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Be Responsive

May 3rd, 2011

I was reading over the front page of my website on emotionallymarried.com. I was reading about what I said it meant to be emotionally married. Two concepts still hold true in our quest to be emotionally connected - couples need to be accessible and responsive to one another. I never get tired of teaching these concepts to couples because I still find groups who are hearing it for the first time. I also love reminding couples who may have forgotten the simple words that can make a world of difference in the lives of a couple.
Today I want to focus on being responsive. Researchers have used many different words to describe what it means to be responsive. Some have taught the importance of active listening or reflective listening, some focus on showing interest and paying attention, while others simple refer to our ability to respond to another’s bid for connection. All of these are part of responsiveness and I like to focus on the meaning more that the specific actions. I find when we focus on specifics it can be easy to fall into ‘doing it just right or even perfect,’ or making it not feel natural. The key is around our stance in the relationship. Are we open, aware, and even vulnerable in a way that sets the stage to respond at the level at this needed in the moment.
I love to review the literature on the power of responsiveness - it impacts everything from hope to physical health. It encourages us to risk and reach out. It builds our self esteem and confidence. It offers comfort and soothes us when we are scared, anxious, or hurt. Responsiveness offers us power as well. We can borrow from others the courage to face our demons and to tackle hard things. The list is a wonderful and ever growing list.
Have you ever thought about what happens when we are not responsive? Think about it: what do your kids do when they see you as non-responsive? What does your spouse do? What do you do when others (kids, spouse, friends) are non-responsive? Some try once and never try again (at least in that interaction), while others increase their efforts to get a response. In the Attachment literature it states that any response is better than none. If this is true then we will do just about anything to get a response, because in that response are two key messages - 1)you care and 2) I matter.
Watch this video on research with mom’s and their infants. Watch what happens when the mom is non-responsive and watch what happens when the mom is responsive. Are we like this child?

Still Face Experiment

More on the “Will you” question

February 21st, 2011

Awhile back I asked my facebook friends what type of ‘will you’ questions are asked in a relationship. Here are some of the responses:
- Will you trust me (whether implicit or explicit, it is asked)
- Will you rub my back? Will you iron my clothes? Will you cook my dinner?
- Will you take out the trash? - not always preceded with ‘will you’
- Will you be home by 6:00? Will you get me a blanket?
- After courting his wife with roses and trips, one person asked “Will you help pay off my credit card bill?”
- Will you take the baby for an hour? Will you wash some dishes for dinner tonight?
- Wll you accept me for who I am? Will you still love me when you discover what that means for you?

As we can see, some ‘will you’ questions are simple and routine, while others are key questions to the relationship. I believe we begin each relationship with some form of a will you question - “will you dance or will you go on a date with me?” These questions have other questions attached to them or at least open the door for additional ‘will you’ questions. As the relationship progress, so do the questions. As life changes and our family grows and changes - some of the will you questions change as well.

The relationship research on Attachment Theory points to one ‘will you’ question that we believe is found in most of the other ‘will you’ questions. We all want to know - “Will you be there for me when I need you?” In many of the small moments that question in answered and those answers stack up to support (one way or the other) our answer to the main question. This view of the ‘will you’ question supports the need to continually enrich our relationship and find ways to be supportive, to be grateful, and to continue to court one another. In these small moments we feel loved, supported, and known. When we feel known by the other, we feel more confident in knowing you will be there in the big moments.

How we answer this question influences what we expect in the relationship; what we expect from our spouse; how we engage and interact;’ and even our perceptions of the relationship and our spouse. The more positive our belief in the ‘will you’ question - the more positive our expectations, interactions, and perceptions. The answer to our ‘will you’ question is based on many interactions from the past and the answer influences many of the interactions that will occurr in the future.

