meeting somebody new for coffee and striking up a friendship if there’s no romantic spark.

Swiping and clicking

These days roughly one-third of single people have an online dating profile. As you probably already know, this way of dating allows you to find and view people that you would never otherwise meet, and you can chat with them before meeting.

A downfall is that there can be too much choice in online dating. Columbia professor Sheena Iyengar has done experiments revealing that an excess of options can induce indecision and paralysis in decision making. Her experiment involved jam samples at a grocery store. When they offered six types of jam as opposed to 24 types of jam, people were ten times as likely to buy jam from the smaller sample number.

This same indecision and paralysis can happen in online dating, so try to give yourself compassion and know that it’s hard work. You may consider hiring a matchmaker if you can afford it—they gather your information and preferences and find matches and then they also set up the dates, making much less work for you!

From message to meeting

Don’t spend too much time talking online—a week or two at the most—then meet to see if you have chemistry. Helen Fisher, noted anthropologist and consultant for Match.com, states that it is best to avoid long online exchanges. The only way to know if you have a future with a person is to meet face to face since “the brain is the best algorithm.” Laurie Davis, author of “Love at First Click,” recommends no more than six messages before meeting offline, since that gives you enough information to know if they are someone you’d want to date. Meeting someplace public is always the best option for safety reasons. Do post photos on your profile.

People still meet in more traditional ways also (work, neighbors, school, through friends), but no matter how you meet a potential partner, you still have to go on dates! However you meet, remember to ask open-ended questions. Also, remind yourself to be interested in your date rather than trying to be interesting yourself. See the Gottman Card Decks, and go to the Open-ended questions deck if you want some good ideas.

Don’t talk about your ex

Don’t talk about your ex-spouse or -partner! This is crucial. If your date asks you something about your past relationship then it is appropriate to give a brief response. Example: “We grew apart but we get along now when we need to talk about the kids.”

If it was a difficult separation or divorce then keep that very brief. Example: “It was painful and hard but now I am ready to move on and not dwell on the past”

If your date hears you talk about your “crazy ex” and you go on and on about it, that could be a red flag. Same goes if they hear you talking at length about how great your ex is and how you are best friends now—they are going to wonder if you may reconcile or they may feel you are not “over” that person.

Who can you trust?

I’ve had many people ask about how to know who’s safe and trustworthy when you are dating. I find it helpful in my private practice with single clients to go through some of the important points from the book “Safe People” by Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend.

Here are some important things to be looking for when you consider safe vs unsafe people:

  • Safe people allow you to feel like an equal vs feeling like their parent or their child.
  • Safe people are stable over time vs being inconsistent.
  • Safe people have empathy and act on it vs being solely concerned with themselves (“I” not “we”).
  • Safe people want to mature and grow, and can admit when they are wrong, while unsafe people avoid working on problems, or admitting fault because they believe they are perfect.
  • Safe people are willing to earn your trust while unsafe people demand it without earning it.
  • Safe people can respect your “no” and honor your boundaries.

In addition: unsafe people apologize without changing their behavior, they blame others, they gossip instead of keeping secrets, and they show up only when they need something.

If you consistently find yourself drawn to unsafe people, then there may be an underlying issue that needs to be addressed. This can be addressed through personal exploration or even individual therapy. As stated in “Safe People,” this could be driven by the need to rescue that unsafe person, fears of isolation or abandonment, or even familiarity with negative relational patterns.

Dr. Gottman has done research on trustworthiness, and found the following five criteria to help separate those who are trustworthy from those who are not. These five criteria are from the book “What Makes Love Last.”

  1. Honesty. Do not trust someone who lies to you. Don’t come up with excuses for why they lied, or talk yourself out of your doubts.
  2. Transparency. Make sure they are an open book, and that they invite you to meet their family and friends.
  3. Accountability. Do they keep their promises and follow through on their commitments?
  4. Ethical Actions. If you are detecting immoral actions or if you are uncomfortable with their morals, then move on.
  5. Proof of Alliance. If they can demonstrate that they have your back, even in small ways, then that is a good sign. Do they take your best interests to heart instead of acting only out of self-interest?

Have fun, try to think about it as an adventure. Stay safe, and make sure you take things slow so that you have time to determine if they are safe and trustworthy. Remember, it is hard work, but it’s worth it. Good luck in your dating journey.

