Category Archives: Sex and Relationship Advice

“My husband’s affair traumatized me, and then weirdly brought us closer than ever.”

Husband's affair traumatized me

I received this fascinating letter from a reader recently, and she gave me permission to share it (with identifying features changed). She sent it after reading my articles and book, and feeling that what she read described her experience in profound ways. I hope you find her story as interesting and inspiring as I do.

Dear Justice,

Your post ‘Intimacy heretic’ absolutely resonates with me. It brought clarity to my confused mind. To think that I’m in the space I am in now is nothing short of incredible compared to where I was six months ago.

Six months ago I discovered (purely by accident) that Stan, my husband of nearly forty years, had been in a sexual relationship for three years and had fathered a daughter. Their daughter was an unplanned consequence. For the past eighteen years Stan has been regularly visiting and financially supporting the daughter that he loves.

I was traumatized by his revelations. After the initial numbness came the excruciating pain. My emotional roller-coaster began… I didn’t know this man. He was a stranger to me. His actions had crushed me.

Stan said it wasn’t me; it was him. He said that he’d always loved me but went his own way for a while… was purely self-indulgent. He begged me for another chance. He’s not the sort of guy that begs. He told me he was so very sorry for the hurt he’d caused; that he’d be a better man. It was heartfelt from him.

We got back together after some time apart. We are sixty-three years old, so should at least try again. But how on earth would I be able to ever trust him? How could I ever believe in him again, or even like him? I had to get my head around the fact that their affair began two decades ago. I had to try to accept that it was in the past (apart from his daughter who continues to be a small part of Stan’s life).

Justice, I find your term ‘tolerate’ is far more doable than acceptance. That changes my mindset – I can tolerate it now.

There were so many challenges to overcome. I had to get my power back. I had to live in the present moment. I needed to ground myself and calm my over-active mind because that was just causing me more anguish. I had to make myself important for myself.

During the challenging times, I had to remind myself of progress we were making. When I was in a dark place or overwhelmed with pain, Stan held me – no words – just held me as we went to sleep. Surprisingly, he recognized that’s exactly what was needed, or maybe he was at a loss to know what to do and it was instinctive. When he rubbed my back, my mind and body was eased.

He’d become present! A huge milestone. He soothed me; I could feel his love, his tenderness and also his pain. This was a new experience for us both. We’d never shared such deep heart-felt intimacy like that before. So simple, but the benefits are amazing. You talk about this in your book “The Re-connection Handbook for Couples”, which I read and found very valuable.

Again Justice, your insightful words “being soothed by our partner is one of life’s loveliest treasures… given as a gift” is spot on. I would not have made it if this hadn’t happened. I also realized that Stan also needs to be soothed – he’s been in pain too – that it’s not all about me and my needs.

What we have now is a much deeper level of intimacy. It’s extraordinary. I have felt quite confused by this, and yes, a bit embarrassed too. How did we get to this point when there was so much heart-breaking conflict and our future looked so bleak? It just seemed too weird to have reached a place where we now have a certain kind of wonderfulness. Couldn’t get much better so it’s actually pretty cool. We will surely have more obstacles, but at least know they can be handled.

Justice, your insightful writing has solved the mystery and has had a profound effect on me: the fact that not feeling full trust or emotional safety doesn’t mean the relationship has to end, that in fact it can have the exact opposite effect and bring richness… amazing.

Close friends gave us a card that read “It’s Amazing how much Right-side-up can Come from Up-side-down”. That’s certainly true.

Thank you.

Follow me for sex and relationship tips, tools, and insights – Facebook | Instagram

Like what you’re reading here?
You’ll love my book.
Read the first 10 pages free.

The Re-connection handbook for couples - by Justice Schanfarber - web box2

Campbell River Marriage Counselling Justice Schanfarber Trying to grow, fix, change, understand or save your marriage? I provide couples therapy, marriage counselling, coaching and mentoring to individuals and couples on the issues that make or break relationships – Sessions by telephone/skype worldwide. Email justice@justiceschanfarber.com to request a client info package. www.JusticeSchanfarber.com

Like Justice Schanfarber on Facebook

Sign up to get my articles by email –

Like this article? Share it! You can use the buttons below –

Intimacy heretic – “Relationships aren’t just for safety, trust, and validation.”

Confessions of an intimacy heretic - It's not all about safety and trust.I recently posted a short piece on instagram suggesting that certain kinds of intimacy can actually be limited by an insistence or over-emphasis on safety, trust, and validation in relationships. Someone asked a great question in the comments – “If it’s not safe, why would you even bother? Why would a person remain with someone who is untrustworthy?”

Rather than address this question on instagram, I thought I would take the time to unpack it more thoroughly here. First, here’s what I said about safety and intimacy in my original post

There’s nothing “wrong” with expecting your partner to provide safety and validation in order for you to reveal yourself to them, but making this a condition of your honest self-disclosure puts limits on the kinds of intimacy that will be available to you.

There’s another category of intimacy altogether, rooted in the personal integrity, emotional risk-taking, and self-validation required to confront and reveal yourself in front of your partner, regardless of their active participation. The idea that intimacy is always a two-way street, inherently dependent on partner reciprocity and validation actually keeps us cut off from some of the more profound experiences of intimacy that might otherwise be available.

This might be a difficult idea to accept. Don’t accept it, test it. Can you have your own experience of intimacy through courageous self-examination and self-disclosure in front of your partner, even if your partner does not validate you, make it “safe” for you, or share your feelings of intimacy?

Back to the question – “If it’s not safe, why would you even bother? Why would a person remain with someone who is untrustworthy?”

To answer this question we need to include other questions: What kind of safety are we talking about? What does it mean to be trustworthy in a relationship?

We should also probably ask: What is intimacy anyway?

And underneath these questions another more essential question is implied: What are relationships for?

Whew. That’s a lot. Now you can see why I didn’t want to get into this too deeply in the comments section on instagram! Let’s work from the bottom up and start with the essential question –

What are relationships for?

Relationships perhaps have as many purposes as there are hopes and fears in the world. They’re complex, evolving systems with multidimensional purposes and qualities. Books – long and dense – could, and have, been written on the subject.

Nonetheless, we might simplify the complexity of relationships by acknowledging two primary needs that relationships fulfill: the need for comfort and the need for growth.

Relationships are a place of refuge and soothing, and also a place where we are challenged, broken, and perhaps put back together in new ways.

Most people like the idea of being supported, validated, soothed, and generally loved unconditionally in a relationship. Few people actively seek the kind of heart-breaking conflict that inevitably comes with a relationship as it matures. And yet some people will eventually, perhaps begrudgingly, come to acknowledge and even embrace the role that relationship conflict has in their personal growth and development. It is these people who are most likely to come to appreciate and practice a kind of intimacy that is not dependent upon partner validation or reciprocity, or even upon safety and trust per se.

What is intimacy?

Intimacy is a deeply subjective feeling that is difficult to wholly define. In my book The Re-Connection Handbook for Couples, I offer this – ” Intimacy is the feeling that comes from revealing our inner self to be actively witnessed by another.”

Further into the chapter I go on to suggest –

Intimacy can feel extremely gratifying for some people, but can also be frightening or confusing. Revealing ourselves is always risky. There is no guarantee that our inner self will be embraced by the other.

If we are not embraced for what we reveal, we may feel rejected or misunderstood. This too can be valuable, opening doors to further inquiry and understanding, and also perhaps most importantly, helping us build capacity for disappointment, for tolerating the experience of not getting the validation we crave. Thus we learn to validate ourselves, represent ourselves, soothe ourselves, accept ourselves, no matter how we are received. From this perspective, risking intimacy becomes a win/win opportunity.

Two kinds of intimacy

David Schnarch, in his many books and decades of clinical practice as a sex and marriage therapist, has defined two kinds of intimacy: Other-validated and Self-validated.

Other-validated intimacy is the kind of intimacy that most people are familiar with, and defines most peoples’ experience and expectations of intimacy. As the name implies, it requires validation from the “other”. It also assumes reciprocity, safety, vulnerability, trust etc. The intimacy model understood and promoted by most therapists, coaches, and teachers is other-validated intimacy.

There is nothing wrong with other-validated intimacy. This kind of intimacy fits well with the idea that relationships are primarily places of refuge, support, safety, and comfort.

Self-validated intimacy, by contrast, rests on the principle that we can get “the feeling that comes from revealing our inner self to be actively witnessed by another” without our partner’s explicit reciprocity or validation, rather we are able to validate ourselves regardless of our partner. This is difficult, much more difficult than relying on guaranteed validation from our partner. It is precisely this difficulty that brings self-validated intimacy a unique intensity and meaning.

In other-validated intimacy, your experience must match your partner’s; all kinds of agreements – explicit and implicit – must be enforced in order for intimacy to be felt as real and legitimate.

In self-validated intimacy, your experience can remain distinct from your partner’s. The sense of intimacy comes not from merging, but from engaging in self-exploration, self-confrontation, and self-revelation, all in front of your partner. Your partner must be sufficiently willing to remain present, but little more is required of them.

In conventional thinking, conflict is the opposite of intimacy. In self-validated intimacy, even conflict and disagreement can potentially feel intimate, for one or both of you. Recalling the question “what are relationships for”, this kind of intimacy fits well with the idea that relationships are not just places of safety and refuge, but places where difficult and uncomfortable personal growth happens.

Intimacy and vulnerability

While we’re slaughtering the sacred cow, we might as well throw “vulnerability” into the mix. Vulnerability in relationships, due in no small part to the excellent work of Brené Brown, has been glorified in the extreme. I fully understand and appreciate the power of vulnerability in this context; to finally shed that armour and really let someone IN… that’s powerful stuff. But the flipside of vulnerability is not necessarily emotional armouring; it can also be confidence in one’s self, a sense of unshakeable truth and personal integrity.

How does this fit with intimacy?

In the conventional intimacy paradigm, we must make ourselves vulnerable in order to experience intimacy. We share something deep; we might get hurt (vulnerability means the possibility of being hurt).

But in the other kind of intimacy, we’re not so worried about being hurt. We recognize that we hurt ourselves when we betray our own truth and integrity much more than our partner can hurt us when they reject our truth and integrity. No matter how our partner responds, we know who we are, and we’re willing to face the consequences, come what may. Yes, these consequences might hurt us, but they’re not our central concern. We know we can handle pain, we find meaning in it, we accept the fact that it is necessary for our growth, and so we are not particularly “vulnerable” in the common sense of the word.

Confessions of an intimacy heretic

In today’s social-media-self-help culture, the idea that intimate experiences do not necessarily rest upon safety, trust, validation, and vulnerability is nothing less than heretical. It’s so far out of the recognizable intimacy paradigm that it actually makes some people angry.

Other people are skeptical, but curious. When I shared my original instagram piece on facebook, a few people offered their (welcome) input –

One person declared, “I’ve dabbled in this a handful of times. It doesn’t feel great.”

Another added, “Not sure I’d be able to do it again and again. If it does truly encourage positive experiences then how can I do more of it without it feeling wrong?”

A great point and a great question.

Intimacy of any sort doesn’t always feel good to everyone, though in the other-validated form of intimacy, the potential for good feelings is fairly obvious, ie – I’m going to reveal something that makes me feel vulnerable, and then you’re going to demonstrate your unconditional acceptance of me, and we’ll feel extremely close for a time.

Self-validated intimacy does not hinge upon feeling particularly close or “joined” with our partner. Instead, the good feeling comes from the sense of satisfaction at telling the truth about our experience in front of someone who means a great deal to us, full stop.

A brief story –

A couple in session were coming to terms with the different relationship paradigms that they each inhabited. It was personal work that they were doing in full view of each other. One of them was realizing (and revealing) that they believed relationships were primarily a place to soothe each other and make each feel safe. The other was realizing that they believed that relationships were primarily a place to challenge each other (and themselves) for the sake of personal development.

I watched this couple (listened, more precisely, as we were on the phone) confront this fundamental difference more directly than they ever had before. They were being unreservedly honest with each other, but more importantly they were being unreservedly (aka “brutally”) honest with themselves… in front of each other. The tension was palpable.

Both of these individuals were deeply invested in the relationship, and each cared deeply for the other. At the end of the session, no conclusion had been reached. Then one of them spontaneously remarked how good it felt to confront this difference with their partner, to “own” their own feelings, even though the future was as unknown, as unsafe, as ever. This person was getting a taste of self-validated intimacy. It was spontaneous and it felt surprising to the one experiencing it.

Fore-mentioned author and therapist David Schnarch calls intimacy “Awareness of the self in the context of another.” This was the experience my client was having. Notice the emphasis on the primacy of one’s own “awareness of the self” rather than on any experience of safety, trust, validation, or even connection provided by the other.

The good feelings potentially associated with self-validated intimacy take some getting used to. Other-validated intimacy is more familiar, easier to comprehend, and easier to enjoy. Self-validated intimacy tends to be more of an acquired taste, and many will never do the work it takes to acquire it.

People who are easily triggered, who identify strongly with their woundedness or trauma, or who insist on being handled very carefully will have a more difficult time appreciating the idea or enjoying the feeling of self-validated intimacy. This is not to say it can’t be achievable for anyone who wants it and works at it. I’ve seen people who have been in therapy for years previously and who consider themselves deeply traumatized individuals begin to develop a capacity and enjoyment of self-validated intimacy in just a few months of couples therapy.

Developing an understanding, tolerance, and appreciation of self-validated intimacy can potentially be healing and productive for people who suffer from trauma-related symptoms, especially when they have experienced relational trauma or abuse.

Other-validated intimacy is easy to comprehend because we’re born wired for it (it is the familiar intimacy between mother and child), while comprehending self-validated intimacy requires a level of personal development in the area of emotional differentiation and individuation of self.

In the hierarchy of emotional development in individuals, other-validated intimacy is more primary, it comes first; self-validated intimacy follows, but only if we do the personal work required.

The beauty of togetherness, of unity, the sense of merging is celebrated loudly and often. But there is an equally poignant beauty in recognizing separateness, in all its ache and desire, in lovers feeling the distance between them, their own autonomy and their partner’s, the unbridgeable gap… feeling all this right there in front of each other… This beauty is less often celebrated, probably because it is more confusing, more paradoxical, and frankly, more advanced; recognizing it requires a kind of psychological maturity or sophistication.

Intimacy after affairs and near-breakups

Conventional wisdom would assume that intimacy after the revelation of an affair would be at an all-time low. After all, the feeling of safety in a relationship at this time is pretty much nil, and the trust is gone too.

And yet, it isn’t uncommon for people who come to therapy after an affair to report feeling a kind of extraordinary intimacy with their partner. They have a difficult time explaining it. They don’t understand it. They’re often disturbed by it. They’re pretty sure they shouldn’t be feeling intimate with their partner in this situation. Sometimes they even feel guilty or ashamed at admitting what they feel.

If safety and trust are not foundational to the intimacy that arises in these situations, what is? What can we attribute it to? How shall we make sense of it?

Upon extensive inquiry I’ve discovered that this intimacy that can arise after affairs matches very closely Schnarch’s definition: “Awareness of the self in the context of another.” In this case, the “other” has become symbolic of betrayal and pain – basically the opposite of safety and trust – and yet… intimacy. Apparently intimacy does not necessarily require safety and trust. In fact, sometimes it seems to require the opposite: couples have reported to me that they have not felt so intimate in their marriage EVER, as they have when confronting an affair.

What is the “awareness of the self” that happens in these cases? I think it has something to do with an awareness of one’s ultimate separateness; call it existential separateness if you like. In the face of betrayal, we remember our separateness profoundly. Some kinds of intimacy, it turns out, depend upon this awareness of our separateness – an awareness felt most strongly “in the context of another” – rather than depending upon feelings of closeness, trust, safety, reciprocity, and validation.

A similar phenomenon can also occur when a marriage or significant relationship ends, or hovers on the brink of demise. At these times too my clients sometimes report intense feelings of intimacy.

What is happening in these cases? How to make sense of this?

One of the things that is happening is truth-telling. Feelings that have been hidden, covered up, denied, sometimes for decades, are revealed.

Not everyone has to cheat on their spouse or leave the relationship before they experience the self-validated intimacy that comes with truth-telling and confronting one’s own existential separateness. In fact, I recommend otherwise if at all possible.

What’s wrong with safety and trust in relationships?

If you’ve gotten the idea that I am arguing against the value of safety and trust in relationships, please let me clarify. I think it’s obvious that a certain sense of safety and trust must be present for most people to thrive in a relationship. What I’m suggesting is that another category of intimacy exists that is available only when we relax our grip on the idea of the centrality of other-validated safety and trust in relationship. It’s not that safety and trust don’t matter or don’t exist, it’s that we come to see them differently.

The same goes for vulnerability. It’s wonderful, and probably necessary, to make space for vulnerability in a relationship, to feel our openness and willingness to be hurt, to offer our throat to our beloved from time to time. But contrary to common belief, an intimacy beyond the vulnerability of putting our heart in our partner’s hands also exists.

Similarly, being soothed by our partner is one of life’s loveliest treasures (a treasure I personally cherish), but it’s most valuable when asked for openly or given as a gift rather than being an implicit or explicit condition of self-disclosure. The intimacy experience that arises regardless of partner soothing is of a different calibre from the intimacy that demands it. Unlike other-validated intimacy, self-validated intimacy requires us to soothe ourselves. This self-soothing is an antidote to co-dependency (emotional fusion), and a prerequisite for inter-dependency (emotional differentiation).