Preparing for Valentine’s Day

February 10th, 2011

It’s that time of year again…you know the ‘holidays.’ For some this is a different type of holiday - not one where you focus on carnivals, not one where you focus on company parties, or parades. This is one holiday where relationships take center stage. So how do you make sure your relationship receives the center stage?
If you want to make Valentine’s Day special, then understand what makes relationships special. Recently I’ve been focused on the latest research out there on romantic love. This type of love has to do with attraction - or being attracted to our spouse or partner. There are certain feelings and even behaviors that one experiences when one is feeling romantic love. This is different than companionate love or attachment. In attachment we talk about security. Romantic love talks about excitement, motivation, focus, and wanting or craving. We know that when a person experiences romantic love they have feelings of obsession, possession, and they can’t stop thinking about the other. Romantic love is often experienced when we do something new. This romantic love isn’t just something that happens early on in a relationship, it is something that is created and be experienced throughout life. They recently completed a study that found people how had been married 20 years were still able to experience the same romantic love as newlyweds. So how do you create it?
The two principles that create security in attachment are two of the principles that create the excitement in passionate love - accessiblity and responsiveness. How do we create those two elements? We use Valentine’s Day as motivation to become creative in ways where we are more accessible to our spouse or partner and we work hard to make sure we are responsive to them. John Gottman talks about ‘bids for connection.’ These bids are small gestures to see if the other is responsive. In fact, most of these gestures have nothing to do with love or connection, they are most like testing the water to see if we will respond. So step number one, work to be accessible. Step number two, work to be responsive.
The best part of this formula is that it doesn’t take a lot of money (really no money) to create an atmosphere of responsiveness. I’ve heard people talk about the 14 days of Valentine’s Day. A little late for that now, but you could do the 14 hours of Valentine’s Day. Here are a handful of (inexpensive) ways to be accessible and responsive on Valentine’s Day.
- for those who like technology - send several texts or emails throughout the day, letting the other know you are thinking about them.
- write a love note - either on paper (does anyone still do this?) or via email/text. Express love, appreciation, and find compliments.
- go for a walk (indoor or out) and talk.
- recreate a favorite vacation moment without going on vacation - a valentine’s staycation. Who needs sand and surf to feel the magic of Mexico?
- rather than pay for a massage - set the room up nice with candles, lights, and music and be the masseuse.
-  create an Amazing Race and have your spouse search for clues
- create your own David Letterman’s Top 10 List - have it include your 10 best dates, 10 most memorable moments, 10 favorite places to visit together, or something fun like 10 most embarrassing moments.
Remember that romantic love is often experienced when we do something new - so give your spouse a surprise. Show up at work or for lunch (that is being both accessible and responsive).
When planning to buy a gift or plan an event ask yourself these questions?
-How does this make me available to my spouse?
- How do I want him/her to respond to this?
-Does this create an enviroment/activity where we can engage with one another?

Well now that I’ve given all my ideas a way I either have to make sure Cami doesn’t read my blog or find something new…….

Understanding love

January 27th, 2011

Do you remember the commercial years ago that tried to keep all of us away from drugs? It had a simple message: “This is your brain on drugs…any questions?” From the video you can see that it was trying to tell us that our brain is fryed on drugs. Well guess what, our brain is fryed on love as well. Researchers have found that the part of the brain the lights up when someone uses cocaine, is the same part that lights up when someone experiences romantic love. I guess sayings such as ‘your love is my drug,’ or ‘I’m high on you’ were correct.
Here is some of what we know about people who experience romantic love or attraction: romantic or passionate love is associated with changes that disrupt existing activities, routines, and social networks to orient the individual’s attention and goal-directed behavior toward a specific partner. Simple stated - we change our focus to be all about the other person. A person experiences strong emotions, is aroused by the presence of the other person, and reorients attention and reorients action-preparing resources. Helen Fisher has said that the person ‘camps in our brain’ and we can’t stop thinking about them. Chemicals in the brain are released telling our body “we want more of this.” Its a reward system and when we experience this type of love, we seek more and more of it.
Are songs beginning to play in your head….’can’t get enough of your love,’ ‘I want you, I need you, I want to be near you…’ All of this is true.
Attraction is associated with what researchers are calling romantic or passionate love. Passionate love is linked with arousal and novelty. This is why we need to think of new and different things to enjoy with our spouse. If you read my blog then you know I love to talk about ‘changing our pace and changing our focus.’ These are attempts to move from attachment or security,what we will discuss later, back to attraction. Emotionally married couples need both - a secure attachment and attraction to one another. Can one still feel this way even after years of marriage? Watch this clip and see what you think. Click here and think about sharing your reaction.

