Increasing Intimacy

Winner: 2015’s Blog of the Year #9

I used to do a very popular couples group that some people asked me to get going again. It was a fun weekend of lively, positive discussion where I would guide the attendees through a conversation that would inevitably provoke various insights about their partner, themselves and their relationship. Sometimes those insights were actually gentle, even comfortable realizations that maybe the relationship should actually end. However in the vast majority of cases the reaction to the sessions was a particularly tender re-connection.

672 Relax and Succeed - If you love a personTo teach someone how to behave in a relationship would be like teaching a dog to shake your hand. Yeah the dog is making the motion of shaking your hand but because they don’t get the real meaning behind that motion it’s useless. It’s faux. It’s not like them licking you. It’s not a real connection. I can’t create a set of rules for a good relationship. I have to wake people up to what the happy couples are paying attention to and what they do not pay attention to.

What you pay attention to—that is your life. I mean that completely literally. As Aristotle said, “To be conscious of what we are perceiving, or thinking, is to be conscious of our own existence.” That’s why I can’t reignite relationships by giving advice or lists of things to do. But the insights I provoke do lead to an increased awareness of each other and of the relationship. And that increased awareness very naturally leads to the same sorts of warmer and more romantic expressions that were evident when people first met. They are reminded of the core qualities that attracted them in the first place. Qualities that are easy to take for granted.

That blush of emotion we feel when we first meet cannot be sustained of course, because without being juxtaposed to something else we would never even know we were experiencing that bliss. But it can be regularly resurrected in any reasonably healthy relationship. That’s what relationships do. They undulate like that. They’re like sailing.

672 Relax and Succeed - It's not about giving up on the fairy taleA relationship is like two sailboats. They can start off from vastly different harbours and they can be different sizes and types of sailboats. People can be from very different places and backgrounds and can have very different experiences throughout their life. Sometimes the differences are the cultures you grew up in. Or disparities like extreme fame or wealth or ability. If two boats come from vastly different places they will often meet at very perpendicular angles. That might result in an awesome crash together, but after that you’re often left picking up the pieces in an ocean of doubt. And yes, if someone’s super famous or rich or powerful and their partner is not, that can make sailing together more difficult too. But you know what? It doesn’t matter who you are or what it is, problems like that are just barnacles.

Yeah, they’re always hidden below the water line but everyone’s got barnacles on their hull. Everyone pushes through life with the weight of these past experiences that just seem to cling to our individual psyches. In fact our only escape is to not have an individual psyche. And you can start by trading just yours for one that includes you and your partner. That is to say, the point of me  generating the insights is to try to get each partner to consider each other’s position and personality more completely before reacting to any given words or behaviour. Essentially they learn to listen better.

So while it may be true that two boats from very different places are less likely to sail together, and that different shaped boats make for different sailing experiences, it is nevertheless true that any boat can choose to sail next to any other boat. (Yes, even if the two boats are both shes.) So boats are people and our course represents who will be in our key relationships, because no one can truly sail beside us unless they are genuinely going the same way.

672 Relax and Succeed - We've got this gift of loveAt its best these two boats are rubbing gently against their soft bumpers as they nuzzle together in some safe harbour. This level of calm and warmth allows the two souls on board to intermingle, treating their separate worlds as one vessel. At their worst one or both boats are taking on water and are tacking for the wind using different strategies, leaving them both floundering and alone. Nevertheless this is all sailing.

You can sit on the shore and not live life at all, but if you’re going to go out to sea and venture forth into life and into a relationship then you absolutely have to be prepared for very rough seas. In fact your relationship is only as good as your performance through those challenging times,. And you can rest assured that even the greatest relationships included those periods of terrible sailing, be that from being knocked around by storms or being tortured by the boredom of a dead calm.

It is also possible for other variables to impact one boat or both. Maybe you strike an obstacle. A death in family, some serious financial crises, cheating, a health issue. This kind of experience can require an immediate restart from scratch in a whole new direction. Or, maybe one person is doing particularly well and they’re leaving their partner to struggle behind them. This increases the distance between the boats and the only way to fix it is to either wait for the wind to change, or for one of the two boats to tack a new direction. Even then, this is still all just sailing. Every relationship that’s made it 20 years would have faced these kinds of rough seas at one point or another.