Returning to that question from a reader on instagram –

“If it’s not safe, why would you even bother? Why would a person remain with someone who is untrustworthy?”

Such a great question, two questions actually. Let’s examine both.

Why would you bother trying for intimacy with a person who does not always make you feel safe? Why would you be open to the idea of intimacy when you are not feeling entirely safe?

Maybe because you value the challenges that are being presented; especially the challenge to represent yourself honestly despite the absence of any guarantee. Maybe because growth and safety are not always compatible, and you’re committed to growth. Maybe because you recognize that your demands for safety come from the ancient, reptilian part of your brain, and you want to practice engaging the cognitive, human fore-brain. Maybe because you’re beginning to suspect that your safety doesn’t actually depend on what your partner thinks or how they react. (Of course I am talking about perceived emotional safety here, not actual threats to physical safety.)

In the simplest of terms, growth and the self-confrontation that growth requires rarely feel safe. If feeling “safe” with a partner means they protect you from the pain that their true feelings might cause, then your safety is very precarious indeed. Consider, the difference between the pain of woundedness and the pain of growth can be difficult to discern; sometimes the difference is all in the meaning we make of the experience.

Also, if feeling safe with a partner means they spare you the pain of facing existential separateness and existential loneliness, this safety becomes a hurdle, an Achilles heal in your own self-development. Being open to feelings of intimacy with a person who does not make you feel safe is not necessarily an act of self-betrayal or foolishness; sometimes it is an act of maturity.

Why would a person remain with someone who is untrustworthy?

It depends what one means by trust and trustworthiness. Are we talking about trusting our partner to tell us the lies we half-want and expect to hear? Trusting our partner to listen to anything we have to say without having a contradictory view or experience? Trusting our partner to keep the peace despite the war they might feel inside? Trust in our partner to prop up our self-esteem because we’re unable to do that for our self?

Or do we want to be able to trust our partner with tolerating difficult truths, both the telling and the receiving? Can we trust our partner to represent themselves honestly, even if it hurts us, or them? How about trusting our partner to allow us to face our own existential pain without trying to rescue us from it because it it makes them uncomfortable? Most importantly, do we possess the self-respect that allows us to trust our own response-ability in the ever changing landscape of our relationship? Can we trust our own judgement, our own perception? If so, our partner’s perceived trustworthiness becomes far less important.

Ideas of trust and safety are complex and multidimensional; neither should be assumed to be wholly virtuous, without shadowy aspects.

The most profound truths are difficult truths, and difficult truths rarely feel “safe.” They feel like the opposite of safe; they feel dangerous. If “trusting” our partner means that they must respond to our difficult truths with validation and make us feel “safe” in our self-disclosures, then cycles of inauthenticity (ie- lying and pretending) are established within the relationship and will certainly contaminate our experiences of intimacy.

I have observed that the safety and trust that is most profound in relationship tends to be hard-won, a product of difficulty and growth rather than of agreements, demands, compromise, or negotiations. There’s a trustworthiness and safety in knowing that your partner will stand their ground even in the face of your discomfort, but this is a truth that not everyone comes to recognize.

In closing, none of this is meant to be absolute or prescriptive. We all have to wrestle with the personal and subjective meanings of safety, trust, validation, and related themes in our relationships.

My intent here is to add some flesh to the bones of an idea I shared recently in brief; the idea that there is a kind of intimacy that is different from the conventional version. These ideas can never be expressed fully enough; an experience like intimacy is so deep, so unique, and so subjectively personal that it is, in a way, futile to try to define it or map it or even talk about it. And yet there’s some beauty even in the futility.

In some way, writing this has been an intimate experience for me. I reveal myself, presenting an idea that may be unpopular. It’s not entirely safe. I don’t trust that you will agree with me. I don’t need or expect you to validate what I have said. And I’m open to hearing your thoughts and feelings, whatever they are, because I’ve confronted my own, right here in front of you.

Follow me for sex and relationship tips, tools, and insights – Facebook | Instagram

Like what you’re reading here?
You’ll love my book.
Read the first 10 pages free.

The Re-connection handbook for couples - by Justice Schanfarber - web box2

Campbell River Marriage Counselling Justice Schanfarber Trying to grow, fix, change, understand or save your marriage? I provide couples therapy, marriage counselling, coaching and mentoring to individuals and couples on the issues that make or break relationships – Sessions by telephone/skype worldwide. Email justice@justiceschanfarber.com to request a client info package. www.JusticeSchanfarber.com

Like Justice Schanfarber on Facebook

Sign up to get my articles by email –

Like this article? Share it! You can use the buttons below –

This simple communication tool terrifies most people

Communication tools for marriage and relationshipsCommunication tools for marriage and relationships

Many people are in love with the idea that there is a communication tool that will solve their marriage or relationship troubles with a minimum of discomfort or risk. The fantasy rarely comes true, for reasons I discuss elsewhere, but there is one tool that does change everything. Ready for it?

I call it… Telling the truth.

Telling the truth is one of the simplest, most difficult, and most terrifying “communication tools” available to us in relationship. It’s far more intimidating than trying to learn your partner’s love languages, remembering to use “I-statements”, or practicing active listening.

Interestingly, popular communication tools and techniques that promise to create more intimacy in relationships often succeed at doing precisely the opposite, while telling the truth remains one of the surest paths to authentic intimacy. So why do we avoid it?

Telling the truth is hard

When we tell the truth we put ourselves on the line. When we tell the truth we open ourselves to our partner’s questioning, judgement, criticism, rejection, even disgust.

Sometimes we try to bargain away the risk of truth-telling – “I’ll tell you but you have to promise not to get mad or to judge me.” An angry or judgemental partner is apparently more than many people can tolerate.

Obviously not all truth-telling is wise or constructive, though the most profound truth-telling does inevitably carry a risk of destruction. Our innocence may be at risk of being destroyed. Or our upper hand, our righteousness. We might risk destroying something in our partner: their image of us, their sense of safety; we may fear destroying their happiness, or their love and acceptance of us.

What does it take to tell the truth?

The truth might be painful, but real truth-telling is not cruel, it is courageous. It is not manipulative, it is genuine. Cruelty and manipulation is a misuse or distortion of telling the truth. Real truth-telling presents something unarguable, something deeply subjective, something from our experience for the other to consider. Real truth-telling draws a line between our experience and our partner’s experience. It is an act of respect, integrity, and differentiation.

Telling the truth might mean confessing an action or behaviour, but the most significant truth-telling more often involves revealing difficult or complicated feelings

“I don’t like being touched like that.”

“I’m not sure I love you anymore.”

“I don’t feel attracted to you.”

“I don’t think I want children.”

“I’m having doubts.”

“I disagree.”

“I’m attracted to someone else.”

“I want something different.”

“I’m having a hard time with something you’ve done.”

“I’m angry.”

“I’m sad.”

“I’m ashamed.”

“I’ve been deceiving myself, and you.”

“I hide myself from you.”

“I punish you.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“I don’t respect you.”

“I want more.”

“I want less.”

Notice that there is no technique. Nothing fancy. The truth is straight-forward and needs no special dressing up.

Each of these examples opens the door to what we imagine will be difficult conversations. Telling the truth opens doors, but it may also close them. Most relationships are normally built, at least partially, upon untruths, and these untruths provide an uneasy equilibrium. Truth-telling is destabilizing at first; it narrows the path and demands growth. No wonder we avoid it; we’d rather find a technique that allows us to keep our relationship more or less status quo, but also somehow “better.”

If we’re really honest, we want communication tools that will make our partner understand us, even as we hide the most difficult and salient truths from them. And if we’re even more honest, we might admit that when we say we want understanding, we actually mean we want agreement; we crave some tool that will make our partner validate us and hopefully see things our way, even when we don’t have the courage to tell them the truth in plain language.

Read my book The Re-Connection Handbook for Couples to get help with telling the truth in your relationship.

Follow me for sex and relationship tips, tools, and insights – Facebook | Instagram

Like what you’re reading here?
You’ll love my book.
Read the first 10 pages free.

The Re-connection handbook for couples - by Justice Schanfarber - web box2

Campbell River Marriage Counselling Justice Schanfarber Trying to grow, fix, change, understand or save your marriage? I provide couples therapy, marriage counselling, coaching and mentoring to individuals and couples on the issues that make or break relationships – Sessions by telephone/skype worldwide. Email justice@justiceschanfarber.com to request a client info package. www.JusticeSchanfarber.com

Like Justice Schanfarber on Facebook

Sign up to get my articles by email –

Like this article? Share it! You can use the buttons below –

“Stop feeling that” – Can you tolerate your partner’s difficult feelings?

"Stop feeling that" - Can you tolerate your partner's difficult feelings?When faced with our partner’s difficult feelings, the reflexive response tends to be some version of this: “Stop feeling that.” We might dress up our response in language that sounds more caring or compassionate, but the essential meaning of our message – stop feeling that – rings loud and clear.

We want our partner to stop feeling what they are feeling because it makes us uncomfortable in a hundred ways. Until we examine the discomfort that their feelings activate in us, we will continue to respond with some version of “Stop feeling that.” The problem with this response is that it easily turns the partner’s feelings into a point of contention, defensiveness follows, and a familiar escalation of conflict is often not far behind.

The alternative?

Another possibility is to respond to our partner’s difficult feelings with some version of this: “Please tell me more.” The problem with this is that it conflicts with our true intentions and desires. “Please tell me more” is a nice idea, but the truth is that we don’t want our partner to tell us more; we want them to stop feeling that.

Who would we have to be in order to genuinely want our partner to tell us more about their difficult feelings?

First, we’d have to be someone who can tolerate our partner’s difficult feelings. This is no small task. When the people closest to us are feeling something difficult, it is virtually impossible to not feel anxious. How we manage this anxiety determines our ability to be curious about their experience rather than trying to avoid, control, or fix it. In other words, our ability to be present in relationship hinges our ability to tolerate or manage the anxiety we feel.

Many of the complaints I hear in my marriage counselling practice come down to this –

“My partner doesn’t listen to me; they try to fix me or control me. I just want to be heard.”

Of course, the person saying this isn’t always telling the whole truth. Often there is a secret desire to have our partner rescue us, or there’s a not-so-secret attempt to pin our feelings on our partner, which makes it even harder for them to just “be with us” when we are suffering. There can also be an expectation that our partner demonstrate sufficient understanding, acknowledgement, or agreement when we reveal our feelings.

These dynamics can best be seen in the context of a “relationship system.” Thinking of relationship in terms of a system means acknowledging that relationship dynamics can’t be reduced to a simple cause and effect, but rather that there are multiple inputs that shape the system in complex ways, and that each person in the system has a part in either maintaining or changing it, no matter if they see themselves as the protagonist or the antagonist.

Learn more about tolerating feelings and changing difficult relationship dynamics in my book The Re-Connection Handbook for Couples.

Follow me for sex and relationship tips, tools, and insights – Facebook | Instagram

Like what you’re reading here?
You’ll love my book.
Read the first 10 pages free.

The Re-connection handbook for couples - by Justice Schanfarber - web box2

Campbell River Marriage Counselling Justice Schanfarber Trying to grow, fix, change, understand or save your marriage? I provide couples therapy, marriage counselling, coaching and mentoring to individuals and couples on the issues that make or break relationships – Sessions by telephone/skype worldwide. Email justice@justiceschanfarber.com to request a client info package. www.JusticeSchanfarber.com

Like Justice Schanfarber on Facebook

Sign up to get my articles by email –

Like this article? Share it! You can use the buttons below –

Parenting challenges – Are there differences between fathering and mothering?

Parenting, fathers day

I noticed an interesting fathers day trend on my social media feeds this year.

One woman lamented “Fathers Day is the worst.” She wanted to share the pain of navigating fathers day as a single mom who’s ex (her child’s father) was abusive.

Another woman wanted to say “Thank you to the fathers who do not have inappropriate relationships with their children.”

And then there were various versions of “Let’s celebrate the fathers who know how to be nurturers and caregivers.”

Aside from the first example (I feel for you, but no, I’m not personally on board with the idea that fathers day is “the worst,” even though I can imagine why that would be the case for you and many others), it’s pretty easy to get generally on board with many of these messages. Yes, obviously it’s good for fathers to not have “inappropriate” relationships with their children, and yes, let’s celebrate nurturing fathering. Simple. No-brainers.

And yet I remain curious about the context, mostly because I’ve never seen these sorts of messages around mothers day, and contrast tends to catch my eye.

Can you imagine seeing mothers day memes that say “Thank you to the mothers who do not have inappropriate relationships with their children”? Or “Let’s celebrate the mothers who know how to set boundaries and hold their children accountable”? I think these messages would pretty much universally be seen to be in very bad taste on mothers day.

What to make of this? What is the meta-meaning of this phenomenon?

Is mothering harder to screw up? Does mothering just come more naturally? Are there that many more “bad” fathers than “bad” mothers?

Many of the mothers who see me in couples counselling have a difficult time understanding or tolerating their partner’s fathering style when it includes rough-housing, risk-taking, aggression, competition, brusqueness, and so on.

I’ve observed too that some mothers have a difficult time allowing the father to manage his own relationship with the children; there’s an impulse to step in and intervene, to criticize or control. I’m also aware that speaking about gender differences period, including mothering as potentially distinct from fathering, is not always welcome. When I posted a brief perspective about fathering on my facebook page, two commenters were quick to respond.

One suggested “Sexist much?”

The other declared “F*ck gender norms.”

Here’s the original post

Fathering is sometimes different from mothering. Yes, fathers can be nurturing, and this quality of fathering is valuable and needed, but good fathering also includes challenging, setting boundaries, and having expectations. Mothers can sometimes be uncomfortable with this, but a function of good mothering is making room for fathers to bring their own gifts to parenting, and allowing fathers to manage their own relationships with the kids. #fathersday

We live in a time when explicitly confronting or calling out the dark side of the archetypal father (masculine) is socially sanctioned, while confronting the dark side of the archetypal mother (feminine) is less acceptable. I chalk this up partly to the swing of the pendulum; one could say that the feminine has been on trial by the masculine for a couple thousand years and it’s time for fair turnabout.

A result of this pendulum swing is that so-called masculine traits have been made “bad” while so-called feminine traits are enjoying a time of broad and unquestioning glorification. For example, many mothers have terribly inappropriate and damaging relationships with their children, but if these inappropriate relationships resemble “nurturing” or “caring” in some ways, their inappropriateness can easily be missed or forgiven.

The dark side of nurturing (yes, nurturing has a dark side) includes smothering, poor boundaries, passive-aggressiveness, co-dependency, martyrdom, and even sexualization or inappropriate eroticization of the child… but it’s easy, almost encouraged in our cultural climate to de-emphasize or ignore this shadow.

On the other hand, a parent who “challenges” their child or holds them accountable, or assumes an appropriate developmental hierarchy in the relationship (ie – I’m the adult, you’re the child, I get the final say) will often be viewed with suspicion if not outright derision, when in fact all these qualities are an important foil to the “nurturing” that has been historically associated with mothering and which now seems to be held in absolute esteem.

In other words, certain qualities historically associated with masculinity and fathering have been reduced only to their shadow aspect; their appropriate, necessary, and positive aspects have become invisible, not because they don’t exist, but because our culture currently has a difficult time recognizing them, which perhaps comes as no surprise given the brutality that the dark masculine has inflicted.

Whether men or women are naturally more nurturing, and what should be done about it, is not a topic I’m interested in taking a position on. What I do take a stand for is the necessity for parents to allow each other their own, unique, and often differing parenting styles, and to allow each other to develop and manage their own relationships with the children, for better or for worse (obviously if there are genuine concerns about abuse, appropriate action is called for).

It’s also crucial for children to have boundaries set for them, to be challenged as well as supported, and to have expectations placed upon them. Traditionally this has often, though not always, been the role of the father. If an individual or couple – hetero, same sex, gender fluid, whatever – would prefer to “F*ck gender norms,” then please do. Switch up the roles. Mix ’em up however suits you. But please do not jettison altogether the value of boundaries, challenge, and expectations in parenting. Nurturing is wonderful and should be celebrated, but it does have its own dark side, and even at its very best nurturing is probably not entirely sufficient on its own.

Follow me on social media for sex and relationship tips, tools, and insights – Facebook | Instagram

Like what you’re reading here?
You’ll love my new book.
Read the first 10 pages free.

The Re-connection handbook for couples - by Justice Schanfarber - web box2

8-week Relationship Intensive - Justice Schanfarber

Campbell River Marriage Counselling Justice Schanfarber Trying to grow, fix, change, understand or save your marriage? I provide couples therapy, marriage counselling, coaching and mentoring to individuals and couples on the issues that make or break relationships – Sessions by telephone/skype worldwide. Email justice@justiceschanfarber.com to request a client info package. www.JusticeSchanfarber.com

Like Justice Schanfarber on Facebook

Sign up to get my articles by email –

Like this article? Share it! You can use the buttons below –

Is it possible to love without attachment?