Understanding the science of love

January 18th, 2011

Let me ask a simple question - what is love? This should be a simple question with an easy answer, but I tend to find people struggle to come up with a clear definition or description. Often people will describe moments when love isn’t going well or moments where they feel loved, but love is much more than that. Even in the academic and research world, experts have argued over the meaning and explaination of what love is. Well, that is beginning to change. The ’science of love’ is a new category of topics that I plan to cover here at emotionally married. Within these posts, I hope to share with you the latest findings from researchers around the world as they uncover what love is, how it works, and what makes it last.
First entry:
I’m doing a lot of reading in this area right now and I found a statement that helps me understand past attempts to describe and define love. It says, “people have sought to use the tools of their time to better understand the nature and significance of love.” Today our tools are changing. In upcoming posts I will describe how more and more people are studying the brain to help us understand love, it’s impact, and it’s benefits. Everyday people use the internet and websites, such as emotionally married, to help them better understand their relationships and to understand love.
Not to long ago Cami and I were describing our youngest daughter to someone. She if 5 and we found ourselves saying, “She is in love with love.” Well, I think I’m in love with love. I’m fascinated by its impact on people’s lives and what people do to find it, and how many people take it for granted until they struggle to feel it. I find that when you feel loved everything is better, and when love is theatened, everything is worse. Here is another quote I recently read “love matters not only because it can make our lives better, but also because it is a major source of misery and pain  that makes life worse.” To end this first post, let me end with one attempt to define love. Definition of love: - a desire to enter, maintain, or expand a close, connected, and ongoing relationship with another person.
What is love to you? How important is it? How does it work? How does it impact your everyday life? Maybe I’m the only one asking these questions, but I hope you are asking them too.

Phrase for the Year

January 8th, 2011

I have heard of people picking a word or theme for the year. It represents their focus for the year. I have never done this before, but I decided to choose a phrase this year that represents my focus. This focus is something I’m committing to in my personal and family life, and one that I will encourage others to consider. It began back in October when I was listening to a leader in my church discuss things that should matter most in our lifes. He focused on key relationships in our life and this is what he said: “Since “no other success can compensate for failure” here, we must place high priority on our families. We build deep and loving family relationships by doing simple things together, like family dinner and family home evening and by just having fun together. In family relationships love is really spelled t-i-m-e, time. Taking time for each other is the key for harmony at home. We talk with, rather than about, each other. We learn from each other, and we appreciate our differences as well as our commonalities.”
My focus for the year is: Love is spelled t-i-m-e. I don’t know about you and your life, but everyone I talk to and most couples I work with, report having little to no time for one another. When I ask couples to review their weekly routine, consistently I hear them report that there is rarely ‘couple time.’ This is true in families where good parents are present and ‘family time’ is a strength. This is true in duel-career couples, stay at home moms, parents with young children, and even couples who have children who have grown and left the house. I even find this in couples who are dating. The pace of our modern life is so fast and completely packed. With two capable adults, it is easy to say “you take care of yourself and I’ll take care of myself.” In situations where this occurs, individuals survive and the relationship dies.
This year I hope you will consider showing love by devoting quality time to the relationships that matter most. When we spend time with someone we send a simple, yet strong message “you are worth taking care of, and I care.” When we neglect our relationship we send an opposite message. Now I know that most couples do not neglect their relationship out of intention, but it occurs with lack of intention. We need to be intentional about creating time where we can then apply the second power principle in building secure relationships — responsiveness. First we must be accessible.
Rememer, love is really spelled t-i-m-e!

What will 2011 bring?

January 1st, 2011

I hope you enjoyed all the Holiday events that keep us busy from Thanksgiving until now, any maybe beyond. I love Christmas. I love how a holiday can take over radio stations, TV shows, and fill our lives with so many fun events. I love the excitement of seeing kids open presents,and engage in the giving of gifts. I enjoy the focus on Christ and his life and birth. Each year we plan a number of activities to make the season special. In the end I believe the kids come out better and happier.
Can we each say the same for our marriage? From my personal and clinical experiences, I believe the holiday season can be one of the most stressful times for a relationship. In general, research has found the moving, a new job, a death of a loved one, or a new baby can be the most stressful times in a person’s life. Well, maybe we need to add holidays to the mix. I have worked with a number of people who find themselves struggling to handle all that comes with this time of year. For some people the way they survive is to neglect their marriage relationship. People are busier, with more shopping, preparing, and traveling. There are more activties with friends, family, church, school, etc. We may be in the same physical location, but emotionally we may end up very distant from our spouse.
So now here we are on Jan. 1st, 2011. Where does our relationship fit in our New Year’s Resolutions? Have we committed to making this our best year yet? What do we need to do to grow closer, stronger, happier? What do we need to learn? What can we change? What do we need to hold onto from years gone by? I hope at the end of 2011, I will be able to say that I have a better relationship with my wife. I plan to love her more, enjoy her more, and create more meaning time together. I hope you will take the time to think about what 2011 will bring. Happy New Year…Happy New Relationship!

