I’M SICK OF RELATIONSHIP ADVICE.

Being in the business of providing relationship counsel, you’d think I’d be saying the opposite.  But even I’m up to here with reading about communication and sex Finding Love Book Shows Relationship Adviceand date nights.

Aren’t you?

People who read relationship advice are unhappy in the relationship they have.  Duh.  They stay that way, too, because if all that advice worked the problem would be solved and no one would need to write all those how to’s.

Here’s the thing:  I don’t think relationship pain is dislodged by advice.

Saving a relationship is about more than a cartful of communication, sex, and date nights.  All those things are necessary, to be sure, but too often the true reason for distress is rooted deep in each partner.  And it’s portable, too.  People arrive at a new marriage – and the next marriage and the next one after that — with all their luggage packed up and trailing behind.

Each of us is responsible for self-fumigation:  get rid of the dead bugs, black mold, and outdated newspapers that are part of what trails behind us.  The clutter comes from way, way back and is responsible for putting thoughts in our heads.  Whether taught or told, exploring what we came to believe about ourselves, each other, and the world of relationships is not only an interesting exercise, but a necessary one.

You may decide that those spoon-fed automatic thoughts no longer fit.   Be warned:  challenging automatic thinking is lifelong work.

For example, when I see crumbs on the kitchen floor the automatic thought is David’s the one who’s been sloppy.   And I’m the one who has to clean up the mess.  Again.  Children’s beliefs about themselves arise from what they’re taught by caregivers — parents, usually. The you-as-a-child won’t, can’t, challenge that thinking but you-as-an-adult can.

In the example of crumbs on the kitchen floor, the early message to me was that I was responsible for cleaning up a mess, whether I’d caused it or not.  I grew up critical of myself and others – they made a mess I had to clean up – thereby maintaining the emotionally-reasoned automatic thought that the actions of others came down on me especially since I never ever make a mess.

Always being right is lonely.  Thinking of myself as a “victim” created and perpetuated continual anger, disappointment, defensiveness, and resentment while bringing about the disregard I most dreaded.

And that’s just my baggage.  Relationship advice is about the two of you only because each of you carries baggage into it – guaranteeing you stub your toe not once, but twice.  I know, I sometimes still do.

No amount of relationship advice will budge that luggage until you unpack and put away your own stuff.

Kathe Skinner has been a Marriage & Family Therapist for over 20 years.  Her private practice focuses on working with the baggage people bring to their lives.  She and her husband-of-the-crumbs have been married for 30 years and share their Colorado Springs’ home with hooligan cats Petey and Lucy.  You can read more about what’s behind Kathe’s work at www.coupleswhotalk.com where you can sign up for a free weekly curated newsletter.

copyright, 2016, Being Heard, LLC

 

COUNSELING CAN REVIVE YOUR DYING MARRIAGE.

love hearts abstract

Ever feel like the love is gone? 

  • Your partner isn’t the person you fell in love with. 
  • The communication gap between you widens every day.
  • Your partner won’t talk about it.
  • You’ve been unhappy for so long it feels like it’s too late. 
  • Your relationship feels dead.

Since you’re reading this article, it’s likely you still care enough about your partner and your relationship to want to help it — if you only knew how.  

Most marriages should be given a chance to succeed.

Marriage counseling can help you restore the trust and intimacy your relationship once enjoyed so that you’ll both have a secure place to learn techniques and tools that can actually make a difference.  

  • Resolve past hurts and painful memories
  • Put an end to endless arguments
  • Overcome differences in parenting styles
  • Improve your intimacy and sex life
  • Heal from an affair
  • Grow closer together
  • Take an active, involved and interested role in the life you’ve created together

Behavioral research is often focused on the clinical effectiveness of couples therapy but the subject of couples therapy is in the out-loud American mainstream, too.  Attention runs the gamut from on-line and print articles, to films like Couples Retreat, to playing supportive roles in television dramas like The Sopranos.  