Is it possible to love without attachment?Dear Justice,

I’ve been listening to some Buddhist teachings on love and attachment. This teacher says that to truly love someone is to want them to be happy, with or without you, but usually what we really want is for ourselves to be happy, and we believe we need someone else to make us happy. We call this love, but that is not love says the Buddhist teacher, that is attachment, and attachment is the cause of suffering.

I’ve struggled a lot with love. It’s true that the love I’m used to has caused me a lot of suffering, so maybe it hasn’t been real love at all! My question – Is it really possible to love someone without attachment?

Signed,
In love and suffering

Dear In love and suffering,

The kind of love that is incompatible with being attached to someone or loving them for your own pleasure is a spiritual love. Spiritual love is a high ideal, and one that some people are called to. In a way, attachment IS the cause of suffering just as the ascetic spiritual traditions teach, and so it makes sense from that point of view that if we want to be free of suffering we should attempt to eliminate our attachments. Since romantic love has caused you a lot of suffering personally, I can see why it would be appealing to trade it in for a love without attachment. But please understand, it won’t be the same love.

Buddhists tend to idealize the emotional equanimity that comes with “non-attachment”. For some this offers a satisfying and enriching path, despite its difficulties. For others the ideal becomes an exercise in self-deception, what is commonly called “spiritual bypass” – rather than face the suffering that comes with the attachments of life, one tries to trick oneself into enlightenment by avoiding life rather than engaging with it. Still others manage to work fruitfully with the tension and dilemmas that come with attachment, even while they continue to live an engaged life.

The classical Greeks offer a different perspective on love altogether. They did not see love as mutually exclusive from attachment (or suffering for that matter), but rather they recognized at least four distinct kinds of love; we’ll look at two: Agape and Eros.

For the Greeks, Agape is spiritual, selfless love. Genitals are not included in this kind of love because bodily desire is not included.

Eros provides a darker foil to Agape. Eros is romantic or erotic love. It is sexually charged and desirous (genitals included).

In some stories the Greek God Eros was said to be mothered by Aphrodite, Goddess of love, and fathered by Ares, God of war. This parentage should give us clues to the temperament of Eros. Erotic love is understood to be frictious and troublesome, obsessive and personal, full of projection and confusion, and yes, suffering. Erotic love is also passionate, invigorating, colourful, and joyous. It’s a mixed bag.

So, do you want a cool and non-attached love? Or do you want a hot love that includes attachment, as well as passion and the associated suffering? There’s no wrong answer, but it’s worth adding that one makes a place for desire, including fucking and other forms of passion, while the other treats desire as a problem, something to be liberated from.

Interestingly, erotic love also has a psychological association that non-attached spiritual love does not. In the old stories Eros himself falls in love with a mortal woman named Psyche. Their love relationship is rocky, there is attachment and suffering in spades, but the suffering is psychologically meaningful; it helps the couple grow.

The Buddhist perspective in your question assumes that liberation from the entanglements of both Eros and Psyche is preferable to the psychological deepening that suffering in love can provide. Another way to say this is that attachment and suffering (and fucking for that matter) might be the enemies of spirituality, but they can be necessary for the soul (to read more about spirit as distinct from soul and the spiritual journey as distinct from the soul journey click here).

We’ve been looking at this in polarized terms for the sake of clarity and understanding, but these may not be mutually exclusive realms. We can question our attachments in love even as we wrestle with and even indulge them (I sometimes hold my partner’s face in my hands and teasingly tell her “I’m so attached to you”).

Can you have it both ways – can you do away with suffering and still feel the kind of fiery love that many crave? Probably not. Is it worth trying? Maybe, but keep in mind that much hinges on the meaning that you make of your suffering. If you believe, as I understand Buddhists do, that suffering is essentially meaningless, then suffering and attachment merely become problems to solve, something to be liberated from. But if you find psychological or soul meaning in the suffering and attachment of erotic love, then suffering becomes perhaps not only tolerable, but even purposeful.

Thanks for asking hard questions.

All My Best,
Justice

Follow me on social media for sex and relationship tips, tools, and insights – Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Like what you’re reading here?
You’ll love my new book.
Read the first 10 pages free.

The Re-connection handbook for couples - by Justice Schanfarber - web box2

8-week Relationship Intensive - Justice Schanfarber

Campbell River Marriage Counselling Justice Schanfarber Trying to grow, fix, change, understand or save your marriage? I provide couples therapy, marriage counselling, coaching and mentoring to individuals and couples on the issues that make or break relationships – Sessions by telephone/skype worldwide. Email justice@justiceschanfarber.com to request a client info package. www.JusticeSchanfarber.com

Like Justice Schanfarber on Facebook

Sign up to get my articles by email –

Like this article? Share it! You can use the buttons below –

How to be present in your relationship – A guide for men and women

How to be present in your relationshipThree year ago I wrote an article titled “Why women leave men they love – What every man needs to know.” At the heart of this little article is one big idea… Presence matters. It matters a lot. Presence might even matter the most. You can be a great provider or parent and everything else, but if you are not able or willing to be present to your partner you are likely to find yourself in relationship trouble.

What is presence? Why does it matter?

What does presence mean in a relationship, and why does it matter so much? I will often hear a client (usually a woman, but not always) lament that their partner does not feel “present” in the relationship. This feeling of lack, so acutely felt by one person, can be a complete mystery to their partner. I’ll have someone tell me in session (usually a man, but not always) “My partner says I’m not present in our relationship… I have no idea what they mean.”

Here’s the short answer, then we’ll dig deeper into the question:

When your partner complains that you are not present in your relationship they usually mean you are distracted – in your head, on your phone, checked out, too tired etc – but underneath it probably also means that you are unable to meet them emotionally. There might be good reasons for this. You might find their emotions confusing, overwhelming, or even boring. You might not be used to engaging with someone on an emotional level (many people are raised in non-emotional or overly-emotional households and do not learn emotional skills). You might even feel cut off from your own emotions, which makes you unavailable to them. Or maybe you just don’t enjoy emotional closeness as much as your partner does, which is fair, and is probably a good thing to explicitly tell them.

The primary definition of presence in the dictionary is pretty straightforward – “the state or fact of existing, occurring” – but not very helpful. Clearly you exist, but existing or occurring is not always enough to be felt as present. The kind of presence we talk about in relationship is about the particular quality of your presence… how you show up… how you are experienced by your partner.

A second definition of presence sheds more light, “the bearing, carriage, or air of a person.” Here we begin to see how the mere fact of existing is necessarily coloured by particular qualities. But what are these qualities? What sort of bearing or carriage are we talking about?

A third definition of presence deepens the mystery, but also reveals a clue, “a person or thing that exists or is present in a place but is not seen; something (such as a spirit) felt or believed to be present.” Ah! The kind of presence that many hunger for in a relationship (maybe you, maybe your partner) is actually invisible! In a sense this is true. The kind of presence desired in a relationship may be more felt than seen; it is the spirit in which you present yourself.

In what sort of spirit do you typically present yourself to your partner? It’s a good question. A spirit of curiosity? A spirit of problem-solving or solutions? A spirit of exhaustion? Limited attention? A spirit of acceptance? A spirit of denial? A spirit of confidence? Vulnerability? Receptivity? A spirit of scepticism? What is your typical bearing, carriage, or air? The possible answers are infinite, but probably you habitually show up in a narrow and predictable way just like most of us.

When a person complains that their partner is not “present” they usually mean that they do not feel seen, known, and engaged. They feel invisible, alone, and disconnected.

Presence in this sense is first about paying attention and not being distracted. Having your wits about you. Being solid, grounded, in the moment. Presence also implies a certain kind of non-judgemental attitude, a capacity to listen and to hear. When we are present with our partner we give them our attention and we allow them to be as they are. This kind of presence is simple, but also sophisticated. And these days it can be rare.

This kind of presence is also closely associated with the feeling of intimacy (I explain this more fully in my book The Re-Connection Handbook for Couples). This feeling runs deep for many, and it can become a deal-maker or deal-breaker in a relationship.

How to practice being present

If we want to learn to be more present in our relationship we must put aside our agenda for our partner. Most of us have an idea of how our partner could be improved – how they could be better, more happy, or more effective if only they would change this or that habit or way of being. This agenda for our partner is incompatible with being truly present. You can come back to your partner improvement plan another time, but if you want to practice being present you’ll need to put it aside for now.

Being present has zero to do with changing, fixing, or problem solving. To be present, we must develop a tolerance for the contradictions and dilemmas that our partner reveals. Our mind must remain receptive and clear, or these contradictions and dilemmas will get stuck in there and make noise, and soon we find ourselves offering advice or trying to fix our partner; in that moment our presence has disappeared, and our partner feels the pain of its absence.

Sometimes our partner has a criticism of us. If the criticism seems particularly unkind or unfair, our defences will likely kick in. As soon as we go into defence mode we have lost the spirit of presence. Addressing our partner’s criticism may be necessary, but first take a few moments to hear what your partner is really saying. Pause. Experiencing you as present, listening, attentive, might have a disarming effect. Sometimes this turns out to be all that is required.

Being present doesn’t mean being invincible; this isn’t about armouring yourself. You’re still allowed to feel the impact of your partner’s words and actions. In fact, being present makes you more sensitive, not less, but it also makes you more capable of tolerating emotional discomforts.

It also doesn’t mean being an emotional punching bag or doormat. We can potentially argue and defend ourselves and still remain present, but it’s hard to do both at once. And sometimes presence might not be called for, might not be the goal. It’s not like you have to be 100% present at all times. That would probably be exhausting. Nonetheless, for many people a move toward more presence in the relationship is called for and will have positive effects. Sometimes it turns a failing relationship around.

Being present first to your own inner experience helps you respond skilfully and accurately to your partner. When we are present to our own experience as well as simultaneously being present to our partner’s, we are better able to sort out our own emotionality. For example, being present allows us to discern between our hurt feelings and our anger, and thus gives us the opportunity to cut to the truth and then respond accordingly. Being present to yourself really just means that you know what you are feeling, that you’re familiar with yourself from the inside out.

Much non-presence stems from an unwillingness to see and feel without too much judgement. When we can not tolerate the truth of our self or our partner, and this is common, we will not allow ourselves to be truly present.

Presence, sex, and eroticism

It’s worth noting that the kind of presence we are talking about here can be a crucial factor for feelings of sexual connection. Without the feeling of presence in a partner, many people (especially women) do not become aroused, even if they wish it were otherwise. Presence in this sense is not the same as mere familiarity (nor opposite to it) but is instead related to the immediacy and the aliveness of the moment; presence indicates aliveness, and in a sexual context has a particular kind of feel.

This feeling of erotic presence and aliveness is difficult to define and to talk about. If we don’t have a clear understanding of it or a shared language for discussing it, the lack of erotic presence becomes all the more frustrating and damaging to the relationship.

Making your presence felt

Demonstrating presence sends our partner the message that we truly see them, that they are known. This tends to have a moderating effect on the nervous systems of both involved; it calms us down and reduces anxiety, and it just generally feels good. Regardless of the content of our verbal interactions, experiencing each other as present feels good and satisfying on a fundamental, non-verbal level.

Being present to our partner and sensing their presence with us is a way to build trust and goodwill. When this trust and goodwill is available we feel nourished from our interactions, and we are able to better weather the storms of life; we experience more enjoyment in the relationship, and more gratitude for each other. Presence also helps us navigate conflict when it arises. Presence is helpful and appropriate in times of relationship peace, love, conflict, and war.

Presence doesn’t come naturally to everybody, but it can be practiced and learned.

Practicing presence

The first prerequisite for being present is an ability to tolerate emotion, yours and your partners. Sometimes this means tolerating strong emotions. If you habitually avoid conflict (or instigate it) you’ll need to address this one way or another.

Other qualities of presence to practice include –

Curiosity
Can you be curious about your partner and their experience (maybe you think you know everything about them already)? Can you be curious about your own as well?

Awareness
Let all your senses be open to this person. Notice all that they are communicating, verbally and also subtly, through body language, tone etc. Let the raw data wash over you, do not get stuck in interpretation.

Self-awareness
Notice how your body and mind automatically reacts to your partner. Where does your body tense up? Where does it collapse? What are the words, stories, images that run through your mind as you are present to your partner?

Non-judgement
It isn’t the time to judge them wrong or right, good or bad. Let them be as they are. Practice moral neutrality. (Note – Discernment, aka judgement, is often necessary and appropriate, but it’s also worth putting it aside for a time in order to be present in a more simple and direct way.)

Courage
It takes courage to face someone exactly as they are!

Differentiation
Your partner’s experience isn’t yours. Feeling the boundary between you rather than taking what they say personally helps you be more present.

Listening
Even if you’re in conversation, practice listening deeply when it’s your time to listen.

Presence has a strong physiological aspect as well as mental, emotional, and psychological. Feeling “grounded” in your own body is necessary in order to be present to another. In fact, your partner’s body silently and automatically reads your body for cues (and vice versa) in every moment. These cues either agitate or calm their own physiological systems.

To optimize your own physiology so as to communicate the right kind of presence and send the right cues, use these tips –

1. Sit or stand tall and comfortably with your shoulders comfortably back.

2. Face your partner. Let the front of your body face the front of their body. Now let the front of your body soften and relax. This softened front body signals receptivity and willingness to engage.

3. Maintain eye contact, possibly more than usual.

4. Soften your facial features. This sends a signal to your nervous system (and your partner’s) that all is well.

5. Bring your awareness to your breath, to its natural pattern of rising and falling. If your breath is shallow, try deepening it. Keep your breath slow and deep, steady and strong, natural and relaxed. Let yourself feel nourished by your breath. If you notice yourself becoming agitated, falling into reaction or judgement, or otherwise losing your quality of presence, bring your attention back to the sensations of your breath rising and falling. Let the steady rhythm of your breath be the place that your quality of presence comes from.

Adopting a physical posture of presence along with the qualities of curiosity, awareness, self-awareness, non-judgement, courage, differentiation, and listening will make your presence feel even more powerful and satisfying for both of you.

Learning to improve your quality of presence in your marriage or relationship is a lifelong practice that pays big dividends. Use the instructions and outline above to hone your practice. A basic mindfulness meditation practice can also help. If you need more support, talk to a counsellor, coach, or therapist.

Follow me on social media for sex and relationship tips, tools, and insights – Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Like what you’re reading here?
You’ll love my new book.
Read the first 10 pages free.

The Re-connection handbook for couples - by Justice Schanfarber - web box2

8-week Relationship Intensive - Justice Schanfarber

Campbell River Marriage Counselling Justice Schanfarber Trying to grow, fix, change, understand or save your marriage? I provide couples therapy, marriage counselling, coaching and mentoring to individuals and couples on the issues that make or break relationships – Sessions by telephone/skype worldwide. Email justice@justiceschanfarber.com to request a client info package. www.JusticeSchanfarber.com

Like Justice Schanfarber on Facebook

Sign up to get my articles by email –

Like this article? Share it! You can use the buttons below –

The “no-come quickie” – Sexual fuel for your relationship?

The no-come quickie... Fuel for a relationship?A woman colleague confided to me that three or four times a week she propositions her man with a casual, “Want to fuck me for a few minutes?” Apparently he’s very likely to drop what he’s doing and oblige.

I asked the woman (we’ll call her Linda) what she gets from these brief encounters with her partner. I was curious in a general way (because that’s my nature), but more specifically I was curious because of my belief, both personal and professional, that women tend not to be big fans of “quickie” sex.

Linda was happy to enlighten me –

“When I was younger I resented the quickie. The guy would get off, roll over and snore or whatever, and I was left there feeling like a chump. But these days it’s different. It’s changed.”

What is different? What has changed, I wanted to know.

It turns out quite a few things have changed. For starters, Linda’s partner rarely ejaculates during these impromptu sessions, and that makes a big difference for Linda.

“He has control over his ejaculation. Most of the times we have sex he doesn’t come, and he almost never comes during one of our quickies.”

Linda informed me that she usually doesn’t orgasm either during these short, spontaneous interludes, which had me curious again… If there are no orgasms, what does this couple get from this? Again Linda was quick to explain –

“I like sex. I like all kinds of sex. Our no-come quickies energize us both and make us feel connected. They’re a way to build up our sexual energy, and because there’s no release, that sexual energy is with us all day. Our quickies don’t replace the deeper, more intimate and creative sex that we also enjoy; they complement it. Our little fuck sessions are like foreplay for life.”

No-come quickies take about ten minutes out of the couple’s day. There are no orgasms, no loss of sexual energy, and so that energy gets carried forward, bringing an extra spark into the day.

Says Linda –

“It’s easy and energizing. There’s no cost, nothing lost… It makes us feel close and connected, it builds our sexual attraction and desire… Why doesn’t everyone do it?”

I considered Linda’s question. No-come quickies… why doesn’t everyone do it? I can actually think of many reasons why everyone doesn’t do it. It’s simply not going to be appealing to everyone, for many good reasons. But then again, it’s also a great reminder of what’s possible when we continue to embrace our sexuality within a long-term domestic relationship.

Follow me on social media for sex and relationship tips, tools, and insights – Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Like what you’re reading here?
You’ll love my new book.
Read the first 10 pages free.