“Will you…..?”

December 7th, 2010

The magic questions in our relationship often begin with the two words: “Will you.” I first used these words with Cami in the 7th grade when I asked, “Will you go with me?” Some use the words to ask, “Will you go on a date with me, or will you go to the dance with me?” Then the ultimate question, “Will you marry me?” How you answer each of these questions has a huge impact on the future of the relationship.
Well, once relationships have been established there is another “will you” question that remains and is often asked in non-direct ways. This ‘will you’ question is at the heart of many discussions and distruptions in relationships. I find most of my couples are really fighting about this one question. So what do you think this question is?
“Will you be there for me when I need you to be there?” That is the ultimate question in relationships. The way we answer this question on a day to day basis predicts the future of the relationship. If there is uncertainty, then we develop coping mechanisms to re-establish security. If there is surety in our answer, then we act if complete faith of the results. One way or another, the way we see the answer to that questions drives our behavior in our relationship.
I really think we all have a bit of a question to that answer because our spouse is not perfect and therefore may struggle to give us a complete YES, 100% of the time. With the smallest amount of doubt, we may result in tests to see if this is one of those times where you are or are not there.
When our spouse is there, we find comfort and support. They can be that safe haven and the secure base. So let me ask you one final question, “Are you there for your spouse when he or she needs you to be?”

What’s your definition

November 20th, 2010

I had another opportunity to teach a group of students about attachment and emotionally focused therapy. I started with three basic questions. Now I share the same questions with you.
1. How do you define love?
2. How do you define intimacy?
3. What are 3 keys to a successful relationship?
Each time I have a group discussion around these questions I find that people have many different answers, yet they struggle to develop something that is simple and something that feels complete.
I believe each person and each couple needs to work to define these terms for themselves so they know they are working toward the same goal.  I’d love to hear your answers.
I’m sorry I never finished my online marriage class. If you were following that thread, sorry, and I hope to get back to that as I begin my new class off-line tomorrow.
As for something to think about…how about this. Attachment theory defines the goal of a relationship is secure emotional connection. We build this connection through accessibility and emotional responsiveness. I find each time I teach these concepts, people become filled with excitement. They can see the possiblity and they can see that we have solutions on how to help couples find security in their relationships. The challenge - its easier to talk about than to do. We have to work to be willing to take a risk to be vulnerable. It is difficult to create emotional connection through defensiveness, distancing and protection. We need to work to be open, responsive, and soft. I hope we all can do this.

Love her the way she wants to be loved

November 14th, 2010

What’s the golden rule? “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” In life we should all live by this statement. In love we need a new one. In love we need to live by the statement, “Do unto them as they would have you do unto them.” This means that we need to learn to love our spouse in the manner that means most to them. Now a good loving couple works to both love one another in the way that speaks to each individual, plus they work to see the attempts made by the other person.
I have worked with couples where one or both partners says, “this is how I show love and my spouse should learn to accept it.” What’s wrong with this statement? This statement doesn’t show compassion, it lacks understanding, and it keeps an individual in a self-focused pattern. When it comes to love we need to work to think of the other and what she needs. How does she feel loved? I bet that once she feels loved in her special way, she will begin to see the many things you do for her, even if they don’t exactly fit her love language.
Take in point my wife - service goes from her number one love language to a close second. My main love language is quality time. I find myself constantly working to create quality moments between the two of us. Sure she enjoys them, but she finds it hard to focus on us when we are surrounded by a dirty house or a clutters room. This weekend I was finally home from what has seemed like endless travel. Because I have been home and Cami has been the one busy, I have been able to swap roles and take on more of the responsibilities for the kids and the house. Last night I had planned another fun night for us by going to dinner. Even though she had other plans, she cancelled them seeing my attempt to love her. To make the night go even better, I made sure that when she came home to start our date the house was clean, the kids were fed, and they were set for the night. This made all the difference.
In life we are all so busy, and I know when I’m busy it can be easy to stop thinking about how my wife wants to be loved. We can all do a little bit better when it comes to loving our spouse in the way they want to feel loved.

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