Most marriage counselors would agree that a couple’s motivation to make their relationship work is the single most important factor in determining the success of couples counseling.  Beware the seduction of obtaining a promise from your partner to “work on the relationship” if one of their feet is out the door.  Breaking up is hard to do, there’s enough hurt to go around, so sometimes one partner “buys time” by agreeing to couples counseling.  Therapy also seems to be less successful for couples who wait too long before seeking help.  Unfortunately, the average number of years a distressed couple waits before seeking help is 6 years.

If you and your partner are serious about creating the best relationship possible, marriage counseling is an excellent way to explore your relationship and help each of you uncover and overcome destructive relational patterns.  Hopefully, before 6 years go by. 

Kathe Skinner has been a Marriage & Family Therapist for 20 years.  She specializes in couples work, especially with relationships where invisible disability is part of the mix.  She and her husband David have been married for 29 years and together provide a Secular Couple Communication Workshop throughout the year.  They live with their 2 hooligan cats in Colorado Springs.

THE CROCK-POT MARRIAGE: TASTY LOVE IS SLOW-COOKED

crock pot

“You Can’t Hurry Love” sang The Supremes in their 1966 hit, covered in 1982 by Phil Collins and in 1999 by the Dixie Chicks.  Love that’s instant is often short-lived, more lust than length.  To await the outcome of something not ready in a jiffy is the practice of relationship . . . love at its most tasty.  While many of us search out the searing heat of newness, turns out successful love is cooked in a crock-pot. 

That familiarity breeds attraction has been a theme celebrated for at least a century, from George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion as inspiration for the Broadway hit musical My Fair Lady to Oscar-nominated Bridget Jones’ Diary.  Guys might not worry about big girl panties, but it’s not just plus-size gals who love the possibility that love conquers looks. 

Despite what mom said about a good personality and a great smile, it seems the pretty ones have a shapely leg up when it comes to finding a likewise gorgeous mate; in evolutionary terms it’s called “high mate value”.  Notwithstanding friends with benefits, turns out mate value increases the longer people spend time together before dating.  In other words, the more you get to know someone, the more attractive you find them. 

Turns out mom was right.  

It stands to reason that the perception of mate value might also increase once people are permanently paired, irrespective of the amount of time spent getting to know each other in a non-romantic way. 

Several factors may be key:

Realistic expectations might mean having few, if any, expectations at all.  Of course that means that long-term togetherness is best viewed as a box of chocolates; understanding that the twists, turns, and adventures of even one life are unpredictable that double goes for any couple.  Shared values can feed into the predictability that increases the more that’s known about each other.  An acquaintance’s behavior doesn’t carry the same weight as that of someone we’ve committed to, probably because the expectation of a friend’s behavior doesn’t matter as much even though the behaviors might be the same.  For example, when a friend gets drunk it may be humorous; when a mate does, not so much.

No one has a plan for change, even though change is on the short list of life’s certainties.  The story of the spouse who left when the other developed cancer is apocryphal but is only a segment of our fear that when we’ve grown older, rounder, or more wrinkled our mate value is lost.  But the more you know someone, really know someone, the less likely change is upending.  True as well is that knowing and planning require learning and practicing.  Despite a feeling of instant connection, relationship is, well, work.  Just when a couple feels the hard part’s behind them, then whammo change happens again; it’s not so much planning for particular changes (as if that were even possible) it’s having the ability to have a plan for change in general.  As difficult as it might be to achieve, couples who can reach consensus about a plan of action are couples who are successful at riding out change together. 

Communication is about more than talking and listening.  Communication that works is an active process that builds on itself over time.  Attentiveness, thought, understanding, and active involvement are marks of partners who continue to know each other.  Think of friends you’ve had, male or female, to whom you felt comfortable talking about anything.  Expectation, judgment, and vulnerability seem to increase with romantic closeness when the truth is that you may already have trusted a friend with lots of the same things.  The effort each of us puts into “communicating” seem inversely proportional to time:  listening and talking to new mates is more intense than listening and talking to new friends; while the same behaviors are more intense with older friendships than with long-standing mates.

