Still

Though unspoken, they both knew that after 38 years of marriage their time together would soon draw to an end. Despite the valiant war she waged the cancer had overtaken every aspect of her being and we all knew she would not be with us when the morning came. We moved her into the family room as she requested, so she could be among her children and grandchildren, not tucked far away from them in a corner bedroom.

My father knelt beside her. Thinking he was simply bathing her (a task I myself had performed every day over the course of that week), I began to tidy up the nearby kitchen. He raised her left hand and kissed her wedding band. He began to bathe her hand, her arm, her shoulder. He stroked her hair, over and over. She was much calmer, and her breathing that had been so labored in the previous minutes seemed to become less difficult. She turned her face toward him…they were only inches apart from one another.

They did not speak. Their gaze locked onto one another. His hand lingered over her shoulder, then moved toward her chest. Through her entire illness, I had never seen her shed one tear, until now. His hand did not move. I could only imagine what each of them was thinking.

Were they remembering, were they longing? Yearning? Were they aching in anticipation of separation?

Was he trying to memorize her? She, him?

It suddenly dawned on me what was taking place just a few feet away from me. I hurriedly left the room, allowing them to be alone for the last time.

To the casual observer, the scene unfolding may have appeared to a be a sponge bath from a loving caregiver for his dying wife. But it was so much more than that.

What I was witnessing was a most tender act of love making.

Photo Credit: Man met bril (Flikr.com)

Everybody’s Searchin’ for Intimacy

We are relational creatures—we need to be with other people. Even Aristotle once observed that people who don’t want to be emotionally connected to others are either “a beast or a god.”

Yep–everybody’s searchin’ for intimacy. Everybody’s hurtin’ for intimacy.

 

The word intimacy comes from the Latin word intimus, which means inner or internal, to come from within a person. In my field of family studies, we use the term to refer to an emotional closeness, mutual trust, and comfortable levels of self-disclosure shared between love partners.

And intimacy doesn’t just benefit you as a couple and your relationship. Unlike any other aspect of a love and/or sexual relationship, intimacy meets your crucial individual psychological needs…it actually promotes your own well-being and psychological health.

Through frequent, intimate communication in which your talks include personal sharing, listening, and understanding, your individual psychological needs are met by way of your relationship with your partner! As you self-disclose and share, and as your partner responds positively to your disclosures, your emotional bond to each other is strengthened and deepened—and so is your love for one another.

Developing intimacy is a process, and because it’s a process it means that it will change over time—not might, not maybe, not probably, not possibly.

Intimacy. Will. Change. Over. Time.

<Insert Realistic Relationship Expectation Here>

The intimacy you have today will not—should not (!!!)—be the same 5 years from now or 10 or 20 years from now. Just as your love matures and changes over time, so will your intimacy levels.

As you get to know your partner better, you begin to self-disclose your thoughts and feelingsThis leads to greater sharing of personal vulnerabilities and fears and hopes and dreams and wishesWhich even further deepens your levels of trustWhich gives you the freedom to share even more and moreWhich ultimately creates your own unique, private relational culture.

And that, my friends, is what divorce/affair proofs your relationship!

Oh, creating and maintaining this intimacy culture is tough work, there’s no doubt about that! This is why, when kids come on the scene—and  we’re so busy tending to their needs and driving them over half of hell’s acre to get them where they need to be—most relationships experience a huge dip in relationship satisfaction.

But your relationship doesn’t have to be “average.” You don’t have to experience that nose-dive, OMG-are-we-ever-going-to-pull-out-of-this unhappiness.

It takes work, though. Are you ready to commit to what it takes?

Start by filling out this intimacy inventory. Each partner fills this out on his/her own time…once this is done, get together (away from LIFE!!) in a quiet setting and discuss your answers with each other.

Save your responses, because over the next several weeks we’re going to build on this information and then begin to weave it into what you already know about marriage scripts, love maps, and sex scripts!

And…there’s a surprise twist at the end. You don’t want to miss it!

Photo Credit: “Affection” by Colby Cash (flickr.com)

The Kiss Still Works

I stand by the bed where a young woman lies, her face postoperative, her mouth twisted in palsy, clownish. A tiny twig of the facial nerve, the one to the muscles of her mouth, has been severed. She will be thus from now on.

The surgeon had followed with religious fervor the curve of her flesh; I promise you that.

Nevertheless, to remove the tumor in her cheek, I had to cut the little nerve.

Her young husband is in the room. He stands on the opposite side of the bed and together they seem to dwell in the evening lamplight, isolated from me, private.

Who are they, I ask myself, he and this wry mouth I have made, who gaze at and touch each other so generously, greedily?

The young woman asks, “Will my mouth always be like this?”

“Yes,” I say, “it will. It’s because the nerve was cut.”

She nods and is silent. But the young man smiles. “I like it,” he says. “It’s kind of cute.”

Unmindful, he bends to kiss her crooked mouth and I am so close I can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate to hers, to show her that their kiss still works.