Article By: Stacy Hubbard, LMFT, The Gottman Relationship Blog

How To Be Supportive When Your Partner Struggles With Mental Health

Mental health is usually a sensitive subject for people. It’s a personal struggle that can feel never ending, and too often people suffer in silence rather than admit that they are having a problem. This is why when someone, like your partner, lets you know that they struggle with mental health, it’s vital to be as supportive as possible. Here are some ways that I support my partner and his mental health:

TRUST AND GOOD COMMUNICATION

In order to help your partner (in anything, not just mental health) the two of you need to have trust and excellent lines of communication. Talking about mental health, admitting that there’s a problem, and figuring out how to get help can be difficult – your partner won’t be able to do any of that if they don’t trust you.

In the summer, my partner and I go for long walks after dinner. We make a point to disconnect from our phones so that we can engage with each other in a more meaningful way. Sometimes we just talk about our days, or something funny we saw, and sometimes it’s more serious. In the winter we cuddle up on the couch with tea or hot chocolate, put on some music, and chat. We make a point to be with each other (without screens around) daily. These conversations build up trust and communication so that we can make ourselves vulnerable and discuss more sensitive things like mental health.

LEARN THEIR TRIGGERS

For many mental health problems there are triggers — things that set off a person’s condition — and once you learn what your partner’s triggers are, you can be better prepared to help them. For example, my partner works in law enforcement and struggles with PTSD. He’s much better than he was five years ago, but it still crops up now and again.

When we first got together, we sat down and discussed his triggers. His triggers are working too many hours, drinking, not being able to go to the gym or study martial arts regularly, and not sleeping enough. Once I knew what his triggers were, I knew what to look for. So, if I notice that he hasn’t slept enough, or hasn’t made time to go to the gym, I point it out. Understanding his triggers helps ensure that there are two of us looking out for him and making sure that he’s okay.

HAVE PATIENCE

Having good mental health is not a contest that you win. You can’t just achieve it and never have to deal with it again. It’s a process that will sometimes be great, and other times won’t be. One of the best things that you can do for your partner is have patience.

Mental health is like climbing a mountain, only to fall down it and have to climb it again. There will be times that your partner’s journey will frustrate you because they’re covering the same ground again and again, but you need to have patience — they’re already struggling and they don’t need anything from you but support.

A HEALTHY LIFESTYLE

It’s almost become a cliché, but eating right, getting enough sleep, and exercising are three key things that you can do to help your partner with their mental health (and your overall health as well). Your body needs these three things to function properly, and when you deprive yourself of them, you suffer.

One of the ways that you can help your partner is by developing good health habits (like these). If you’re not a great cook, take a cooking class together so you can both learn. If you don’t exercise enough, commit to going for a walk after dinner, or sign up together at a gym or fitness class. Sleep, I find, is the thing that can be the most easily neglected, so set an alarm to remind yourself to go to bed, and start winding down together — maybe you read for twenty minutes in bed, maybe you chat about plans for the weekend, or cuddle. Get into the habit of enjoying going to sleep.

Being supportive when your partner struggles with mental health can seem daunting, but once you talk about it, and learn how you can help, it’s simply just another way that you can be there for them. It is important to remember, however, that you are not your partner’s saviour, and sometimes being supportive can mean talking to them about getting professional help. The key is to always keep their trust, and work together to maintain healthy habits and a happy relationship.

Cabin Fever for Couples…Here’s How to Make the Most of It

If you live…anywhere in the world, you’re probably practicing social distancing. If you live with your partner, you might be craving a little social distance from them.

Around the world couples are being kept in a pressure cooker called… our homes.

Depending on your dynamic, it might be a little harder than you thought to keep things sailing smoothly.

It’s perfectly normal to experience a little cabin fever at this point, but don’t let isolation turn you and your beloved against one another. Like a research team on Antarctica, you’re going to have to work together to get through the winter til the snow thaws. No matter how annoying your teammates snoring gets.

Here are some key points to battling cabin fever as a cohabitating, quarantined couple.

COMMUNICATE

Now, more than ever, it’s important for you and your beloved to find ways to communicate clearly and respectfully. If you were the last two people on earth, would you passive aggressively complain about the dishes while your teammate is working? Probably not. So why try the same in your own home? You need to think of your household like a team in this time of crisis, and with any team you’re only as strong as your weakest link.

Finding constructive ways to communicate any problems you come across are incredibly important for keeping your team strong and stave off cabin fever. When in doubt, take a deep breath, and remember that your sweetie loves you before spilling any harsh truths about the bad breath that’s been driving a wedge between you for days.