The Re-connection handbook for couples - by Justice Schanfarber - web box2

8-week Relationship Intensive - Justice Schanfarber

Campbell River Marriage Counselling Justice Schanfarber Trying to grow, fix, change, understand or save your marriage? I provide couples therapy, marriage counselling, coaching and mentoring to individuals and couples on the issues that make or break relationships – Sessions by telephone/skype worldwide. Email justice@justiceschanfarber.com to request a client info package. www.JusticeSchanfarber.com

Like Justice Schanfarber on Facebook

Sign up to get my articles by email –

Like this article? Share it! You can use the buttons below –

“My husband’s anger is wrecking our marriage.”

My husband's anger is hurting our marriage

Brian and Glory had been working with me for just over a year. The complex impulses and patterns shaping their relationship were slowly being revealed. Brian had a war-like energy, and could escalate a conflict to massive proportions in a matter of moments. This frightened Glory, who disliked conflict and shied away from any expressions of anger, even just a raised voice. To Glory it was obvious that, faced with a partner’s anger, any reasonable person would naturally want to retreat.

Glory was a highly intelligent and sensitive woman, and she had been clear in our sessions that she was willing to investigate her role in perpetuating the conflict cycle that had developed. Nonetheless, despite her stated willingness in this regard, she always came up empty handed when searching for her own complicity. After all, it was HE who would raise his voice, it was HIS anger that would spark and catch fire.

Many counsellors, as well as family and friends, will naturally side with the more “peaceful” person in this dynamic, the assumption being that the onus is on the “war-like” personality to change. This bias has its problems, as we’ll see.

To really understand all that is going on beneath the surface of a relationship like Glory’s and Brian’s it’s useful to take problem-solving off the table for a time. I like to do this transparently with clients, and to get their explicit consent and participation. I assure them that we can and will come back to the matter of solutions, but for now, I ask, can we just investigate without any agenda… can we simply be curious? Interestingly, this is where change tends to actually begin. When we start to examine a relationship with simple, genuine curiosity we make new discoveries. Sometimes I make the discoveries and present them to the client to consider, sometimes they make the discoveries.

Putting problem solving aside allowed Glory and Brian to come to some new realizations about their relationship patterns. By doing “little experiments” (this is a Hakomi term for setting up small, carefully controlled interactions for the purposes of observing the experience and noticing habitual responses) Glory discovered that she had virtually no tolerance for anger or conflict. In the face of anger, even the subtlest anger, she would begin to retreat. The idea of meeting anger or conflict face-on had never even occurred to her as a possibility.

In Glory’s world, anger and conflict were intolerable. They were, in the simplest terms… bad. It made sense that she had been unable to identify any role that she might play in the relationship conflict cycles that plagued her marriage. After all, she always did everything in her power to avoid anger and conflict!

Once it dawned on her that her aversion to conflict and anger might actually be her role in the pattern, Glory had something to work with. She experimented with facing anger and conflict more directly. This let her see just how conflict-avoidant she was, and she got a glimpse of how this part of her personality had shaped her life.

Now remember, we’re still in simple curiosity mode. No problem solving, no prescribing, just noticing. And we’re not just talking about anger and conflict, we’re actually working with it as it comes up in session. We’re doing little experiments all the time. This requires a particular orientation from a therapist – they must recognize these opportunities as they naturally arise and use them for a client’s insight and learning.

This is not an orientation every therapist shares. I’ve been witness to many sessions where a counsellor does just the opposite; they try to calm down or smooth over strong emotions or outbursts in session so that they can get back to talking about the couple’s problems from a safe distance. Certainly there are times for de-escalation and peace-keeping, but if this is always the strategy, and if it is an automatic or unconscious strategy, opportunities will be missed, and old cycles will continue.

Back to Glory and Brian… Glory has now realized that she has always treated anger and conflict as inherently bad, something to be avoided, and she is beginning to see how this avoidance has both perpetuated their cycle, and has blinded her to role within it. She sees that her task may be to confront Brian’s anger and, it is revealed later in our sessions, perhaps her own as well; not surprisingly, it isn’t just other people’s anger that makes her uncomfortable.

Here’s what I presented to this couple and asked them to consider –

The moment that Brian feels Glory retreat in even the smallest way, he panics (it took some careful attention for him to recognize the degree of this panic response). Brian’s panic is expressed first as annoyance or criticism, but then moves quickly into rage. His rage is the rage of abandonment.

On her side of the equation, the moment Glory feels the smallest expression of Brian’s annoyance or criticism, she begins to retreat; she knows what is coming next. It’s crucial to note that we are talking about the tiniest expressions here. Barely discernible eye movements. Subtle changes in body language, posture, or verbal tone. Like most long-term couples, Brian and Glory are exquisitely attuned to each others state of being, and like most couples they are in denial of the power that their anxiety holds over each other and the relationship.

As I’ve often explained in my various writings, our nervous systems are in constant communication with each other, for better or for worse. Most of this communication is happening below conscious awareness, hence those conversations that everyone knows, beginning with –

“Why are you looking at me like that?”

“Like what?”

“Like THAT.”

“I’m not looking at you like anything!”

As we debriefed a particular incident that had threatened to escalate into a familiar multi-day meltdown, I was struck by the fact that both Brian and Glory experienced major incongruence between their two accounts of the event; they believed that their stories did not match. But I found their two stories remarkably consistent, the only notable discrepancy being this –

Each was acutely aware of each others subtle cues, but more or less oblivious of their own.

Glory could describe in detail Brian’s eye movements and the change of tone in his voice that led her to retreat, and yet she was blind to her equivalent cues to Brian, cues that essentially said “I’m disconnecting from you now.”

Conversely, Brian had a photographic memory of the moment Glory averted her gaze, and how that affected him, but he could not understand how his accusatory tone could possibly elicit such a strong response from her.

This was a good opportunity to draw some parallels. I explained that their two accounts of the same event sounded remarkably congruent to me, and I observed that each of them put disproportionate significance on each others cues, while downplaying the impact of their own responses on each other.

In other words, Brian couldn’t believe that a tiny little bit of criticism from him could make Glory retreat so dramatically, and Glory was baffled that the mere hint of disconnection or retreat from her could throw Brian into a rage. Each downplayed their own cues and reactions, while simultaneously inflating the other’s.

“I get a little angry. No big deal. But then she totally withdraws!”

“I take a little space for a few minutes, like any normal person, and then he totally blows up!”

The behaviour of each is deeply habitual, and feels completely “natural” from the subjective point of view. Neither Brian nor Glory could imagine how their minor little habits could trigger such a strong reaction in the other. A switch gets flipped, for both of them, a switch that runs right to their core.

As we continued experimenting and gaining insight through a collaborative curiosity and a willingness to suspend judgement, Glory and Brian each discovered how much impact their own triggers had on each other, and how this caused the escalation they experienced.

This was in important and ongoing discovery. Previously, they had dismissed each other’s reactions, while simultaneously holding their own to be natural and valid. Now they were each beginning to see how the other’s experience was as legitimate, in its own way, as their own. This, by the way, is an example of genuine empathy.

Practicing empathy is a foundation of much couples therapy. In my counselling practice, however, I have found it more or less futile to try and make couples “practice” empathy by force of will. Empathy has its own nature and arises spontaneously when the conditions are right. Having an actual felt experience of each other’s vulnerability, coupled with a growing understanding of each other’s life experiences, outlooks, and character provided the right conditions for empathy to organically emerge. This allowed Glory and Brian to imagine themselves more as allies than adversaries, and it set the ground for co-operation as we began to address behavioural change.

As we began to address behavioural change and taking responsibility for one’s own actions, we started with some education on what I call “building capacity.” Both Glory and Brian needed to develop tolerance for each others anxious behaviours.

Brian needed to practice allowing Glory to make small retreats. Glory needed to practice allowing Brian to express anger or criticism. Neither Brian’s anxious anger nor Glory’s anxious withdrawal were inherently bad or wrong, and they only threatened the relationship to the degree that each could not tolerate the other. By growing their capacity, stretching their tolerance for each other, the burden of change falls on neither, and yet both are apt to find their own way of changing. Like most profound relationship work, it’s paradoxical. By allowing each other to be themselves, by practicing tolerating one another, a behaviour pattern is interrupted and the stage is set for change based on personal maturation; much more valuable than ultimatums or even negotiated compromise.

Change that comes out of growing our capacity feels satisfying and nourishing. It’s a source of pride and freedom. Change that comes from making demands, ultimatums, or even negotiated agreements about behaviour – “You promise to do this and I promise I won’t do that” – tends to be short-lived and can even be potentially destructive.

You might have noticed that there is virtually no story, no content, no “he said/she said” included in the account above. That’s because the issue that this couple faces isn’t, at core, about a particular disagreement or argument. Their conflict is rooted in something much deeper. We might call it habituated nervous system responses, or we could use another lens and call it attachment styles. The point is, we could spend forever dancing around the details of who said what and who did what, but underneath all that are two nervous systems doing their thing. Attending too much to “story and content” would just distract us from the work of capacity building.

So how to build capacity? How to develop tolerance for our partner’s small cues that set us off?

First we must begin to notice that which has always gone unnoticed. Brian and Glory, like all of us, developed strategies early in their lives for getting their needs met – needs for safety, for connection, for soothing, for autonomy, and so on. These strategies are unconscious, and are sometimes even pre-verbal. We make certain decisions about how to be in the world and with others before we even begin speaking as children. These strategies do not live in our conscious mind, they are held in the body, in the nervous system, in the emotional and instinctive parts of ourselves.

When these unconscious strategies get expressed in our adult relationships, they might create strong impulses and feelings (or perhaps numbness), but they tend to elude conscious awareness. Because they feel so naturally a part of us, it’s necessary to practice recognizing them. Until we do some work examining them, they really aren’t negotiable, they’re more or less hardwired. It’s also worth mentioning that the gender associations in Glory and Brian’s case can just as easily be reversed; a woman might tend toward anger and a man toward withdrawal, in fact I see this just as commonly.

Our task is to start noticing how we respond to particular stimuli, how we react to our partner’s cues. We practice in session, slowing down these interactions and noticing the subtleties contained within. From here, with a little experience under their belts, client couples will take this practice into their lives. If they will continue this difficult work, they will likely be rewarded. To learn more, read my book The Re-Connection Handbook for Couples – Insights and practices for cultivating love, sex, and intimacy (even in difficult times).

Follow me on social media for sex and relationship tips, tools, and insights – Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Like what you’re reading here?
You’ll love my new book.
Read the first 10 pages free.

Trying to grow, fix, change, understand or save your marriage? I provide couples therapy, marriage counselling, coaching and mentoring to individuals and couples on the issues that make or break relationships – Sessions by telephone/skype worldwide. Email justice@justiceschanfarber.com to request a client info package. www.JusticeSchanfarber.com

Sign up to get my articles by email –

Want to share this article? Use the buttons below.

Like great art, great sex disturbs.

Great sex great artThere’s a certain kind of sex that is like the best art. The best art expresses something hidden in the artist’s soul, something that calls, that may inspire and torture until it is revealed, borne through the artist’s medium.

Sex too can be the artistic medium, an expression of what is hidden in the soul, shadowy qualities and callings. But this kind of sex is maybe even more rare, more difficult, more demanding than the best art, for two human beings are required; two human beings collaborating blindly, blindly because they do not understand the contents of their soul any more than does the artist.

No matter how good you are at sex, how much “consciousness” you bring, how “sacredly” you view sex… Sex that speaks from the soul, sex that is like the best art, is always a blind or semi-blind invocation because it comes only partly from us and mostly from forces hidden, the soul’s contents being revealed in each moment – pleasure, then terror, then shame, hope, pleasure again – glimpses of understanding through the eyes of Psyche and Eros, glimpses fraught (as they must be, this is art!) with great danger and mysterious blessings.

And oftentimes no one to see. No witnesses. This art is hung in no galleries. It is mostly secret art.

Pornography attempts perhaps to reveal the soul in sex, to bring it out of hiding and into the cultural eye, but it captures only fragments of a particular frequency. Pornography fails to the degree that it does not only because it omits love; anyone who believes that sex is only (or even mostly) about love is missing the fuller soul message of sex. Love is but one face of soul’s desire.

Great art disturbs. And great sex too. Both pull at the threads of the veil that protects us from seeing too much, from going too deep; there’s a veil that protects us from seeing more than we can fathom. As the veil unravels we are confronted with hidden chambers of the psyche. Whether through great art or great sex, what we glimpse down there disturbs us… longing married to repulsion… tenderness mired in brutality. It’s difficult to know, moment to moment, if we are being created or destroyed, healed or wounded. We lose our innocence, so desperately clutched, and we become initiated.

Consider too the words of the 19th century German philosopher  Schopenhauer as he describes his ideas about the feeling of the “sublime” (from The World as Will and Representation) –

  • Feeling of Beauty – Light is reflected off a flower. (Pleasure from a mere perception of an object that cannot hurt observer).
  • Weakest Feeling of Sublime – Light reflected off stones. (Pleasure from beholding objects that pose no threat, objects devoid of life).
  • Weaker Feeling of Sublime – Endless desert with no movement. (Pleasure from seeing objects that could not sustain the life of the observer).
  • Sublime – Turbulent Nature. (Pleasure from perceiving objects that threaten to hurt or destroy observer).
  • Full Feeling of Sublime – Overpowering turbulent Nature. (Pleasure from beholding very violent, destructive objects).
  • Fullest Feeling of Sublime – Immensity of Universe’s extent or duration. (Pleasure from knowledge of observer’s nothingness and oneness with Nature).

Follow me on social media for sex and relationship tips, tools, and insights – Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Like what you’re reading here?
You’ll love my new book.
Read the first 10 pages free.

The Re-connection handbook for couples - by Justice Schanfarber - web box2

8-week Relationship Intensive - Justice Schanfarber

Campbell River Marriage Counselling Justice Schanfarber Trying to grow, fix, change, understand or save your marriage? I provide couples therapy, marriage counselling, coaching and mentoring to individuals and couples on the issues that make or break relationships – Sessions by telephone/skype worldwide. Email justice@justiceschanfarber.com to request a client info package. www.JusticeSchanfarber.com

Like Justice Schanfarber on Facebook

Sign up to get my articles by email –

Like this article? Share it! You can use the buttons below –

Difficult music – “I just want more harmony in my relationship.”

Harmony in relationships“I just want more harmony in my relationship.”

Many of the people who come to me for help tell me they want more harmony in their relationship, and I like using the idea of harmony to help understand what happens between two people in a marriage or relationship.

I recently had a client tell me “I love when my wife and I are just humming along at the same frequency.” I think this is true for many; we like humming along at the same frequency.

Reflecting on this idea of harmony and frequencies in relationship some analogies and insights arose –

First, we all tend to have our preferred frequency… And we also have a preferred frequency for our partner. In truth though, while we have a frequency that we strive for, there are actually a multitude of frequencies continually vibrating our psyche and shaping our being, and the same is true for our partner. This is an important truth to acknowledge for reasons we’ll explore.

Musical ideas of harmony indicate a mixing of frequencies, which is a somewhat different notion from “humming along at the same frequency.” Two people at the same frequency isn’t really harmony at all; it’s a monotone.

What is harmony in a relationship?

A harmony is a blending of different frequencies. In a relationship this means a mix of different moods, opinions, perspectives, ways of being. These different moods and ways of being move both in ourselves as individuals, and between us in relation to our partner. If we acknowledge this we see that many different kinds of harmonies are likely.

We’re likely to favour one particular type of harmony in our relationship. Our favoured harmony may or may not match our partner’s.

Different harmonies reflect different moods, feelings, images. Harmonies are organized into various keys or modes. In musical language, a “major” key has a strong unified tone, it drives forward, implies action. A “minor” key lags back, there’s melancholy, uncertainty. Other keys or harmonies correlate with tension, aggression, completion, sadness, joy, and so on.

The classical Greeks understood musical modes (keys) as expressions of various patterns of feeling, the same archetypal patterns or forces that continue to move through us and our relationships today.

When we say we want “harmony” in our relationship, we are usually talking about one particular type of harmony based on our preferred moods, modes, or frequencies. We want to feel one certain type of “feeling tone” in our relationship.

Too often we forget or ignore the multitude of frequencies in and around us, and so we dismiss a multitude of possible harmonies that are being played (or playing us) in our lives together. We fail to appreciate the complex or difficult harmonies woven into our relationship, sounds that to the uninitiated ear sound dissonant, non-musical.

In this sense, it behooves us to broaden our musical repertoire. We may have a strong preference for upbeat pop songs, and so avoid those harmonies that evoke longing, sadness, tension, or other modes of feeling we deem “negative” or undesirable.

The less pleasant harmonies of our lives and relationships may be muffled through our efforts, but they will not be silenced.

The difficult music of composers and improvisers like John Cage or John Coltrane might not match your preferred harmonies, but they may perfectly represent some of that multitude of frequencies that get too little appreciation in life and love.

Music that is built upon difficult, complex harmonies may not get us up and dancing; its purpose is different. Difficult harmonies give voice to the more dark, confusing, or troublesome frequencies that are part of the multitude running through each of us.

In a relationship we tend to reject difficult feelings out of preference for our favoured feelings, and yet if those difficult feelings get no voice they start to rattle and make noise. Harmonies reflect feelings, and feelings are multitudinous.