672 Relax and Succeed - A happy marriage is the unionThere are no relationships where the boats rubbed up against each other in perfect seas with the wind at their back from coast to coast. And we don’t even want the boats that are so distant they are meaningless, nor do we want ones filled with too much conflict. The boats rubbing, yes. The boats smashing, no. So a good partner is still their own boat. They are choosing to sail alongside you because it’s worth it. It’s that simple. And pretty much everyone is worth it if they’re with a reasonably matched person. In the sessions all I had to do was make sure that each person knew how to see the value in their partner.

So remember, if you’re ever feeling lost and you’re wondering if there’s even a point of staying together, keep in mind that you may just have had to tack for a very good reason and that your fundamental course is still true and together.

I suspect I will do those couples courses again. As I’ve thought about them to write this I remembered how much laughing we used to do and how wonderful and warm the insights were. It was very easy and enjoyable to witness people reconnecting. In the end I just acted like a lighthouse. I simply shone a light on who people truly were and that was enough to bring them back on course and sailing again side by side.

May the boats in your life have the wind at their back.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is a writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and nonprofit organizations around the world.

An Open Letter to Men

Winner: 2014’s Blog of the Year #4

Gentlemen. I’m not sure if you’re reading this voluntarily or if it was sent to you by a woman, but it will very likely be worth your time to take a moment to really slow down and read this. Because not reading it could completely change your life.

116 Relax and Succeed - We often take for grantedOf course I will have no choice but to speak in generalities, but I deal with relationships for a lot of my practice and the consistency of the issues is remarkable. Both the men and the women have been unwittingly conditioned to behave in certain ways that they are unaware of, and that lack of awareness is what leads to 99% of the relationship’s strife.

If you don’t like complaints, or being nagged; if you don’t like fights and yelling and general negativity, then stop for a second and really meditate on what you might do that would actually change that. Because she doesn’t like it any more than you do, and the only other route to actually dealing with it is to—in most jurisdictions—give up half of what you have and half of what you earn.

Since a large part of a man’s identity is–like it or not–closely related to his ability to earn and spend, it would do you good to pay serious attention. Because otherwise you might be buying your own furniture for a much more modest place, and you’ll likely have to make other sacrifices to what you drive, and your social time too. And the beat-yourself-up thoughts that go with that can literally set you back a decade.

Yes women think differently that men. Duh. Do you think that’s more of a problem for men than women?! Both of you have to manage that difference. And managing it yourself means making adjustments to your way of doing things. It’s figuring out better ways to do things, rather than just forcing your partner to do it the way you would. Wake up and respect your partner as much as you respect the source of your income. Because life will be a lot more expensive and painful without either of them.

116 Relax and Succeed - If she's amazing she won't be easyGuys fix things. That’s how they see relationships too. If something’s broken, they want to know what to do. That’s why men hate crying. There’s nothing we can do. We’re helpless. It’s like violence against us. It hurts to watch because we can’t fix it. Some guys will even get angry at a crying woman because it makes them feel so helpless. But anger just creates more crying. So how about doing something nice for her instead? If she’s crying she’s in pain. That should obviously matter to you. Unless she’s faking or manipulating you, to say she’s wrong or silly to be crying is to be cruel. Period. So don’t suggest you can possibly be an honourable man if you’re cruel to your partner.

Instead of complaining about her complaints, how about trying to elevate her consciousness by lifting it up from a higher level? Instead of yelling at her or calling her names or suggesting she’s stupid for seeing things the way she does, how about thinking about what you know about her and using that for a response?

I know a husband who can be callous with his wife and he doesn’t like that his behaviour occasionally hurts her. But he also knows she hates it that he doesn’t do more around the house. So when she cries, he cleans. And she understands the cleaning is an apology—it’s an attempt to meet her half way. And it does make her feel better and the strife ends sooner. Don’t meet negativity with negativity. You can’t add two negatives and get a positive.