KEEP IN TOUCH WITH THE OUTSIDE WORLD

Just because we’re being asked to stay in our homes, doesn’t mean that the outside world has disappeared! It’s important for you and your partner to keep up contact outside of your apartment bubble. Whether it’s solo calls with your family, or a group hang with other couples, connecting with others can help brighten your mood and give perspective on your current situation. And please, don’t be afraid to have fun with your friends!

Those of us who are healthy need to take every scrap of love that we can right now. So help the greater good and have a Zoom happy hour or play some games with your loved ones on House Party. There are so many great apps to help you stay connected and refreshed for the coming weeks of being cooped up with your honey.

GET SOME AIR

When things are feeling overwhelming or stagnant at home, there’s no harm in blowing off steam by going on a walk by yourself. As long as you can maintain social distancing that is! Go on off-peak hours or to a remote location so that you can skip the weekend bustle of most city parks. Do your part, but also, look after yourself. If going outside is going to help your mental health, and keep cabin fever at bay, then please do it! In a safe way.

If you can’t safely go outside, open up a window! Light some incense! Play some tunes! Anything to get the energy flowing and the mood lifted is a good idea right now. Your sweetie will thank you later. Also: If you and your partner were stranded on the international space station, you’d be isolated for a year AND you couldn’t even open a window! So, you know….be thankful!

MAKE A SCHEDULE

Speaking of space stations, Scott Kelly was isolated on the international space station for an entire year, and his biggest advice for isolating with one other person? Make a schedule. “My wife and I have been making a schedule like we were in space because if you keep to that schedule and it has variety, I think what people will find are the days go by much quicker. ” Keeping a schedule for you and your cutie is a great way to maintain productivity while also spending quality time together. While we’re stuck in the same place, every day doesn’t have to be the same! And scheduling can help achieve that.

CHANGE THINGS UP

After you’ve made that schedule, remember to add in time for whatever the hell you want. Embrace the chaos of the world right now and do what feels good! Have sex, draw a couples bath, take up a new hobby, or hop on the bandwagon and bake a loaf of bread. Doing something outside of your normal routine has the potential to brighten your day and bring you closer as a couple.

Doing something productive together can be fun, but making impromptu margaritas on a Tuesday night is even funner. Embrace your inner child and remember that we’re in uncharted territory right now. That means there’s no rules for what’s normal behavior, so drink that drink, make love in the middle of the day, and do what makes you happy right now. Within reason of course.

REMEMBER YOU’RE IN THIS TOGETHER

More than ever, COVID-19 has made us realize exactly how connected we all are. Globally, nationally, and as a household. Whatever problems you and your sweetie might encounter, remember that while you’re living together. You’re each other’s lifelines. Look out for one another and know who your sweetie wants you to call if things get bad. You can get through cabin fever, but only together. Winter will pass, and spring will come. Try to have as much fun as you can while we wait for the thaw.

Go On These 8 Dates to Save Your Marriage

I’m just going to say it.

I can’t imagine most couples — including me and my husband — following “Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love” to the letter.

I have mad respect for the authors, world-renowned marriage experts and Gottman Institute co-founders John Gottman and Julie Schwartz Gottman. Together with their co-authors, Doug Abrams and Rachel Carlton Abrams, they bring decades of scientific and clinical research to the table. Their work is solid.

Their new book, out in time for Valentine’s Day, spells out eight dates every couple should go on and the conversations that should transpire.

“Relationships don’t last without talk,” they write. “This book will help you create your own love story by giving you the framework for the eight conversations you and your partner should have before you commit to each other, or once you’ve committed to each other, as well as throughout the years, whenever it is time to recommit. That might happen when you have a baby, when one of you loses a job, during a health crisis, or when the relationship has begun to feel stale.”

Brilliant.

“Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love” has advice for couples.
Still. I have a hard time imagining meeting my husband’s gaze across the table, taking a sip of wine and saying, “I commit to creating our own romantic rituals for connection and creating more passion outside of the bedroom by expressing my affection and love for you.” (Pause for more wine.) “I commit to having a 6-second kiss every time we say goodbye or hello to each other for the next week. I commit to discussing, exploring and renewing our sexual relationship.”

And yet, there it is. On Page 112. “Take turns reading this affirmation out loud to each other. Maintain eye contact while reciting.”

The authors sent more than 300 couples — married, unmarried, heterosexual, same-sex — on the suggested dates and asked them to share their experiences. The couples reported becoming better friends and falling more deeply in love.

I believe it. But I believe it the way I believe eating raw kale for lunch every day will keep me healthier. I’ll eat some raw kale. But I’m also going to eat some tacos.