We may want a “happy” marriage, we may insist upon it, and so try to amplify only those chords that match our desire, but the multitude of frequencies that move us may pull us instead toward harmonies that are more challenging, and these challenges potentially introduce us to further richness and depth. There’s a reason that music appreciation classes are taught in colleges and universities; difficult and complex music requires a special kind of listening. The point of these classes isn’t to simplify the music, the point is to learn how to appreciate it, to listen differently, more deeply, to refine our musical aesthetic.

We can change the dial, always trying to find our favourite song, or we can develop a more sophisticated ear, finding the beauty – perhaps aching or terrible – in all the precious music, all the difficult harmonies running through our life and relationship.

Want more harmony in your marriage or relationship? Try this exercise –

If you’ve ever felt like you want more harmony in your marriage or relationship, try this exercise –

Choose some music that represents the particular type of relationship harmony you prefer. Discover the feeling tone of the music. Give it a name – Upbeat. Intense. Chill. Difficult. Sensuous. Fun. Dark. What music does your partner choose to represent the kind of relationship harmony they prefer?

Now find some music to represent the moods that are actually being played in your relationship. Maybe you resist, dislike, even hate the sound and feel of this music. How do you characterize this music? What sort of harmonies form this music? What’s the feeling tone? Can you let this music move you in some way? Can you find some appreciation for it?

Try having a conversation along these lines with your partner. Listen to different kinds of music together with this kind of metaphorical ear. Make distinctions between the various musical moods you hear and then relate them to the emotional tones that shape your lives as individuals and as a couple.

The literal differences between your musical tastes and your partner’s may become very clear, but try to go deeper with the metaphor. Relate the various musical styles, feeling tones, and “harmonies” to how you think about and experience your relationship. Music, after all, is a metaphor for our lives, and so can be used to glimpse life (and love) from other angles.

 

Like what you’re reading here?
You’ll love my new book.
Read the first 10 pages free.

The Re-connection handbook for couples - by Justice Schanfarber - web box2

8-week Relationship Intensive - Justice Schanfarber

Campbell River Marriage Counselling Justice Schanfarber Trying to grow, fix, change, understand or save your marriage? I provide couples therapy, marriage counselling, coaching and mentoring to individuals and couples on the issues that make or break relationships – Sessions by telephone/skype worldwide. Email justice@justiceschanfarber.com to request a client info package. www.JusticeSchanfarber.com

Like Justice Schanfarber on Facebook

Sign up to get my articles by email –

Like this article? Share it! You can use the buttons below –

Acro yoga – A different kind of date night

Acro yoga date nightAcro yoga date night

The other night I learned a little bit more about communication in relationships when my partner and I went to an acro yoga date night at our local yoga studio.

Acro yoga is short for acrobatic yoga and is also sometimes called partner yoga because it is designed for two people. Typically one person acts as a “base” and provides support to let their partner “fly.” At the event we attended, there was also stretching and some fun partner games.

It was two hours long, and everyone there was able to learn enough of the basics to have a good time. Our acro yoga experience was fun, playful, and physically engaging; all great qualities for a date night.

Acro yoga as relationship metaphor

It occurred to me as I looked around the room that I was seeing relationship dynamics in action all around me. Acro yoga was providing a metaphorical insight into the essence of each couple’s lives together.

It’s been said that how we do something is how we do everything, and an activity like acro yoga will often reveal the something we do that affects the everything we do, especially in relationship with our partner.

“We need better communication tools” is the refrain I hear daily from the struggling couples who call me for help. Partner yoga is all about communication, and it provides a format for practicing communication in an unfamiliar and neutral environment.

Acro-yoga requires qualities like trust, connection, surrender, leadership, collaboration, negotiation and personal responsibility. There’s a give/take sense of leading and following, of giving and receiving. A partner yoga class like the one we attended could very likely help someone see firsthand where they struggle with trust or other important areas of relationship, including –

  • Asking for what they want or making requests
  • Offering (or receiving) support
  • Working co-operatively
  • Dealing with frustration or failure
  • Tendencies to blame, shame, withdraw, or give up
  • Boundaries

If we’re able to use an experience like acro yoga (certainly there are many other experiences as well) to look at ourselves and our relationship, we might also be able to use it to work on ourselves and our relationship dynamic. The context of an acro yoga date night offers a possibility to first see things differently, and then to do things differently.

If the communication isn’t working there on the yoga mat, you’ll know quickly. Then you can use the space as a playground or laboratory to experiment with new approaches. It’s a relatively low-stakes situation, but it’s also visceral, immediate, embodied. You’re literally holding each other up. It demands your attention.

I’m not the only one who recognizes the partner communication benefits of acro yoga. I noticed that our teacher Katie Thacker was quoted in the news

“Just being able to say ‘hey that doesn’t feel good or that feels really great, or can you please bring me down?’ Being able to express things in those ways helps build communication.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Our teachers Katie Thacker and Brandon Sherbrook were great, and they offer their acro yoga date nights around Victoria and Vancouver Island (see their website here). If acro yoga holds any interest for you, look for classes in your area!

 

Like what you’re reading here?
You’ll love my new book.
Read the first 10 pages free.

The Re-connection handbook for couples - by Justice Schanfarber - web box2

8-week Relationship Intensive - Justice Schanfarber

Campbell River Marriage Counselling Justice Schanfarber Trying to grow, fix, change, understand or save your marriage? I provide couples therapy, marriage counselling, coaching and mentoring to individuals and couples on the issues that make or break relationships – Sessions by telephone/skype worldwide. Email justice@justiceschanfarber.com to request a client info package. www.JusticeSchanfarber.com

Like Justice Schanfarber on Facebook

Sign up to get my articles by email –

Like this article? Share it! You can use the buttons below –

What I learned at the couples retreat – 7 key takeaways from “Sharing the Path” with Judith Ansara and Robert Gass at Hollyhock retreat centre

What I learned at the couples retreatThis summer I was hired to assist at the Sharing the Path couples retreat designed and facilitated by Robert Gass and Judith Ansara at Hollyhock centre on Cortes Island. I hadn’t met Judith and Robert before the retreat, though I knew of them by their solid reputation. I showed up ready to be of service, and was happy to discover that my skills and expertise fit like a glove. It was great to be part of such a talented and attuned teaching team, and to support and witness all the courageous participants as they navigated their particular relationship terrains.

Over the five-day intensive there were many reminders and much learning. I thought I would share 7 key takeaways here with you –

1. Simple is good

It’s easy to get lost down the rabbit hole of complicated relationship theories. Models and maps like attachment theory, Imago therapy, family systems, personality typing etc can all be interesting, illuminating, and valuable, but I was reminded it’s possible to go plenty deep with basic ideas and simple practices.

Speaking from the heart, telling the truth, taking responsibility, listening deeply… these are understandable ideas and doable practices for most people; simple, yet infinitely challenging and infinitely rewarding.

2. Sex matters

Almost every participant at the retreat included sex in their list of troubles. I’ve found this to be true for the couples in my couples counselling practice as well. And yet the presenters at the retreat confessed that it was not until they had been doing couples workshops for some years that they began including sexual dynamics in the curriculum. I appreciated their willingness to address sexuality head-on. Too often sex slips through the cracks in this sort of relationship work.

I believe there are two main reasons that sex routinely gets excluded or marginalized in much conventional marriage counselling and couples therapy:

First, there’s a cultural prejudice against addressing and valuing sex on its own merits. The assumption – partly a moralistic holdover from puritanism ideals I believe – is that if “the relationship” is good, then the sex should automatically follow. It should be obvious by now that this is often not the case.

Second, sex is a difficult topic fraught with unconsciousness and shadow, complicated meanings, tender feelings, trauma, taboo, frustration. It’s a dangerous and awkward box to open. Even skilled professional facilitators and therapists can feel uncomfortable speaking explicitly about sex.

3. Relationship trouble is universal

Many people are not in the habit of sharing their relationship troubles and pain with anyone outside their own relationship, at least not in any constructive way. The result is that we tend to internalize an erroneous idea that our relationship problems are completely unique to us. This creates feelings of isolation and even defectiveness. The false fronts presented through social media exacerbates feelings of incongruence; shiny happy personas on the outside, tenderness, hurt, and desperation on the inside.

At this retreat carefully designed exercises allowed participants to switch off and provide coaching support for one another, always in ways that honoured safety and privacy. After these exercises, individuals and couples sometimes chose to share their insights and gleanings with the group; of course this was always optional.

4. The work is never finished

Relationship work comes with built-in traps, especially the assumption that we will somehow master this thing called relationship and one day be free from the difficulties it causes. What actually happens is that as we become more skillful we can’t help but raise the bar, and so we are continually called to navigate new and more sophisticated challenges.

Robert and Judith modelled this wonderfully by weaving in stories of their own significant trials and tribulations over their fifty years of relationship together, including sharing one challenge that arose between them in “real-time” during the course of the retreat.

5. A sense of humour helps

Relationships by nature have a bittersweet element. This bittersweetness is beautifully expressed through humour (etymologically related to humility) and laughing at and with ourselves. Judith and Robert exemplified this throughout. (Note – Humour can also be unconsciously used to escape uncomfortable but necessary tension. This is a self-defeating strategy to watch for.)

6. Move your body

It’s easy for many of us to get stuck in our head trying to figure things out. The presenters wisely had us getting up and moving, often through dance, at regular intervals. The change in energy and perspective this created was palpable.

7. It’s called practice for a reason

Finally, if we want to get better at relationship, including sex, we need to practice. There’s always that moment when it dawns on a person that their life is completely full and that they have no time to add “relationship practice” to the mix. Something will have to give.

If you want to play the violin or become a good skier it’s not nearly enough to gather information; you must practice. Relationships are no different in this regard. Learn tools (there are many – see my book The Re-connection Handbook for Couples), then practice them, preferably daily. Learning tools without practicing them is maybe worse than useless because it amplifies disappointment. One way or another, you will have to make room in your life for doing relationship practices.

Relationship practice tips: Practice implies imperfection – give yourself and your partner permission to fail. Be curious and non-attached to practice outcomes. Practice in low-stakes situations; don’t wait until your biggest triggers are activated before you pull out your relationship toolbox! Get help if you need it, even if just to get started.

To learn more about Judith and Robert’s work visit www.sacredunion.com.

 

Like what you’re reading here?
You’ll love my new book.
Read the first 10 pages free.

The Re-connection handbook for couples - by Justice Schanfarber - web box2

8-week Relationship Intensive - Justice Schanfarber

Campbell River Marriage Counselling Justice Schanfarber Trying to grow, fix, change, understand or save your marriage? I provide couples therapy, marriage counselling, coaching and mentoring to individuals and couples on the issues that make or break relationships – Sessions by telephone/skype worldwide. Email justice@justiceschanfarber.com to request a client info package. www.JusticeSchanfarber.com

Like Justice Schanfarber on Facebook

Sign up to get my articles by email –

Like this article? Share it! You can use the buttons below –

“I don’t feel passion in my marriage… Is this an unreasonable expectation?”

I don't feel passion in my marriageI don’t feel passion in my marriage

A reader with a thirty year marriage reveals “I don’t feel passion in my marriage,” and asks an interesting question.

She says, “I have reliable and steady, but I want passion, creativity and fun. Our sex life has dropped off to almost nonexistent. I want to find HIM exciting. I have twenty or more marriage books. So, would your book work? Do I really need another marriage book?”

Read her full letter, and my response, below –

I like my husband. He is a good guy. We spend time together. He says thank you for things I do. We work together quite well on various charity organizations. We pretty much have the same value system: we are both savers, both have same parenting values, etc. The only things we have ever argued about was neatness of the house ( He is neater than I am). But after 30 years we have met in the middle on that issue and don’t argue about that either.

Neither of us want to hurt the other one and we are both very quick to apologize if we think we might have done something wrong. My husband is having health issues. I went back to work this year and that has helped my outlook on life tremendously. We only have 1 child left and she keeps us quite busy as she is social and cannot drive yet. I just don’t feel any passion anymore and I don’t think he does either, to be honest.

Our sex life has dropped off to almost nonexistent. When I went off birth control, my sex drive skyrocketed but he didn’t know what to do with that. He was polite and would try, but the passion of our early days just wasn’t there. Now that I have entered menopause and have a new job, I just don’t ask anymore, so weeks go by. As I mentioned, stress and health problems don’t help.

On our 25th anniversary trip to a very romantic destination, it took 4 days or so before we made love, but then it was every day. But then back to reality. We schedule a week long vacation once a year just the two of us along with several weekends a year (We have a long weekend coming up in a couple months). We hold hands. We talk about our dreams. We take walks on our place, the two of us, several times a week.

I have probably 20 or more marriage books. So why don’t I feel like I am in love with him? He is a good friend. I’m not leaving. Our marriage is a covenant for life. I just thought it would be more, I guess. I thought it would be this passionate, fun connection. Most women would kill for what I have: he fixes anything in our house immediately, if I ever ask for something to be done, he does it immediately. He tells me he loves me every day. He has giant to do lists, but he puts me on them to make sure he doesn’t forget me because he does love me.

He will go on dates, but I have to plan them. I plan great big fun ones, which he really, really likes (going out to dinner and leaving a key to a hotel with him, setting up camping on our property, making a scavenger hunt, etc). He especially liked the scavenger hunt for an anniversary where I put pictures of  something that happened each year and the clue to go find something that happened another year.

I have reliable and steady, but I want passion, creativity and fun. I have found a huge outlet this year with my job. I am having a ball and find myself just prattling on and on about it to him, but I know that gets old for him. I want to find HIM exciting. The job has helped my boredom, but unlike what people suggested, it hasn’t helped the relationship. I want to want to spend time with him.

To be honest, I wonder about just cancelling our weekend together so I can just do school stuff. I’m sure the problem is me, but I don’t know how to fix it. I just thought marriage would be more, I guess. Just an unrealistic expectation I suppose. But I don’t know how to not keep yearning for more. Would the book address that? Most books don’t really apply to us. As I said, we don’t fight, so all of the silly communication stuff with the “I-statements” and paraphrasing and all that… it doesn’t fit.

I managed to get him to go to counseling for his work stress (which eventually caused a health issue that has had some major repercussions) and he had me come in with him. He feels like we should share everything, so I know how he feels. Even then, the counselor couldn’t see the stress (My husband is VERY calm on the outside and has never lost his cool/yelled in our marriage, professional life, etc). He decided that he was like a person on the battlefield that can do his job, but then struggles after the battle is over.

My counselor recommended this game called Reunion that we played… We each guessed each others responses 100 percent of the time. We know exactly what each other is thinking most of the time. So, would your book work? Do I really need another marriage book?

Here’s my response –

First, congratulations on what sounds like a lovely marriage and life. Second, I’m not at all surprised to hear that achieving the success of heartfelt connection, security, respect, and friendship has left important parts of you feeling empty and unsatisfied. The cruel reality is that the very things we work so hard to create in a marriage or relationship can also rob us of the feelings of excitement and liveliness that many of us crave. Thus, I hear statements like “I don’t feel passion in my marriage,” alongside stories like yours quite often.

I agree that you probably don’t need more marriage books on conflict resolution, communication, love languages, or empathy. You already understand or possess these qualities in spades.

Unfortunately, most conventional thinking on marriage and relationships (including most counselling and therapy models) focuses exclusively on narrow definitions of connection, and misses other important areas.

Creating and nurturing emotional bonds is an important part of the equation, but the other side of the coin is important too. The other side of the coin includes differentiation, novelty, tension, friction, uncertainty, risk… all ingredients necessary for passion in marriage, for that crucial and elusive experience many of us crave: eroticism.

Eroticism thrives in tension and uncertainty, in distance and danger, even in conflict or anger; all things we labour at minimizing in our lives. Ironic right? There’s no simple formula to solve this paradox, but we can acknowledge it and begin to work with it intentionally. In this regard, my book, The Re-Connection Handbook for Couples might be quite helpful and refreshing for you. The chapters on differentiation and eroticism may help fill in some of the missing pieces for you. In addition, my second book Conscious Kink for Couples: The beginner’s guide to using kinky sex and BDSM for pleasure, growth, intimacy, and healing might provide relevant and useful insights and practices.

Thanks for your thoughtful comments and great questions!

All my best,
Justice

Like what you’re reading here?
You’ll love my new book.
Read the first 10 pages free.

The Re-connection handbook for couples - by Justice Schanfarber - web box2

8-week Relationship Intensive - Justice Schanfarber

Campbell River Marriage Counselling Justice Schanfarber Trying to grow, fix, change, understand or save your marriage? I provide couples therapy, marriage counselling, coaching and mentoring to individuals and couples on the issues that make or break relationships – Sessions by telephone/skype worldwide. Email justice@justiceschanfarber.com to request a client info package. www.JusticeSchanfarber.com

Like Justice Schanfarber on Facebook

Sign up to get my articles by email –

Like this article? Share it! You can use the buttons below –

Love languages – Can “5 Love Languages” fix your relationship?

Love languages5 love languages – The key to a happy marriage or relationship?

The 5 love languages idea has grown into self-help empire for author Gary Chapman. There’s 5 love languages for children, 5 love languages for men, 5 love languages for singles, and so on. Building a simple catchy idea into a brand and leveraging it into various niches is good business. But how good is it for relationships?