What is it that strikes you most about this story?


Source: Selzer, 1978.
Photo Credit: Bob.Fornal (flickr.com)

What’s Your Love Triangle Score?

Do you want a marriage that lasts? Do you want to live [almost] happily ever after? Then consummate love (not to be confused with consommé soup!) is what you want to strive for!

Consummate love is thought to be the most complete form of love, the love that’s associated with “perfect couples.”  Consummate means to develop something or to bring something to the point of perfection.

A perfect marriage? For real?  Yep.

Psychologist Robert Sternberg developed his Triangle Theory of Love, which conceptualizes eight different types of love relationships. Sternberg says that love isn’t a fixed experience—it’s a process that undergoes change over time, and it’s made up of three main things:

1.Intimacy:Feelings of closeness and connectedness deepen as we self-disclose—the more we disclose about private aspects of our lives, the deeper the trust becomes (and, the deeper the trust, the more we disclose). This trust, in turn, builds respect, affection, warmth, and the spiritual bond between couples. Intimacy takes time—and nurturing—to build, but it’s a prominent feature of love that lasts.

2.Passion: This refers to the physical attraction and romantic feelings that draw us to someone. Passion is the initial driving force in relationships. But it peaks quickly, and over time, reduces to a stable level (otherwise, we couldn’t get anything else accomplished!). At the same time, though, intimacy levels rise.

[PUSH THE PAUSE BUTTON:When passion begins to fade, it’s a good sign that the love is transitioning to a calmer love—to consummate love, a love that lasts! You are not falling out of love! The relationship is not over! Do not bail out! Stick it out, talk, and watch what happens next!]

3.Commitment: Simply put: Commitment is the decision to love someone else and to maintain the love over time. Loving another person is a conscious act of will—it is a deliberate choice. It’s putting forth your best effort in a relationship. No matter what.

I’ll be the first one to tell you that developing consummate love is tough. And maintaining it is even tougher.

That’s why I’m determined to write this blog, to help you get to that kind of love that no one can compete with! That kind of love that is so crazy hot Goliath himself couldn’t take you out of it. That kind of love you see in others and say to yourself (or out loud), I want that!

Stop in later and I’ll show you how all of this stuff about love ties together. In the meantime, time for another pop quiz!  Go here to see what kind of triangle of love you have. (When it asks for forename, it’s asking for your partner’s first name. It took me a second to figure that out. J).

 

 

Photo Credit: B Rosen (flickr.com)

 

Starter Marriages: A Great Little Fixer-Upper?

Passionate love wanes. Passionate love ultimately fades.

If couples don’t have this realistic expectation going into their marriages—knowing that passionate love will fizzle—it’s a very real possibility that when this romantic love gives way, partners (especially gals) no longer “feel” that they’re in love.

I think this is one of the reasons why we’re seeing an increase in a frightening new trend, that of starter marriages. Starter marriages—a first marriage that lasts five years or less and ends before a couple has children—are on the rise in the US and Europe.

One researcher writes about starter marriages here. The author is spot on when she says that today’s couples get sucked into “matrimania” (the planning of the gazillion dollar wedding. And shut the heck up–Bridalplasty. I mean, seriously? Bridalplasty?), and that they don’t give much thought to the marriage that comes after the wedding.

These marriages are kind of like flipping houses.  You know, the trend where people purchase a little fixer upper, pour love and attention and resources into it, and then get out of it—hoping to make a profit? Hoping to benefit somehow from the experience?

Take this from a TLC junkie: People who try to flip houses almost always discover that it’s much harder to do than they thought. Much. Harder.

Seeing young adults’ marriages trend in this direction worries me quite a bit, because these marriages aren’t benign, innocuous experiences. Make no mistake about it: These types of relationships carry lasting effects, because they etch yet another mark on the love map.

Could this matrimania/starter marriage craze be the result of passionate love? I’m betting yes.

Have you ever heard of starter marriages? What’s your opinion about them?

“No Matter What” Kind of Sex

 

Remember earlier I told you that research shows us that nearly 3 out of 4 marriages end in divorce when a woman becomes seriously ill? Other research might also help to explain why some marriages can’t survive the “worse” in those for-better-or-worse marriage vows.

I spent the better part of two years studying what happens to a woman’s body image and sexual response following a breast cancer diagnosis and/or a mastectomy. Like many other researchers before me, I found that breast cancer is intricately linked to body image in some way for most women (in 93 of the 110 women I studied).

When I did my PhD internship at a breast cancer center, I discovered that the breasts-are-sexuality-femininity connection for women is so significant that many women who needed a mastectomy yesterday to save their lives, refused to do so—primarily because they were so afraid that losing a breast (or breasts) meant that they would also lose their sexuality and femininity. Or their husband.

I vividly recall when one woman in her 30s looked at her husband in desperation and said, “Will you still love me if I’m not pretty?”

But losing a breast isn’t just about appearance and sex to women—it’s about a sense of being whole, about self-esteem, about body image….essentially, it’s about losing their identity.