Each partner’s vulnerability to the other is possibly the most telling feature of mates’ mutual value.  Belief in the relationship incorporates the needs for trust and safety we all have.  With vulnerability (and the acceptance of it) there are no surprises, no hidden agendas, and not much left unsaid.  Respect is a key element of mutual vulnerability; knowing that your partner – or your friend — will not seek to harm you intentionally.  Both have a serious effect on self-esteem and our beliefs about our place in the future of others.

Kathe Skinner is a Marriage & Family Therapist in private practice who specializes working with couples.  Cooking with a crock-pot every chance they get, she and husband David have been married for 29 years. Together with their 2 hooligan cats, the Skinners live in Colorado where they teach Couple Communication Workshops.

Copyright, 2015  Being Heard, LLC

A FATHER’S DAY FANTASY

hefner and twinsFantasy’s a powerful thing.  It fuels the head trip of desire and compels the illusion of feeling good, even when there are no hands on.   Multi-billion dollar industries – from publishing to prostitution to porn – start here first.   

But how does the brain distinguish between what’s real and what’s imagined?   Scientists’ hypotheses point to the involvement of different areas of the brain and the multi-directional processing among them.  

Sexual fantasies are a solo adventure usually leading to release through orgasm.  For some the mind’s eye is enough to induce a significant physical event like orgasm.  Actual visual stimulation is so powerful that doctors’ offices getting sperm samples provide men with sexually explicit magazines as a way for patients to get it up and over with.   Humans are not alone:  Species that are down the evolutionary ladder from us also purposely seek out ways to feel good “down there”.  Elephants rub, monkeys twiddle away the hours masturbating, and male dogs lust after people’s legs.

Sometimes fantasy goes wild and boundaries are blurred, creating a new “reality”.  One example is the substitution of social bonds created by in-person interaction with texting, sexting, and hook-up sites.  We’ve always looked for love in the wrong places but it’s easier now; you don’t have to take a shower to “chat”.  Carried to extreme, fantasy never becomes reality:  the lure of being anyone you choose, often without consequence, is a strong inducement to stay impersonal.

It’s long been known that our brains are hardwired for pleasure, with specific neural pathways acting as highways.  As with anything pleasurable, the possibility of overindulgence, abuse, is possible.  While most brains have stopping, or surfeit, mechanisms, other brains are glitched to go wild.  Especially worrisome is the effect on young brains of unrelenting and ever-more-present societal messages about sex.  Young brains are not yet equipped with that Jiminy-Cricket-battle between the super-ego and the id; with this age group (and for some adults), the id wins almost every time.  Understandably there is concern for young people among parents, educators, and the mental health community.

The mental health and medical communities are concerned about the rise within the broader population of sexually identified mental health diagnoses as well as the rise in sexually transmitted disease.  It’s no longer unusual to know someone with herpes; it’s even been authoritatively predicted that in ten years over half of women and 40% of men will have contracted genital herpes.

Fantasy enables our addiction to the belief that if we can imagine it, we can make it real.  It sounds snappy when Sony says it, but those are dangerous words.  Not only because that’s not always true, but because it shouldn’t always be true..  Powerful as it is, sexual fantasy is just that.  Many of us are still hanging with Freud rather than updating our belief that it’s abnormal not to fantasize when bringing about orgasm. 