An endless stream of self-help books and relationship gurus try to convince us that they alone hold the key, that if you will just follow this one rule or strategy, your marriage or relationship will become bullet-proof.

The 5 Love Languages book and website promises to provide “The secret to love that lasts” with this simple formula –

  • gift giving
  • quality time
  • words of affirmation
  • acts of service
  • physical touch

For such intelligent animals, we seem to be easily seduced by the promise of simple solutions, even for complex phenomena like romantic relationships. For this reason, some of my clients come to counselling in search of an easily understood, tried and true solution to their marriage or relationship troubles… indeed, they are – as the book publishing marketing departments clearly know – hoping to find “The secret to love that lasts,” and they hope that I may reveal to them this secret.

But relationships aren’t simple machines. There’s no manual, no simple understanding of how they work. A truly difficult relationship does not necessarily present us with a concrete problem that is able to be solved through 5 love languages or anything else so basic.

Love languages – A valuable tool?

This doesn’t mean that learning and using “love languages” won’t be valuable. It very well might. I encourage you to try it. You can even take an online 5 love languages quiz (click here).

The love language model can be a great insight and practice. I like how it makes us reconsider who our partner actually is, and what it is they value as distinct from what we value. Dropping our assumption that our partner wants to be cared for the same way we want to be cared for; caring for a partner in ways that THEY find meaningful; seeing our partner as an individual with their own unique needs; these are important tasks, and may be game-changers for some people, in some situations.

But is it really accurate, and entirely honest, to claim that The 5 Love Languages is “The secret to love that lasts?”

Maybe it’s more reasonable to say that love lasts when we can keep up with it.

Love changes, and it asks us to change too. It’s possible that connecting with your spouse through the 5 love languages is precisely the medicine your relationship needs right now… but what if a relationship, a particular relationship – yours or mine, in this particular time and place, is asking something different of us?

What do relationships ask of us?

As I touched on earlier, relationships present us with tasks, and those tasks contribute to our development, helping us become more mature, whole, integrated human beings.

What if our particular relationship is asking us to stand up for ourselves? Or to grieve a loss? Or to confront resentment? To address sexual frustration? Incompatibility? Rage?

Will 5 love languages help us recognize and manage our own nervous system arousal and the conflict it produces? Will 5 love languages help us wrestle with the deep dilemmas of being human… the inner conflict between wanting to be close to another, and also protecting our freedom? Will 5 love languages help us acknowledge our own cruelty in the relationship, and where it might come from? How about power struggles, and the ways power dynamics shape the relationship? Will The 5 Love Languages help us recognize and retrieve the parts of ourselves that we have sacrificed in order to be in relationship? Will it give us a map for working with the trauma that we bring to our relationship?

These important questions and many others do not really get addressed by the 5 love languages or any other magical-seeming relationship solution. The 5 love languages is framed in an appealingly simple and disastrously naive (and perhaps incidentally, religious – Chapman is a Southwestern Baptist) view of relationships. The author seems to believe that if couples just focus on meeting each others needs, based on a 5-item menu, their relationship is sure to flourish, or at least to “last.” Frankly, this does not match my experience working with real-life couples.

Here’s one example from a client couple I ended up doing some very significant work with –

We read the 5 love languages book. I learned that words of affirmation is my wife’s love language, and so I really paid attention to speaking her love language. I gave her words of affirmation all the time. But it was never enough. In fact the more I affirmed her, the lower her self-confidence seemed to get. She became like a bottomless pit, totally needy, never satisfied. Her neediness really started to turn me off. I thought maybe I was doing it wrong. I got really frustrated.

The woman in this marriage was wrestling with some deep self-worth issues. No amount of “words of affirmation” from her husband was going to fill the emptiness she felt. Learning each others love languages was simply not what their relationship was asking of them. It was a nice gesture, but certainly not the secret to make their love last. (Love is actually rarely the key issue in most couples’ conflicts, but that’s another topic.)

I understand that we live in a culture addicted to speed, and that popular self-help authors are expected to deliver simple solutions in digestible forms. As a writer and relationship book author myself, I struggle sometimes in finding a balance between making an idea accessible and keeping it sufficiently robust, sufficiently honest. And so I can appreciate what Chapman is trying to do with his 5 love languages. I think it’s a worthwhile tool, AND I’m skeptical of it delivering on its promise.

The 5 love languages idea doesn’t need debunking – probably it’s true enough, as far as it goes – it just needs to be taken with a grain of salt, and understood as merely one of the many tasks, and probably a fairly minor one, that relationships ask of us in the course of a marriage or a life.

Have you used the 5 love languages? What do you think?

[Note – I wrote this in response to the many questions I get from clients and colleagues regarding the 5 love languages.]

Like what you’re reading here?
You’ll love my new book.
Read the first 10 pages free.

The Re-connection handbook for couples - by Justice Schanfarber - web box2

 

Campbell River Marriage Counselling Justice Schanfarber Trying to grow, fix, change, understand or save your marriage? I provide couples therapy, marriage counselling, coaching and mentoring to individuals and couples on the issues that make or break relationships – Sessions by telephone/skype worldwide. Email justice@justiceschanfarber.com to request a client info package. www.JusticeSchanfarber.com

Like Justice Schanfarber on Facebook

Sign up to get my articles by email –

Like this article? Share it! You can use the buttons below –

Westcoast Bound – Relationship learning at a Kink and BDSM conference

Westcoast Bound Vancouver MVK BDSMLearning about relationships at Westcoast Bound kink and BDSM conference

I recently attended a conference on relationships where I got to learn from some of the most passionate, skilled, and experienced facilitators that I’ve ever encountered. This wasn’t a psychotherapy conference, or even a conference specifically on attachment theory, Imago, active listening, neuroscience, or empathy, although many of these topics were touched upon.

The classes at this conference were on topics like…

Passion, Joy, Fear and Healing at the end of a Whip.
BDSM, Sex & Shame.
Nonverbal Power & Surrender.
Control & Dominance Moves with Rope.
The Good, the Bad, and the Poly.

This is Westcoast Bound 2017, Metro Vancouver Kink’s (MVK) annual Kink and BDSM conference held at Burnaby Executive Suites Hotel & Convention Centre.

It might seem a strange place to learn about relationships, and a strange place for a marriage counsellor and couples therapist to continue their own learning, but here’s my profound discovery from my weekend at Westcoast Bound: The cutting edge of relationship work is being honed at the margins.

Maybe this shouldn’t be a surprise. Isn’t it always the pioneers pushing the edges who bring their discoveries to the rest of us, providing tales of adventure, and exotic spices to enrich our lives? Perhaps it makes sense that those pushing the edges of relationship would make discoveries that eventually touch us all.

BDSM, kink, polyamory… these are relational structures that exist outside of the mainstream, but as I point out in my book Conscious Kink for Couples: The beginner’s guide to using kinky sex and BDSM for pleasure, growth, intimacy, and healing, the ideas that have developed within these communities have potential benefit for everyone who participates in life as a sexual and relational being.

You may not enjoy being erotically flogged, or you might, but the communication, care, and visceral energy that goes into and comes out of such a scene is illuminating for anyone. The idea of whipping or being whipped by your beloved may create cognitive dissonance and be on your list of hard limits, but watching the dance of the whip in skilled and caring hands, its gentle kiss against trembling skin, and the intimacy between the people involved (despite the bright-light conference room setting) rivals the feeling of the most evocative dance performance you’ve ever witnessed.

Over the course of my career as a couples counsellor, and in my life as a human being hungry for connection, growth, and understanding, I’ve been to many workshops, retreats, and trainings. Many of these have been about communication, intimacy, and relationships. The part that is often missing is about what to do with the uncomfortable feelings that arise in relationship, how to work with the darker aspects, shadow, contradiction, paradox.

If you visit the Westcoast Bound website (click here), you will see a striking image of a woman wearing a gas mask, with electrical tape in an x shape across her nipples. You’ll probably see some irreverent quotes and potentially confusing language. What won’t be immediately obvious is the tenderness, courage, authenticity, presence, and playfulness – all crucial qualities for relationship – that is cultivated and celebrated at the event, to a degree I’ve rarely seen at other types of gatherings.

An interesting thing about empathy, compassion, and even intimacy and eroticism, is that they often arise more or less spontaneously out of duress, from experiences that feel raw and risky. Westcoast Bound is a place for screaming and begging, uncomfortable squirming, laughter along with tears. People here are creating experiences for each other that raise adrenaline and endorphins. It’s not for the faint of heart. Neither, for that matter, is an extraordinary marriage, a difficult conversation, or true intimacy.

If we want to create a sense of risk and courage to make a relationship feel more exciting and bonding, and we want to do this safely and well, we better develop skills – both physical and emotional. And so a conference like this is about developing these skills, both hard skills and soft skills.

A fingerbanging and g-spot orgasm workshop, it turns out, is as much about tuning into your partner’s experience as it is about perfecting a certain way of using one’s fingers. It becomes a class on intimacy and communication. Along the way there’s humour, and a few jaw-dropping spectacles (I’ll let you use your imagination).

With its x-rated language and startling imagery, a BDSM community – any BDSM community – creates a sort of boundary (“You must be THIS tall to enter”). An initiation is required. Can you handle the shock? Do you have a relationship with your darker side? Beyond this boundary of initiation lies a surprisingly rich landscape of relational, emotional, and conceptual riches, but only for those who can tolerate or are attracted to certain discomforts.

Speaking as someone who delves around the many edges of relationship, sex, and intimacy, and who also very happily works smack dab in the middle, with many conventionally minded “vanilla” couples, I urge those who dwell somewhere toward the centre to strike out and explore the margins. You needn’t embrace everything you find there, but you’re likely to discover something valuable. This is no prescription, rather a humble invitation.

By the way, tickets for the Westcoast Bound weekend cost around, wait for it… a hundred and fifty bucks. Hard to find that kind of value for a three day learning event. There are plenty of fetish nights in any city that will show you the shiny surface of this world of kink and BDSM, but if you want the depth, the grit, this is the type of conference to look for.

Some of the workshop presenters have been teaching for thirty plus years. They’ve written books and directed films. Many have lived through prejudice if not outright persecution. There’s an incredible collection of experience, wisdom, and diversity in this place. You will learn something from these people, although probably not what you anticipated.

You’ll be exposed to an intersection of trans, queer, kinky, poly, Top, bottom, Dom, sub, switch people and communities, and, if you are willing, you might emerge changed. Your world will get bigger. Your eyes may bulge, judgements flair. If you make it to the dungeon parties, you may be shocked by the unabashed sadism and masochism you witness. And you may be surprised by the… normalcy of it all. We all have a sadistic and a masochistic side. Some are willing to play with these aspects of self, wrestling them into consciousness. Others hide them away, setting the stage for being bit in the ass later, or doing the biting, neither consensually nor with awareness, let alone enjoyment.

Here are some words I overheard after the event –

I’m pretty proud. It was an incredibly cathartic experience. I let out tears and screams that I’ve been holding in for many years. I’ve been seeing therapists for 5 years and I was never able to release them. But in this environment I was able to let go. I felt so safe and accepted. This weekend was a life changing experience.

In my writing, I sometimes talk about the need for finding healthy expressions of sadism and masochism in relationships. I talk about acknowledging the power struggles and power dynamics that are always present in relationships. I talk about nurturing playfulness and erotic tension (WCB presenter Midori on BDSM – “It’s like cops and robbers… with fucking!”). I also point out the benefits of talking explicitly about sex and desire in relationships, and about the pain and shame that keeps us silent. All of these crucial relationship themes are woven throughout the Westcoast Bound experience.

In my work counselling couples, the root of the trouble turns out rarely to be the thing we began with, the core stuff is rarely the “presenting issue.” More often we discover that it is something about how a couple thinks about their relationship that needs addressing. Adding to the problem is that most of the people in our lives think about relationships more or less the same way we do. The messages we get about sex and relationship tend to reflect our own, and we find ourselves trapped in a cultural echo chamber. Without new ideas, new influences, we remain imaginatively and creatively stuck.

The purpose of therapy is, amongst other things, to broaden our perspectives, our thinking. Some of the most celebrated researchers and thought-leaders on sex and relationships come from the world of academia and psychotherapy – Murray Bowen, John Gottman, Harville Hendrix, John Bowlby, Harriet Lerner etc – but we need the wisdom from the margins too, people who have used their lives to dive into the darker depths, and then report on what they find.

A weekend immersed in a different way of seeing sex and relationships (kink and BDSM being just one possibility; certainly there are others) might not be therapeutic exactly… but it might just end up making us somehow more whole.

Below are links to some of the presenters I saw at Westcoast Bound 2017. Check out what they have to say. Sign up for their newsletters. You might find them challenging. You might disagree with them. But you might also find something that you’re ready, or even hungry, for.

Midori – Kink author and educator. Check out her books and workshops.

DaddyCrone (Leenie) – Whip specialist and energy worker.

Allena – Polyamory and kink educator.

Barkas and Addie – Rope bondage artists, performers, educators.

Like what you’re reading here? Get my new book –

Conscious Kink for Couples:
The beginner’s guide to using kinky sex and BDSM for pleasure, growth, intimacy, and healing

Conscious Kink for Couples - The beginner’s guide to using kinky sex and BDSM for pleasure, growth, intimacy, and healing - by Justice Schanfarber

Want to read a sample?
Download the first 10 pages free –

Click here now to download the 10-page sample (one-click pdf download).

Learn to use kinky sex and BDSM as an awareness practice for healing and growth (like you might use yoga, meditation, or martial arts).

~ Bring more awareness, creativity, and intention to your sex life.

~ Reconcile your “darker” sexual desires with the deep love and caring that is the foundation of your relationship.

~ Make a place for consensual Dominance and submission alongside equality and respect

~ Confront the shame, doubt, or self-consciousness that thwarts or confuses you.

 

Campbell River Counselling Justice Schanfarber HakomiTrying to grow, fix, change, understand or save your marriage? I provide individual counselling, marriage counselling, coaching and mentoring to individuals and couples on the issues that make or break relationships. Serving clients worldwide by phone/skype. Email justice@justiceschanfarber.com to request a client info package. www.JusticeSchanfarber.com

Like Justice Schanfarber on Facebook

8-week Relationship Intensive - Justice Schanfarber

Sign up to get my articles by email –

Want to share this article? Use the buttons below.

BDSM and Healing – Can kinky sex help heal your relationship?

BDSM and Healing - Can kinky sex help heal your relationship?BDSM and healing

BDSM stands for bondage and discipline; dominance and submission; sadism and masochism. In my work, I often refer to BDSM as “erotic power exchange.” In a BDSM experience, one person’s individual power and autonomy is consensually given to the other, within negotiated parameters, for erotic or sexual purposes.

It might sound counter-intuitive, but used carefully, with mindfulness and intention, BDSM can become a powerful tool for insight and healing. In my book, Conscious Kink for Couples – The beginner’s guide to using kinky sex and BDSM for pleasure, growth, intimacy, and healing, I explore this healing potential in depth. Here’s an excerpt from the book’s introduction –

What is “Conscious Kink?”

Every relationship that I’ve ever had the honour of witnessing in my work as a marriage counsellor and couples therapist has included aspects of sadism and masochism, cruelty, power struggles, role-play, and various psychological manipulation, headgames, and mindfucks – even as one or both individuals in the relationship work desperately to hide these qualities from themselves or each other, keeping the dark elements buried in unconsciousness, and maintaining a veneer of innocence and normalcy.

The unwillingness to confront one’s own complicity in creating the suffering that inevitably arises in a relationship can be understood in part as an avoidance of facing one’s own shadow; a reluctance to enter into one’s own darker realms.

Conscious Kink and BDSM , in addition to providing sexual or erotic outlets and pleasures, can also become a structure and a practice for revealing, observing, and befriending our dark and shadowy parts.

Sex is a window to our deepest core, to the material of our soul, and by following our kinky desires, and intentionally adding the element of conscious awareness, we end up doing important psycho-emotional work.

Doing this work as a couple, within the sexual/erotic realm, and witnessing each other in the process; this has the power to foster incredible intimacy, growth, and healing. Conscious Kink combines sexual adventurousness with an intention towards awareness, creating a valuable integration practice for life.

Kink and BDSM: For healthy, loving, sensitive people

Hollywood and popular culture have, predictably, distorted kink and BDSM for their own sensationalist purposes. “The gimp” in Pulp Fiction… the stalker-ish behaviour of Christian in Fifty Shades of Grey… these are to real-life kink and BDSM what Tom and Jerry are to real cats and mice: Entertaining perhaps, but mostly bearing little resemblance or relevance to actual kinky people or kink practices.

Real-world kink and BDSM is practiced intelligently, consensually, skillfully, and inspiringly by people across all socio- economic, political, and even religious spectrums. I know kinky social workers, administrators, and public servants. I know kinky social activists, Christians, pagans, and single parents. Welders and bus drivers can be kinky, so can school teachers and entrepreneurs. Married, single, gay, straight, black, white, privileged, oppressed, happy, sad, fat, thin… you get the idea.

I’m painting this picture to help dispel whatever assumption you might have that only “other” people are attracted to kinky sex. If you’re struggling with feeling alone, marginalized, or weird for your (or your partner’s) unconventional desires, I assure you that you are in plenty of good company. Many healthy, loving, sensitive, intelligent people are into kink and BDSM.