And maybe that’s the way to approach “Eight Dates” — as a menu. You pick and choose what your relationship is hungry for and leave the rest for another time.

No. 1: The “lean on me” date: This one’s intended to get you talking about trust, commitment and what makes you feel safe and cherished. Without blaming or accusing, ask each other:

How did your parents show their commitment to each other? How did they show a lack of commitment to each other? What do you need from me to show that I’m committed? What areas do you think we need to work on to build trust?

No. 2: The “agree to disagree” date: This is intended to help you address, rather than flee from, conflict. Before you head out, the book suggests an exercise that asks you and your partner to consider some of your differences — in neatness, punctuality, wanting time apart versus wanting time together, how you socialize. With the recognition that not every conflict can (or needs to be) resolved, talk about how to accommodate those differences and ask the following:

How was conflict handled in your family growing up? How do you feel about anger? How do you like to make up after a disagreement?

No. 3: The “let’s get it on” date: In which you discuss how sex and passion should/will look in your relationship. With an open mind and a willingness to be vulnerable, ask some of the following:

What are some of your favorite times we’ve had sex? Is there something you’ve always wanted to try, but have never asked? What can I do to make our sex life better?

No. 4: The “cost of love” date: Work and money are the themes here, and the authors provide a questionnaire to complete before your date. How well off were your parents? Did your family take vacations or travel together when you were growing up? What is your most painful money memory?

Arrive at the date prepared to discuss your answers, and ask each other some of the following: How do you feel about work now? What is your biggest fear around money? What do you need to feel safe talking about how you spend money or make money?

No. 5: The “room to grow” date: Here’s where you talk about what family looks like to each of you. The conversations on this date vary, obviously, depending whether you’re a new-ish couple or married with kids.

For couples without kids, they suggest: What does your ideal family look like? Just us? Kids? What problems do you think we might have maintaining intimacy in our future family?

For couples with kids: How did (or didn’t) your parents appear to maintain their closeness after children? How will we?

No. 6: The “play with me” date: Because shared adventure and fun breed happiness, this date encourages couples to think of new things to try together. (Go fishing! Rent Segways!)

Show up for the date with a list of things you’d like to try, and talk about the following after you share your lists: What adventures do you want to have before you die? What’s a one-day adventure you could imagine us having together?

No. 7: The “something to believe in” date: Growth and spirituality are the topics here. The key, on this one, is asking questions before assuming you know what your partner believes.

They suggest asking: What carries you through your most difficult times? How have you changed in your religious beliefs over the course of your life? What spiritual beliefs do you want to pass on to our kids?

No. 8: The “lifetime of love” date: Talk about your dreams. Not the one where you keep showing up for the history final naked. The one where you find out what your partner wants most out of life: To travel the world? To compete and win at something? To finally ask a particular person for forgiveness?

Again, there’s a questionnaire to fill out ahead of the date. Again, there are questions to ask on the date. On this one, though, I want to highlight the affirmation you’re supposed to tell each other out loud:

“I commit to fully exploring and understanding your dreams and to doing one thing to support one of your dreams in the next six months.”

How beautiful is that? I feel like that statement alone, said with sincerity, could launch and sustain a lifetime of love.

Article By: Heidi Stevens of The Chicago Tribune

Dating from a Place of Self-Love: How Being Yourself Changes Everything

“You must learn to love yourself before you can love someone else.” ~Sonja Mylin

It’s tough being out there.

I remember myself some years ago embracing the world of online dating. Everyone kept telling me “be yourself” (and I kept telling myself that), but when I was actually on a date, “myself” would fly out the window.

I’d go hard on the impressing, second-guess myself, drink too much, look for every little thing we had in common (even if the person did not feel right), feel devastated if I was rejected, and utterly lose sight of what I was on the date for in the first place. Perhaps I didn’t really know who I was or how to be her in what I saw as a confronting environment.

Dating brings out all our fears and vulnerabilities. You’re basically putting yourself on a platter, asking folks to judge you: “Pick me! Pick me!” like someone on a reality TV competition. You forget that it’s a two-way street. That you are looking for a suitable love (or a lover) to be with you, and that is all.

We get the little brain buzz from being swiped right, from the initial contact message, from a nod of approval when we arrive. All of these microsigns can feel so great that they interrupt our reasonable thinking around who we’re looking for.

Or, at the opposite end of the spectrum, we’re bombarded with messages from people we’re just not into (and straight up jerks), we go on dates that end up in an awful mess, we get rejected or we reject, which crushes someone, and it all feels terrible.