If you don’t respond to her needs, should she do that to you too? If you come home worried about something important to you–like the security of your job, or trouble with a co-worker–should she just dismiss it? Should she tell you that you’re home now, not at work, so just drop it because she doesn’t feel like listening to your bitching? She’s probably technically right. There probably isn’t anything that can be done—about work. But there is something that can be done about how you/she feels.

116 Relax and Succeed - Every thought is a seedSo when it’s her, try meeting her struggling energy with the same compassion and openness and love you’re looking for when it’s you that’s hurting. Instead of ordering her to feel better, you could do things that would cause that to happen, like the guy who cleans the house. Certainly leaving to go hang out with your buddies at the golf course is only going to give her four hours to think about it how you’ve failed to acknowledge her suffering, so you’re likely to come home to someone even more upset because you abandoned them in a time of need.

Sure, she can’t use need like a chain to hold you back from life, but very few men are in that situation. Most are just taking their wife’s complaints for granted and they act pretty much like the complaints just don’t count. Like they won’t add up. Until they get served papers and find out that they might now by providing for two households from the same income. Not to mention the fact that if you don’t personally comfort your wife maybe someone else will. Just imagine your kids calling someone else “Daddy” and then ask yourself how much yelling or name-calling you think is appropriate.

A large percentage of guys are caught completely off guard when they receive divorce papers or a lawsuit from a common-law situation. I can speak from experience—I didn’t see it coming at all. I was so focused on understanding thought that I wasn’t even aware of my own marriage. I actually thought it was my wife who was having trouble getting on board with me. Of course I later realized I wasn’t thinking about us as a couple at all. My life was mine only. And I didn’t like it any time she wanted to be a free-thinking adult and choose a direction that took my life “off course.” I shouldn’t have been arguing over the direction—I should have been consulting her like someone I respected and then we should have chosen a direction that worked best for both of us. Every time we did that it worked great.

I’m not saying you don’t love your wives and girlfriends. I loved mine enough that I would have died protecting her, and yet I still got how-to-be-a-husband all wrong. I know from my practice that men often find breakups even more devastating than women do. But you knowing you love them isn’t the same as them knowing it. And they need signs and symbols of its existence. Sure, sometimes the women can take you for granted too—but that’s for another blog post. You have to focus on what you’re doing.

116 Relax and Succeed - When you say I love youSince this is surely true for some of you, let’s imagine you’re a week away from getting divorce papers. And imagine you magically know this. Now take half of your wage and half of your assets, calculate their value and then know that if you continue to ignore your partner, that amount of money will be what that ignorance costs you. Because trust me, you will have been given thousands of chances to avoid that.

That’s not what she wants. But if you’re not awake—if you’re not tuned into really considering this other person’s perspective–then you are working to literally create a future where your masculinity, your income and your social status will all suffer. And none of that will even begin to compare to what it will do to your self-image. And none of that will compare to how much it’ll hurt to let down someone you truly love.

Wake up guys. Your home is like clothing to your wife. She feels it represents her, so you putting some work into maintaining it, is like you putting work into your relationship. Helping more with any kids, and just generally appreciating what she does will do wonders for your relationship. And if she can try to understand why you like The Fast and the Furious, maybe you can try to actually understand why she likes The Notebook. Because actually understanding that might just save you a fortune in time, money and heartache.

So on the way home from work today, how about instead of telling her about your day, you ask about hers? And when it sounds tough, how about if you remembered that tough for her feels like tough for you? And just like you want compassion in those situations, learn to give it too. Because nothing will give you more time to relax than a happy wife who feels respected and loved.

It’s almost a guarantee that if you’re reading this as a man and you’re in a relationship, you’re probably blind in the ways described. So take a moment to figure out what you could consciously do to improve your partner’s life. Because that is, in other words, a way of improving your own.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organisations locally and around the world.

PS: If you’re looking for tools to make things better, try also reading And if we’re really trying to improve all marriages then reading An Open Letter to Women. Enjoy and good luck!