Conscious Kinky Couples come from all sorts of backgrounds, and show wide variations in preferences, styles, and personality types, but those with some practice under their belt tend to develop three qualities in common. Interestingly, these same three qualities, or more accurately their absence, predictably show up again and again in the work I do with non-kinky client couples. Could Conscious Kinky Couples have something to teach us all?

Three qualities of Conscious Kinky Couples

1. Conscious Kinky Couples talk openly and explicitly about sex.
They have the courage to ask for what they want, and to represent themselves sexually. They don’t assume that their partner will read their mind. They negotiate to get both partners’ needs met. They share their sexual fantasies and desires. Conscious Kinky Couples might use mystery and intrigue intentionally to cultivate turn-on and eroticism, but they’re ready to talk candidly about sex, and they don’t hide behind assumptions, social convention, or their own shame and wounding.

2. Conscious Kinky Couples work to heal their sexual shame and wounding.
The intentional and explicit nature of their sex lives forces Conscious Kinky Couples to confront their shame and wounding repeatedly, often in many different contexts. Their kinky play or BDSM practice may include consensual humiliation or objectification, sadomasochism, erotic power exchange etc. The Conscious Kinky Couple uses these experiences, and the debriefing that follows, as opportunities for self-examination and integration.

3. Conscious Kinky Couples make time for sex, and they consciously cultivate eroticism in their relationship. Lack of time is a universal theme I encounter with the couples I counsel. Kids, work, family, friends, holidays… there’s a long list of commitments and priorities that creep in to take precedent over sex. Conscious Kinky Couples, however, are more likely to dedicate time to sex. Conscious Kink gives couples a structure for actively supporting and growing their sex lives, a structure that is sorely missing in many modern relationships.

BDSM, Kink, and Shadow Integration

“We find that by opening the door to the shadow realm a little, and letting out various elements a few at a time, relating to them, finding use for them, negotiating, we can reduce being surprised by shadow sneak attacks and unexpected explosions.”
~ Clarissa Pinkola Estés

Each one of us has qualities or parts of ourselves that we have denied, repressed, or “split off” from consciousness. Pioneer psychologist Carl Jung called these exiled parts of self “shadow” because, pushed away from awareness, they remain hidden from us.

We deny these parts of self, often from childhood, because they were unacceptable to our parents, to society, or to our immature, narrow vision of ourselves. We all originally exiled parts of ourselves for good reasons; it was our way to adapt and survive, and also to create a positive self-image, to “be good.”

For some of us it was our anger or rage that was unwelcome, and so we rejected that part of ourself. For others it was our power, or maybe our weakness. Either strength or vulnerability might have offended our caregivers when we were young; any quality at all might have been deemed unacceptable, and so was driven underground.

Individuals and families have their own standards for which qualities are allowed and which are denied, and every culture and subculture also has its own codes for what it rewards and what it punishes.

Each of us in our lifetime is faced with the task of, one way or another, bringing these repressed parts into consciousness and finding them an appropriate and enriching place in our lives. Until we do, they continue to drive our thinking and our behaviour, and have an enormous, though invisible, impact.

These rejected parts of ourselves not only cause suffering as they shape our lives from beneath conscious awareness, on the flip-side they also have valuable gifts to provide once we do the work of retrieving them. Thus the benefit of retrieval is twofold.

Reclaiming our lost parts, integrating our shadow… this is a process of becoming whole, of healing. In fact, some psychotherapeutic models put shadow retrieval or integration, in some form, at the center of the healing journey.

This work is difficult because to integrate the shadow, to retrieve the lost parts of self, means to face tremendous pain and confusion. We must face that which we long ago deemed unacceptable, bad, or even evil. But we must first find it. We must summon that which we banished, that which we fear most. And we must do it without yet knowing how these parts of self will eventually be integrated. We have no place reserved for them in our home, and yet we must welcome them in.

We can not face our shadow directly because it is unconscious, and therefore invisible; otherwise it would not be our shadow. It must be viewed through a veil or intermediary. Shadow must be approached indirectly, through metaphor, myth, art, role-play, poetry, and other forms of suspended disbelief. Shadow retrieval and integration happens on the edge of consciousness, in the liminal spaces, in the places in between. Conscious Kink can provide these places.

Making a place for sadism and masochism in a relationship

“Hatred and aggression — and carnivorous sexual intent — aren’t our ‘dark’ side. Our dark side is the side that denies its own existence.”
~ David Schnarch

Two of the most commonly denied, most present, and most influential, though unconscious, aspects of self are in fact twin shadow archetypes: the sadist and the masochist.

We all have an inner sadist taking pleasure in the suffering of others, and also an inner masochist finding comfort in our own suffering.

BDSM can turn sadomasochism into an art and a practice, and provides, if we use it consciously, a structure for beginning to glimpse and reconcile our own denied or projected sadism and/or masochism.

Conscious Kink allows us a soundstage, a theatre for playing out a sadomasochistic drama, for bearing witness to our own sadistic or masochistic desires and tendencies, and potentially for finding them a home, an appropriate place in our psyche via our erotic lives.

Without a practice of this sort, we might continue unconsciously playing out our sadomasochistic patterns in our lives and relationships, denying our own complicity, and projecting our capacity for cruelty or martyrdom onto others, where we can judge it from a safe distance.

A conventional lover might protect their self-image of innocence, claiming, “Oh no, I never, ever punish my partner for not meeting my expectations. I take no joy in cruelty.” And then they give their partner the silent treatment, or with-hold affection, or explode with accusations.

By contrast, a practitioner of Conscious Kink, in a carefully negotiated BDSM session or “scene” with their partner says “Do as I say or there will be a consequence.” The sadism is revealed. It is summoned onto the stage where a couple can see it, work with it, play with it, learn from it, find its erotic energy and harness it. Here we find potential for mutual pleasure, as well as shadow integration; transformation; alchemy.

The BDSM scene becomes a sacred space between the world of reality and the world of pretending. Sadomasochistic dynamics are first acknowledged as desire in the self, and then they are given a life through collaboration and negotiation. Within a BDSM scene, sadomasochistic dynamics become “play,” but they are also rooted in our deepest, most real, core selves.

The BDSM scene provides the “in-between” space necessary for retrieving the sadism and masochism we have denied in ourselves but projected onto others. The result, by any name, is healing.

Erotic power exchange: Dominance and submission

“Everything in the world is about sex except sex. Sex is about power.” ~ Oscar Wilde

Power dynamics exist, mostly unconscious and unacknowledged, within all relationships. So much so that therapists often talk about the “power struggle” phase of a marriage or relationship as though it were inevitable.

Beneath the spoken agreements in any relationship, beneath the obvious labour divisions and the negotiated sharing of responsibilities, lurk shadowy power struggles, uneasy balancing acts, and resentment-laden asymmetries.

Consciously bringing power exchange dynamics into a relationship in an erotic or sexual form can add more than “spice” or excitement, it can shine a light on some of these hidden power struggles and imbalances.

Also illuminated is your own personal relationship to power –

Are you comfortable with power? Are you afraid of it? Do you fight for power in your relationship? Do you crave it? Do you share power well with others? Do you consider the responsibility of power to be a burden?

Are you trustworthy with power? Do you trust power in the hands of your partner? Do you abdicate your power and then resent its loss?

How about powerlessness? Do you fear loss of control? Do you crave loss of control? Do you long for surrender?

Uncovering the hidden power dynamics in ourselves and in our relationship through a practice of Conscious Kink can have surprising and even disturbing outcomes.

Control issues may be revealed. Fear, cruelty, punishment, with- holding… these are all normal dark-side aspects of power that may present themselves. They’ve been there all along, but now we see them in a new light.

Conscious Kinky Couples can collaboratively and consensually play with power dynamics, eroticizing them, finding pleasure in them, and perhaps, over time, gleaning some of the deeper meanings that power (and powerlessness or surrender) holds in their relationship and in their lives.

Conscious Kink and BDSM practitioners usually identify as either top, bottom, or switch. The terms dominant and submissive are often used interchangeably with the terms top and bottom. Tops (dominants) hold power, bottoms (submissives) surrender power, and switches, as the term implies, can go either way. The degree of power exchange, and the specific nuances, are carefully discussed and negotiated until full consent and understanding is reached.

You’re not bound (pun intended) to any particular identity, and you’re free to experiment with whatever sort of power exchange suits you and your partner.

Like what you’re reading here? Get my new book –

Conscious Kink for Couples:
The beginner’s guide to using kinky sex and BDSM for pleasure, growth, intimacy, and healing

Conscious Kink for Couples - The beginner’s guide to using kinky sex and BDSM for pleasure, growth, intimacy, and healing - by Justice Schanfarber

Want to read a sample?
Download the first 10 pages free –

Click here now to download the 10-page sample (one-click pdf download).

Learn to use kinky sex and BDSM as an awareness practice for healing and growth (like you might use yoga, meditation, or martial arts).

~ Bring more awareness, creativity, and intention to your sex life.

~ Reconcile your “darker” sexual desires with the deep love and caring that is the foundation of your relationship.

~ Make a place for consensual Dominance and submission alongside equality and respect

~ Confront the shame, doubt, or self-consciousness that thwarts or confuses you.

 

Campbell River Counselling Justice Schanfarber HakomiTrying to grow, fix, change, understand or save your marriage? I provide individual counselling, marriage counselling, coaching and mentoring to individuals and couples on the issues that make or break relationships. Serving clients worldwide by phone/skype. Email justice@justiceschanfarber.com to request a client info package. www.JusticeSchanfarber.com

Like Justice Schanfarber on Facebook

 

Sign up to get my articles by email –

Want to share this article? Use the buttons below.

Relationship question – Is it better to be wanted or needed?

 Is it better to be wanted or neededDear Justice,

I’m 21 and I’ve never been married. Reading your article “Why women leave men they love” and reading the comments just makes me never want to get married at all. I mean what’s the point anymore? It seems to me that in a modern day relationship we’re really just sexual objects for each other because once the passion dies everyone divorces and leaves each other for someone else who gives them this so called “passion.”

So riddle me this – I’ve read comments on here about how women don’t need men for this or that. Isn’t a relationship supposed to be something you can rely on each other for things? A marriage is also a cohabitation where people do what they can to help each other. I don’t see it as sexist if a man wants to work hard and provide for his family and the wife wants to be a stay at home mother and take care of the children. I feel this whole movement to have interchangeable “gender roles” is a major contributing factor in failed marriages in today’s time.

What’s the point of a marriage when you can do it all on your own and don’t need anyone right? I mean I don’t need you and you don’t need me so why even bother getting married or being together? So when I see people post these comments saying things along those lines, I feel as though it’s extremely arrogant and selfish because I believe that’s what a relationship is all about -relying on each other! And how people do this really doesn’t matter, but if you go into a relationship telling yourself you don’t need this person then you’re always going to treat the relationship as disposable. But what do I know I’m just young and naive.

Matthew

 

Dear Matthew,

I’m not sure that this polarization of needing/relying on each other in a marriage versus not needing/relying on each other actually exists in real life. Real relationships almost always contain elements of both, even if they are weighted more to one side or the other. I sometimes pose a question to my readers and clients, “Is it better to be needed or wanted in a relationship?” There isn’t a right or wrong answer. The question is meant to stimulate inquiry.

I’ll share something I’ve observed –
Spouses who don’t rely on each other economically or to fulfill religious or social obligations or gender roles stay together for an altogether different reason: They choose each other. This is an infinitely more complex arrangement, and in many ways it asks more of us.

This assumption of yours is interesting, and I’ve heard it echoed in one way or another many times, mostly from men who seem to be afraid or angry at the changing landscape of relationships “…if you go into a relationship telling yourself you don’t need this person then you’re always going to treat the relationship as disposable.”

Are you certain this is true? Are couples who are not bound together by necessity doomed to failure? Does being free to choose one another guarantee disregard?

Treating a relationship as “disposable” is only one of many possible outcomes in relationships where spouses actively choose each other more than they rely on each other. Consider – I have never once in my counselling practice encountered a person who treated their marriage or their spouse as disposable.

My position on the matter is this –
If disposability is the only imaginable outcome of relationships that are based more on choosing each other rather than needing each other, this is a call for more imagination, not for narrower relationship options.

As for passion, it comes and goes. Sex is one type of passion, and there are others. If dependence on your spouse is your guard against the inevitable ebb and flow of passion, sexual or otherwise, then you are probably in for trouble. If we understand passion as aliveness and engagement with life, then it takes on a new meaning and new importance. If it doesn’t breathe with aliveness and engagement with life, how can a marriage or relationship be anything but dead? (Unless it is sleeping or in deep coma, also possibilities.) Of course different people have different needs for passion (and different expressions of passion) at different times. A “good” marriage or relationship is perhaps one where these differences can be talked about, explored openly, respected, and not automatically used as evidence against each other or against the relationship. (We might even call this com-passion.)

At 21 years old, you’re asking good questions. A certain amount of naivete is appropriate at this age and indicates an open mind. See if you can keep an open mind even as you experience the inevitable relationship trials and tribulations ahead, marriage or no marriage.

Best wishes.

All my best,
Justice

Like what you’re reading here?
You’ll love my new book.
Read the first 10 pages free.

The Re-connection handbook for couples - by Justice Schanfarber - web box2

8-week Relationship Intensive - Justice Schanfarber

Campbell River Marriage Counselling Justice Schanfarber Trying to grow, fix, change, understand or save your marriage? I provide couples therapy, marriage counselling, coaching and mentoring to individuals and couples on the issues that make or break relationships – Sessions by telephone/skype worldwide. Email justice@justiceschanfarber.com to request a client info package. www.JusticeSchanfarber.com

Like Justice Schanfarber on Facebook

Sign up to get my articles by email –

 

Want to share this article? Use the buttons below.

“Mating in Captivity – Have you read it?”

A reader asks Have you read Esther Perel’s book Mating in Captivity?

Dear Justice,

I really like the articles you share on your facebook page and on your website. I’m wondering if you have read the book Mating in Captivity by Esther Perel and if so, what do you think of it?

Mating-In-CaptivityMy response –

Esther Perel’s book Mating in Captivity has been recommended to me often enough that I picked up a copy recently and gave it a speed read. Here are my initial thoughts –

Perel’s observations and experiences mostly match my own, professionally and personally. Early in the book Perel gives nods to both David Schnarch’s Passionate Marriage and Mark Epstein’s lesser known and wonderful book Open To Desire. Her influences are my influences, and so I quickly felt resonance.

I appreciate how she respects the tension between the two poles of desire that commonly define relationships – the desire for security/safety and the desire for excitement/freedom. Rather than offer some easy solution to this dilemma, she invites the reader to sit in the uncomfortable paradox of wanting two seemingly contradictory experiences. This feels like a wise and respectful approach, and one that I employ in my own practice.

Her legitimization of the underlying impulses that drive extra-marital affairs, namely the desire for “aliveness”, will certainly be mistaken for advocacy by those who can’t discern between descriptive and prescriptive voices. Likewise, her willingness to explore kink/bdsm without pathologizing it, and to explore eroticism outside the marriage unit, including consensual non-monogamy, will likely confuse or offend those with fundamentalist ideologies.

Perel gives voice to the elephants in the room. Her truths suddenly seem obvious upon reading, and one wonders how they escaped recognition until now. (The answer likely has to do with the power of taboo and with our unexamined assumptions about sex and love.)

Mating in Captivity acknowledges traditional gender roles and the ways they have shaped our beliefs about marriage and relationship, while offering thoroughly realistic current assessments of how these roles are becoming fluid matters of choice rather than matters of inherited social convention.

Perel’s cross-cultural (and sub-cultural) points of view challenge core American beliefs about the nature of romance, marriage, and intimacy; beliefs that couples therapy as an institution has, itself, largely internalized. For example, you’ll find nothing about “emotional cheating” in this book. In fact, acknowledging and working with the presence of “the third” (whether real, metaphorical or fantasy) is presented as a valuable erotic tool for couples.

In a cultural environment where marriage is expected to become an increasingly serious, responsible, secure and, frankly, non-erotic venture, intentionally nurturing eroticism in the home becomes, as Perel puts it, “an open act of defiance.” Accordingly, Mating in Captivity speaks to those who have a defiant streak.

I’m grateful for the author’s contribution, and the book has earned a place on my shelf alongside Sex at Dawn and the aforementioned Passionate Marriage. For readers struggling with affairs, the loss of eroticism, waning desire, sexual shame, disconnection or other common relationship issues, Mating In Captivity will be a beacon of illumination and hope, while also posing significant challenges to the ways we are accustomed to thinking about fidelity, love, sex and marriage.

All My Best,
Justice

 

 

Like what you’re reading here?
You’ll love my new book.
Read the first 10 pages free.

The Re-connection handbook for couples - by Justice Schanfarber - web box2

8-week Relationship Intensive - Justice Schanfarber

Campbell River Marriage Counselling Justice Schanfarber Trying to grow, fix, change, understand or save your marriage? I provide couples therapy, marriage counselling, coaching and mentoring to individuals and couples on the issues that make or break relationships – Sessions by telephone/skype worldwide. Email justice@justiceschanfarber.com to request a client info package. www.JusticeSchanfarber.com

Like Justice Schanfarber on Facebook

Sign up to get my articles by email –

 

Want to share this article? Use the buttons below.