In praise of sexual fantasy: 

  • Leads to sexual activity, conjoint or solo, and that’s a good thing;

  • By inducing orgasm the body rids itself of stale sperm, an evolutionary advantage;

  • Orgasm reduces blood pressure, aids sleep, counts as exercise, lowers heart attack risk, lessens pain;

  • Can infuse a dulled relationship with newness;

  • Takes us on a journey we probably otherwise wouldn’t be capable of;

  • Stimulates creative thinking;

  • Enables us to practice social skills;

  • Offers an escape from criticism that may induce self-consciousness or an inability to function sexually;

  • Makes us feel good about ourselves, powerful, potent, and desirable;

  • Enhances relationship;

  • Mostly, sexual fantasy Is fun.

Sex is the adult version of play and fantasy is our way of looking forward to playing.  As thinking beings we need fantasy, daydreaming, and imagination as a pathway to our best self.  Fantasy is a pleasure in itself. 

Kathe Skinner is a Marriage & Family Therapist whose private practice focuses on couples, especially those whose relationship is impacted by visible or invisible disability or illness for whom sexuality is often a significant issue.  It’s probable that childhood exposure to an overly enthusiastic dog is the reason she’s a cat person.  Then again, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.  With their two hooligan cats, Petey and Lucy, she and her husband David live in Colorado Springs where she maintains a private practice and where she and David co-instruct Couple Communication Workshops.  

Copyright 2015, Being Heard, LLC

GENGHIS KHAN GOT A DIVORCE

genghis Khan

It’s not that I don’t love you, Gengy.  I do.  But things just aren’t the same.

Used to be we’d talk ’til the yaks came home.  We don’t talk like that anymore.  Actually, we don’t talk at all.  You’re distant and quiet, even with the kids.  You’re never home at dinnertime and I can’t remember the last time we had a date night.

Other gals say it’s the same with them.  You and your horde come home after conquering and slaughtering and a year’s gone by and you act like some bigshot who’s gonna take over where you left off, but guess what? everybody’s been used to fending without you. Know what else? we’ve done pretty good, too.

Whoa, Gengy; don’t get your temper up!  You’re such a control freak, but you’re not gonna bully me anymore.  I love you, I do. But I can’t — no, I won’t — keep taking it.  You come off as so studly but I’m tired of sleeping by myself while you get wasted on that fermented crap.  I’m really sick of all those concubines hanging off you.  And I’m tired of entertaining all those brutes you call generals.  Gengy, I’m just. plain. tired.

I’m done.  I mean it this time.

Your moods don’t bother me anymore.  I don’t give an ox’s ass about all that blood on your hands and those nightmares you have.  Man up, Genghis!  It’s a brutal world out there for all of us; but the Great Khan wants us to feel sorry for him like nobody else matters.

The saying is “love conquers all”, not “Genghis Khan conquers all.”  Try thinking about somebody else besides yourself for a change!

It’s beyond me how you can get one end of your empire to communicate with the other but you’re in the dark when it comes to communicating with me.  What do I want?  I’ll tell you:  I want you to tell me dinner was good.  That I look nice.  Tell me about your day; you know, like how’d it go out on the steppes. Some funny story about one of your generals.  Like that.

Yeah, yeah, I know all about all the great stuff you do.  You keep telling me, don’t you?  You don’t listen, not to anybody.  You do what you want, you get what you want, and thousands of people get hurt.  If you put half as much effort into us as you do into work, we wouldn’t be so far apart.

Look, Gengy, we’ve been together a long time, since we were 12. Pretty good for an arranged marriage, huh?  Remember our first night — all those stars! the music of shuffling ponies.  And you couldn’t . . . well, that’s ancient history.  After all, you were only twelve.

You once said you’d give me the known world but I didn’t think it meant you’d be gone all the time.  It’s like you’re trying to prove something with all this conquering.  And being so fearsome; what’s that about?  Sometimes you even scare me.  You don’t have to be a therapist to see what having a tyrant for a father did to you. And the way you treat me? Just like your father treated your mother.  She took it for all those years, but I don’t have to.

I’m sorry; bringing your mother into it, that was a low blow.