It’s easy to lose heart.

Dating doesn’t have to be like that. There are ways to bring it all back to what you are actually dating for in the first place. I know for myself that love came my way when I dug down a little deeper, stopped adjusting what I wanted from a relationship, gave it some time, had fun, and was really myself—warts, opinions, and all.

Here are five ways to be out there from a place of self-love and have a much better chance of finding the real love you’re looking for.

1. You are dating to find someone for you, not just to impress.

This isn’t a job interview: dating is an opportunity for two people to find out if they like each other enough to keep finding out. No one is in a position of power over the other.

Try not to spend the whole date putting all your energy into impressing the other person. Remember that you are checking them out as much as they are checking you out, and that you are making a decision too.

2. Identify your values and then look for a match based on those instead of just shared interests.

Sure, you want to be able to enjoy spending time with your partner, but contrary to popular opinion, your partner doesn’t need to be your best friend. You don’t need to do every single thing together. It’s far more important that you have similar core values. Interests can change, but values at their very core generally hold.

What traits and ways of behaving are most important to you? What do you believe in? What world issues really pull your heartstrings? What would you fight for? How will you be able to tell if someone shares your values?

Spend some time with yourself to drill down into the deeper stuff and then look for matching connections. Shared values will make for rich conversation and bring you back together when times are tough, not the fact that you both like white water rafting or watching RuPaul’s Drag Race.

3. Stop performing a version of you.

Many of us filter out the stuff we think might be seen as weird or boring or stupid when we’re dating. Or, it becomes normal to present a curated, cooler version of you. Of course you want to put your best foot forward, but sometimes it’s stripped back so much that who you are becomes completely invisible.

Dating is not a numbers game. You don’t need loads of matches to find someone. You need matches with fewer folks who are really going to get you. Who will think you’re cute and funny and smart and interesting (even when you’re driving them mad).

If you love binging Pretty Little Liars and cheap chocolate, painting old furniture, sleeping in until 4pm on Saturday afternoon, devouring true crime podcasts, attending the odd rally, and you wish you were an earth mother but are really more of a city gal who likes to shop, then that’s you.

And my bet is that you are pretty unique and special with all your faults and quirks. We fall in love with real people, not pretend ones. If someone doesn’t love the real you, why are you with them in the first place? Wouldn’t it be far more wonderful to be cherished even when you are not the curated version of yourself?

4. Don’t interpret “fun” as just the other person having fun.

Hands up: Who is fantastic at helping other people relax—so much so that you forget to actually notice if you are having fun too?

We all have roles we tend to play in life, and if yours is along these lines, then I’d encourage you to swallow that role somewhat and see what happens when you don’t leap into “Make them feel good” mode.

Live with an awkward silence. Notice if you’re being asked questions, listened to, or engaged in conversation on a similar level to what you’re putting in. Spout an opinion or two. Not going well? Then it maybe this one isn’t for you. And phew! You found out early on.

FYI: “Fun,” for those who have forgotten (because you’ve been out there way too long) is having a bit of a laugh and feeling relatively at ease.

5. Yep, it should be pretty easy.

Myth-busting time: Relationships don’t need to be hard and shouldn’t need to be “worked on” all the time. Are your friendships like that? My guess is that the good ones are not. Sure, they have ups and downs. There are misunderstandings and times of trouble. But ultimately, you really like each other’s company. You can rely on each other.

The best relationships are fairly easy. They need to be able to stand the test of time. If it’s hard when nothing hard is happening, how is it going to be when something really hard is happening?

Sure, there are situations that are supposed to be fun but instead can be fraught with issues (like moving in together). When we’re invested in someone and then mesh our lives together, that has some serious weight and it makes sense there will be teething.

But if you’re on date four and it’s uncomfortable, combative, awkward, and pressure-filled, and you feel bad about yourself, or the other person is trying to control you? This one is most likely not for you.

Ultimately, dating from a place of self-love is about believing that you are worthy just as you are, and that there is someone out there (maybe several someone’s) who you can and will connect with.

It’s not just about being loved—it’s about you loving someone else. And if you’re coming from a place of self-love, then you will ultimately run the dating gauntlet with kindness, self-respect, and vulnerability without heaping a load of meaning onto rejection. Rejection means this one wasn’t right for you, nothing more, and thank god they did you a favor! Because you are deserving of the real, luscious thing with someone truly amazing.

Article by: Nicole Hind