“Why is it that men are always responsible for what women do or think? Do women have any responsibility to correct their own misbehavior?”

Why is it that men are always responsible for what women do or think? Do women have any responsibility to correct their own misbehavior?

A male reader asks about women’s responsibility in marriage –

I just finished reading your article on “Why women leave men they love”, and I have a major question. Why is it that men are always responsible for what women do or think? Do women have any responsibility to correct their own misbehavior?

I raise some ancillary questions. Why are most women incapable of recognizing their own failures? Whatever happened to women accepting their responsibilities? Whatever happened to “for better or worse,” or “forsaking all others,” or “in sickness and in health”? Women seem to have a very difficult time with loyalty or fidelity. It seems to me that a major element in their makeup is narcissism. Is there, anymore, any moral dimension or constraint that married women accept with regard to marriage?

It will be interesting to read what a post-modern marriage counselor has to say.

Thank you!

My response –

The content of your letter appears to be founded on certain beliefs. I hear these beliefs as something like this – “Lifelong marriage as an institution is intrinsically right and natural. Remaining married in spite of changes in circumstances and personal values is the goal and the moral imperative. People who can not or do not remain married despite their unhappiness in marriage are flawed. These people are mostly women.”

While I do not personally share these beliefs, as a counsellor I am accustomed to working effectively and compassionately within a variety of belief systems.

The term “post-modern” implies a deconstruction of meaning, and aptly describes the state of marriage and relationships for many men and women today. Not long ago we remained bound to social structures that dictated the terms of marriage and relationships. Today many people are re-assessing these institutions, along with the “moral dimension or constraint” that you ask about.

Women especially have been deconstructing their roles and exercising the new choices they have in post-modern relationships. I’m not at all convinced that women cheat more than men, although perhaps the double standard on fidelity is crumbling and so women are becoming more free to do what has previously been a male privilege.

As for recognizing one’s failures, this appears to be difficult for many of us, men and women alike; perhaps because the social, family, or internal consequence of failing has been so punitive. It requires a certain kind of maturity to confront our own failure. This maturity, for men and for women, is mostly discouraged in our culture. The very notion of failure (and success) is rooted in a system that rewards winners, punishes losers and fails to see the value of those experiences unconcerned with either.

In my practice I see many women and men struggling to preserve a marriage in challenging times because they value it, and each other, to the depths of their soul. I also see women and men make themselves literally sick or insane from the misery of staying in a marriage that they don’t want, that they have rejected but cling to for a variety of reasons. But mostly I see women and men trying to make sense of themselves and each other in a world where old rules no longer fully apply.

Many men are hurt and confused as women challenge conventional views of manhood, womanhood, family, marriage, sex and relationships. I get numerous messages from men that essentially say some version of this – “I work at a job I hate to provide for my family. I’m loyal. I make sacrifices. My wife has a duty to loyalty and sacrifice as well.” And so there is rage and bewilderment when a wife chooses loyalty to herself and leaves a marriage rather than continuing to sacrifice according to terms set by others.

If men are feeling comfortable and secure (or just sufficiently trapped) in their own dutiful sacrificial role, then they are probably going to forgo taking the life journey that may be calling. This causes additional stress, internal conflict and resentment. These men will see women who choose to take their own journey at the cost of their marriage as narcissistic and irresponsible.

It’s up to each of us to determine what sacrifice means, its role in our lives, and what an acceptable level of sacrifice might be. Sacrifice can be an important task that calls us to develop maturity, and it can be a tool of oppression that we use to crush ourselves and each other. My job is to help people discern these differences for themselves.

As a “post-modern counsellor” (I actually endeavour to be a post post-modern counsellor, that is I’m interested in bringing meaning back where it has been deconstructed and building appropriate structures rather than just tearing them down) I help people find suitable meaning in life experiences in a world that has been, with mixed results, largely stripped of meaning.

If I took for granted the “naturalness” and moral superiority of conventional marriage, with its views on fidelity, loyalty and responsibility I would impart this bias into my client relationships, which is precisely what many marriage counsellors do.

Who am I to say that someone is bound to remain in relationship with someone else for their entire life because they made an extreme but socially encouraged pact when they were twenty years old? Come to think of it, where else do we find such contracts in our culture? Where else do we say “No matter what happens for the rest of your life, you are bound to this agreement that restricts who you love, who you have sex with and virtually every other aspect of your life.” Even the most extreme business arrangements typically have a renegotiation clause, or some mechanism to ensure ongoing mutual benefit.

Whatever the benefits of toughing it out through an agreement we made two or twenty or fifty years ago – and there are many – there can also be benefits to changing or ending the agreement. When a woman comes to counselling and says “My marriage is a misery. I want to change it but my husband refuses to even discuss our relationship with me. We haven’t had sex in six years and he won’t talk about it. I don’t want to die without being held again…” shall I remind her of the vows she made twenty-five years ago and give her a pep talk on loyalty and fidelity? Do I know better than she about her experience? Does marriage?

Perhaps we’re being called to rethink this institution of marriage that we’ve inherited. I recently met someone who agreed to a five year marriage with a renewal option. They’ve been going for twenty and are now adding some unconventional clauses.

Thanks for responding to my article and for asking the questions that are on your mind. We live in a world of vast choices and infinite paradox. I lay no claim to “the truth” in all this, but I’m committed to exploring these complex topics.

All My Best,
Justice

Suggested books –
King, Warrior, Magician, Lover – Robert Moore
The Hero Within – Carol Pearson
Sex at Dawn – Christopher Ryan

Also read –
The surprising role of conflict in relationships – How the arguments that tear us apart also hold us together (Part 1)

Follow me on social media for sex and relationship tips, tools, and insights – Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Like what you’re reading here?
You’ll love my book.
Read the first 10 pages free.

The Re-connection handbook for couples - by Justice Schanfarber - web box2

 

8-week Relationship Intensive - Justice Schanfarber

 

Campbell River Marriage Counselling Justice Schanfarber Trying to grow, fix, change, understand or save your marriage? I provide couples therapy, marriage counselling, coaching and mentoring to individuals and couples on the issues that make or break relationships – Sessions by telephone/skype worldwide. Email justice@justiceschanfarber.com to request a client info package. www.JusticeSchanfarber.com

Like Justice Schanfarber on Facebook

 

Sign up to get my articles by email –

 

Want to share this article? You can use the buttons below.

“Why would my wife have a one night stand, although she swears up and down she loves me and is crazy about me?”

Why would my wife have a one night standA reader asks about cheating, love and betrayal –

Tell me this – why would my wife have a one night stand, although she swears up and down she loves me and is crazy about me? She was out of town on business, she said she had no control over it, she is deeply regretful and ashamed. God, what do I do now, just the thought of this breaks me everyday. If she truly loved me, where was I in her mind when this happened? Does she truly love me, can something like this really just happen on accident? Its been months since this happened but it still feels to me like it was yesterday. She tries everyday to make me feel better but I just don’t, she lays by me at night but I feel like she is so far away, this has changed everything between us. I love her and always have, I’m devastated over this and need help.

Cheating is a breach of trust and sexual betrayal hurts like hell. That said, there are plenty of voices ready to condemn a cheating spouse, so presumably that niche is well filled and I’ll take a different angle. I assume you’ve asked your wife the “why” question you’re asking me now, and that her answer was unsatisfying. She may not know the answer to your question, or she may be too confused and ashamed to admit it – to you and to herself.

Sex is powerful. It’s sometimes more powerful than we want to believe. Sex held power over your wife that night, and it’s held power over you ever since. Sex is paradoxically simple and complicated. Simple in its basic innocence and instinctual roots. Complicated in that we attach worlds of meaning and expectation to it. Have you examined the meaning you attach to sex? I suggest you do. Much of the meaning we attach FEELS like common sense – natural, inherent, universal. But upon inquiry we may discover that the meaning we attach to sex is unconscious, unexamined, and, ultimately… optional.

In simple terms – Yes, a person can conceivably love you AND have sex with someone else. These are not necessarily mutually exclusive things. In fact, couples negotiate all sorts of sexual arrangements to accommodate their values and desires. However, there’s a big difference between consensual agreements and betrayal. I know you’re hurt, and I feel for you. There will likely be a strong impulse for your wife to now pledge undying fidelity and demonstrate deep regret, for you to withdraw into your woundedness for a time, and for both of you to try and get back to “normal” as soon as possible. These are understandable and valid impulses, but see if you can muster the courage to use this window of opportunity for you and your wife to honestly examine, and possibly update your assumptions, beliefs and  agreements around sex.

All My Best,
Justice

Follow me on social media for sex and relationship tips, tools, and insights – Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Like what you’re reading here?
You’ll love my book.
Read the first 10 pages free.

The Re-connection handbook for couples - by Justice Schanfarber - web box2

 

8-week Relationship Intensive - Justice Schanfarber

 

Campbell River Marriage Counselling Justice Schanfarber Trying to grow, fix, change, understand or save your marriage? I provide couples therapy, marriage counselling, coaching and mentoring to individuals and couples on the issues that make or break relationships – Sessions by telephone/skype worldwide. Email justice@justiceschanfarber.com to request a client info package. www.JusticeSchanfarber.com

Like Justice Schanfarber on Facebook

 

Sign up to get my articles by email –

 

Want to share this article? You can use the buttons below.

“My boyfriend wants a gangbang – Can this be good for a long term relationship?”

My boyfriend wants a gangbang or threesome

Photo © Pamela Hodson | Dreamstime

A reader asks about gangbangs –

My boyfriend really likes gangbangs. He’s done them in the past and watches a lot of this type of porn. I’ve never participated, being relatively new to this type of thing and I’m trying to understand. I wanted to know if engaging in something like this with a long term partner (as a means of pleasing him, and I would be okay with it too) would jeopardize the relationship. Our goals are to both grow holistically and I’m concerned it would go against that path. He has since made efforts to change his thinking, but it has got me thinking now, what’s the worst that could happen?

Opening your sexual relationship to include others is intrinsically neither helpful nor harmful. It can be either – or both – in different circumstances. I understand your concern that it could jeopardize a long term relationship, and the truth is that it might, but no more so than repressing sexual desires also might.

It sounds like you are warming up to the idea for your own sake. If you were seeing me as a client, I would want to cover some basics on what will help you have a successful outcome should you choose to try it. I do know smart, loving, “holistic” long-term couples who enjoy group sex, gangbangs, and kinky sex of all types, so I know it’s possible.

The word “gangbang” can have a violent connotation. Conventional porn tends to portray impersonality, objectification and degradation. This can influence our perception of sex in general and can come to define specific sexual activities like group sex. As you consider expanding your own sex life, please stretch your vision beyond what you’ve seen in porn. Much more is possible.

Someone close to me recently pointed out that for her a gangbang is really just “group sex with me in the starring role!” The point is that you and your boyfriend can choose whatever sort of tone or feeling you want for the experience. A so-called “gangbang” or group sex session with one woman and multiple men can be gentle, rough, tender, slow, fast or any combination that you choose.

The more clear and communicative you are about your own desires (and limits), the better your chances are of having a positive experience. Get in touch with what YOU actually want. What would feel good for you? Not just for him, but for you too? After all, YOU’RE in the starring role!

Be specific when you discuss the scenario with your boyfriend. Use candid language. Get clear on your limits and make sure you are both on the same page before you include others. Select your collaborators carefully. Are they trustworthy? Do they have sufficient empathy and communication skills to fit into the scenario you envision?

Talk about safety – physical AND emotional – and make sure everyone is on board. I encourage you to discuss and practice moment-to-moment consent. Make sure everyone knows what “Stop” means. Just because you agree to try something does not mean you are required to continue. Giving yourself permission to stop, or slow down, or change course at any time, and making sure this is understood by everyone, will go a long way to build trust and avoid regret. Hopefully it all goes fantastically and you have the time of your life. But if it isn’t going well for you, please stop and re-assess. Make sure everyone present is your ally in this regard.

Consider what kind of aftercare you want. Cuddling? Group shower? Just you and your boyfriend? I encourage you to debrief the experience together. How was it for you? Were there surprises? What did you enjoy? What would you do differently?

Obviously it’s best to practice safer sex using condoms/barriers. I also encourage you to play sober, especially to start. If you can’t muster the courage or chemistry without alcohol or drugs, you aren’t ready.

Please be patient and kind with yourself. Group sex is not as easy as porn stars make it look. Much like one-on-one sex, group sex can have a learning curve and it might require practice before it becomes truly enjoyable. As the woman in the starring role, you may find yourself feeling emotionally and physically vulnerable or awkward as well as excited. The more you can stay present to the experience, communicate your desires, and represent yourself before, during and after the event, the more likely you are to come away feeling good about the experience.

All My Best,
Justice

PS – I recommend the book The Ethical Slut for those exploring consensual non-monogamy in any form. Also, read my book Conscious Kink for Couples.

Follow me on social media for sex and relationship tips, tools, and insights – Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Like what you’re reading here?
You’ll love my book.
Read the first 10 pages free.

Conscious Kink for Couples - The beginner’s guide to using kinky sex and BDSM for pleasure, growth, intimacy, and healing - by Justice Schanfarber

 

8-week Relationship Intensive - Justice Schanfarber

Campbell River Marriage Counselling Justice Schanfarber Trying to grow, fix, change, understand or save your marriage? I provide couples therapy, marriage counselling, coaching and mentoring to individuals and couples on the issues that make or break relationships – Sessions by telephone/skype worldwide. Email justice@justiceschanfarber.com to request a client info package. www.JusticeSchanfarber.com

Like Justice Schanfarber on Facebook

 

Sign up to get my articles by email –

 

Want to share this article? You can use the buttons below.

Why women leave men they love – What every man needs to know

Marriage - why women leave, cheatAs a marriage counsellor working with men and women in relationship crisis, I help clients navigate numerous marriage counselling issues. While many situations are complex, there’s one profoundly simple truth that men need to know. It’s this – Women leave men they love.

They feel terrible about it. It tears the heart out of them. But they do it. They rally their courage and their resources and they leave. Women leave men with whom they have children, homes and lives. Women leave for many reasons, but there’s one reason in particular that haunts me, one that I want men to understand:

Women leave because their man is not present. He’s working, golfing, gaming, watching TV, fishing… the list is long. These aren’t bad men. They’re good men. They’re good fathers. They support their family. They’re nice, likeable. But they take their wife for granted. They’re not present.

Women in my office tell me “Someone could come and sweep me off my feet, right out from under my husband.” Sometimes the realization scares them. Sometimes they cry.

Men – I’m not saying this is right or wrong. I’m telling you what I see. You can get as angry or hurt or indignant as you want. Your wife is not your property. She does not owe you her soul. You earn it. Day by day, moment to moment. You earn her first and foremost with your presence, your aliveness. She needs to feel it. She wants to talk to you about what matters to her and to feel you hearing her. Not nodding politely. Not placating. Definitely not playing devil’s advocate.

She wants you to feel her. She doesn’t want absent-minded groping or quick release sex. She wants to feel your passion. Can you feel your passion? Can you show her? Not just your passion for her or for sex; your passion for being alive. Do you have it? It’s the most attractive thing you possess. If you’ve lost it, why? Where did it go? Find out. Find it. If you never discovered it you are living on borrowed time.

If you think you’re present with your wife, try listening to her. Does your mind wander? Notice. When you look at her, how deeply do you see her? Look again, look deeper. Meet her gaze and keep it for longer than usual, longer than comfortable. If she asks what you’re doing, tell her. “I’m looking into you. I want to see you deeply. I’m curious about who you are. After all these years I still want to know who you are every day.” But only say it if you mean it, if you know it’s true.

Touch her with your full attention. Before you lay your hand on her, notice the sensation in your hand. Notice what happens the moment you make contact. What happens in your body? What do you feel? Notice the most subtle sensations and emotions. (This is sometimes called mindfulness.) Tell her about what you’re noticing, moment to moment.

But you’re busy. You don’t have time for this. How about five minutes? Five minutes each day. Will you commit to that? I’m not talking about extravagant dinners or nights out (although those are fine too). I’m talking about five minutes every day to be completely present to the woman you share your life with. To be completely open – hearing and seeing without judgement. Will you do that? I bet once you start, once you get a taste, you won’t want to stop.

<Note – The gender dynamic outlined above is reversible. It can go both ways.>

UPDATE – Read this response > Why men leave women they love (click here)

Follow me on social media for sex and relationship tools, stories, and insights – Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Like what you’re reading here?
You’ll love my new book.
Read the first 10 pages free.

The Re-connection handbook for couples - by Justice Schanfarber - web box2

8-week Relationship Intensive - Justice Schanfarber

 

Campbell River Marriage Counselling Justice Schanfarber Trying to grow, fix, change, understand or save your marriage? I provide couples therapy, marriage counselling, coaching and mentoring to individuals and couples on the issues that make or break relationships – Sessions by telephone/skype worldwide. Email justice@justiceschanfarber.com to request a client info package. www.JusticeSchanfarber.com

 

Like Justice Schanfarber on Facebook

Sign up to get my articles by email –

 

Like this article? Share using the buttons below.