(WARNING: You are about to see photographs of post-mastectomy women. Please do not read further if you believe these images will disturb you or cause uneasiness.

I include these images so that you can see the reality of breast cancer, and why recovering physically, mentally, and emotionally can be a very, very long process. I also include the images so that you can see why it’s so tough for marriages and sex to survive after an illness like this—and why teaching women to be sexual objects for their husbands can be potentially dangerous to their marriages.) [Read more...]

Everything That Comes with It

 

I admit it—I was the little girl who used to create Barbie doll wedding dresses out of toilet paper.  I was the little girl who pinned a pillow case “wedding veil” to her pony tail, and I was the little girl who, when asked by her ice skating instructor what she wanted to practice, said, “Let’s practice walking down the aisle!”

Falling in love.  Marriage.  Babies.  I had my entire life planned out by the time I was six years old.  Is it any wonder I had to have the wedding of the century (second only to Princess Diana, of course)?  My winter wedding day, complete with snow, was spectacular.  Perfect.  Flawless.  I was locked arm in arm with my dad, and the wedding planner was making sure my gown would make its magnificent statement (actually, in 1981 we didn’t have wedding planners….but I’m fairly certain he would have been a wedding planner if there were such a thing back then).

The music was just about to cue my entrance, and

It.  Happened.

As I tried to step toward the doors waiting to be opened by the wedding planner wannabe, my dad hesitated.  He wouldn’t budge.  At first I thought he was just trying to slow me down a bit (he had been, after all, telling me to be still and quiet down since I was about two years old).  In a panic, I looked at Dad and said, “Are you okay?”   He took a deep breath.

Oh. No.  I knew that sigh.  I knew that sigh always preceded a lecture, correction, admonishment.  Why now?  Didn’t he maybe kind of sort of think this might not be such a good time?  Couldn’t he have maybe kind of sort of told me what he wanted to say, oh, I don’t know, like a month before? Or at the rehearsal dinner?  Or the morning of the wedding?  The doors opened and I gave him an I’m-kind-of-busy-right-now-Dad-can-this-wait-oh-no-you’re-going-to-say-it-anyway-this-can’t-be-happening-everyone’s-looking-at-us look(s).

Gently, like loving daddies do, he drew me into his side and whispered in my ear, “When you take your first step down this aisle, you must do so as if the word ‘divorce’ does not exist–you must enter this marriage knowing that divorce is a possibility, but something that should be your very last resort.  Because after today, I can guarantee you that along with the happiness and joy you are feeling this very moment, this marriage will bring with it sorrow.  There will be heartbreak, there will be difficulties, there might even be tragedy.  Before you walk down the aisle, you must know in your heart that marriage–and everything that comes with it–is truly what you want.”

I would like to be able to say that I melted into his arms and thanked him over and over for his wisdom.  But, using my wedding bouquet to point toward the altar, all I could manage to get out was, “Ummmm….Okay.  Thanks.  Can we go now?”  And, like loving daddies do, he squeezed me, chuckled, and said, “I love you Chickie.  Let’s go get ‘em.”

Realistically speaking, none of us is equipped to tackle the “everything” that comes with intimate relationships and marriage.  We change.  We grow.  And we soon come to discover that the “everything” is actually quite different from what we expected.  In desperation, we consider divorce because the “everything” just hurts too much. It’s just too much work to make it right again.

But guess what–you can divorce proof your marriage.  You can have a marriage or an intimate relationship that doesn’t just survive, but one that thrives. You can experience a sex life that is almost never dull or boring.  You can be a terrific parent.  And you can leave your kids a legacy that no amount of money can ever buy….a foundation upon which they will someday build their own marriages and relationships.

About now, you’re probably saying to yourself, “Here we go again, same-old-same-old tired marriage advice.”

Nope.  I won’t waste your time with that stuff, because it doesn’t work.

You see, the problem with existing books, TV talk show gurus, radio shows, and marriage or engagement weekend retreats is that they assume in their one-size-fits-all fixes that everyone defines “love,” “marriage,” or “sex” in the same way they do.  That’s why this stuff flops–almost always.

By writing with the notion that everyone follows the same pathway to marriage (first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes ______ pushing the baby carriage), books like The Love Dare and He’s Just Not That Into You reduce love, sex, and the “everything” of intimate relationships to something we do, instead of showing us how and why these experiences are a part of who we are.

Follow me through this blog. Spend some time with me and discover how, from the parent-child love bond, to friendships, to ex-boyfriends, girlfriends, or lovers, every past relationship writes your marriage scripts.

Come alongside and see how you can know–really, really know–who you are as a lover and who your intimate partner is.  Learn what it truly means to vow to “love” or to “honor” or to “care” for that person you’re thinking about marrying, or that person you’re already married to.  Hang out here for a few weeks, and you’ll discover how you can commit to the commitment….even when the “everything” makes it seemingly impossible to do so.

Kelly