Listen.  Mongolia doesn’t feel like home anymore.  You’re never around and when you are you’re all inside your head about who you and the boys are going to pillage next.  The kids don’t need me; they’re all grown and scattered to the winds.  You don’t need me, and I’m tired of doing this marriage by myself.  I’ve got to think about me for a change.  I’ve always wanted to travel —  maybe China; I hear their silks are to die for.

Don’t act surprised, Gengy.  We’ve both known this was coming. As brutal as you are, you never laid a hand on me.  This is gonna sound strange, but you know what?  I almost wish you had.  At least that way you would’ve touched me.

Kathe Skinner is a Marriage & Family Therapist specializing in couples work, especially with those couples whose relationship is impacted by visible or invisible disability.  She lives in Colorado with her husband David (whose latest conquered territory is the garage) and their two pampered yak-ity cats, Petey and Lucy.  She and David hold a Couples Communication Workshop throughout the year.  Check it out all the Workshops offered @ www.coupleswhotalk.com

Copyright, 2015 Being Heard, LLC

RUNNING BLIND

guilhermina guide 3

Super-star athletes are polishing their personas with the advent of the Summer Olympics to be held in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.  One of them, Jamaican mega-medal winner Usain Bolt, has the gracefulness of a natural athlete. With his perpetual smile and generally good nature, Bolt is no pushover.

One doesn’t get the impression that Usain Bolt would promote something disagreeable.

Despite his gifts, or maybe because of them, Bolt also demonstrates a remarkably generous spirit, e.g., his 2012 embrace of double-amputee Oscar Pistorius, who competed against Bolt.

At a recent promo event, Bolt paired with Brazilian Paralympic multi-medalist Terezinha Guilhermina as her guide runner. Vision-impaired para-athletes compete under strict guidelines that may include use of sighted guide runners. Guilhermina trains and competes with guide Guilherme Soares de Santana; tethered at the wrist, she runs blindfolded as they match each other in speed and timing.

This high-speed dance is like a successful relationship: Trust is essential.  Good communication is quick but subtle, successful only with lots of practice.  Even when a compatible partner is found — no easy task in itself — the tasks are twice as difficult, twice as demanding.

If you’ve ever run a playground race with one leg joined to another person’s you begin to understand how tough it is to run as one.

Even so, Bolt expressed concern that Guilhermina would fall over or be unable to run fast enough. Both fears were unfounded.

Like running in synch, when an able-bodied athlete joins with a para-athlete, one shadows the other. Both understand the effort, sacrifice, and ability that has brought them to the medal podium.  As in a good marriage, there is mutual admiration and respect; knowledge that the differences are not diminishments.

Now for the preachy part:  There are two separate and unequal worlds when it comes to sport.  Usain Bolt, personable as he is, sells because of his able-bodied ability, not his smile.  Paralympic athletes sell to the larger audience only when paired with Olympic athletes; it doesn’t matter that their talent, drive, focus, and commitment to excellence are the same.

“Blade runner” Arthur Pistorius got more ink because of his fall from grace than from his rise to it.

Societal disequity is an old story and not just one about disability. Overcoming innate human suspicion and dislike of what is different requires conscious and concerted effort.  The nudge may come from decades’ worth of disabled vets with their can-do mentality, greater numbers, and the societal bequeathing of a high moral ground.

Personally, I’ll take it any way I can get it:  If the result to being paired with an able-bodied celebrity is lasting inclusion and a broader definition of human value, then drop the red flag and let the sports begin.

Kathe Skinner is a Marriage & Family Therapist whose private practice focuses on couples, especially those whose relationship is complicated by invisible or visible disability.  Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis for nearly 40 years and understands that athletes go beyond themselves to compete.  With two world-class cat nappers, Petey and Lucy, Kathe and husband David live in Colorado where she doesn’t ski.

Read more about their Couples Communication Workshops at www.BeingHeardNow.com.  While you’re at it, check out our newest site, www.CouplesWhoTalk.com.