Month: September 2012

The Intimacy Feedback Loop

by Jonathan Hart, LPC

When a breach has occurred in relationship, one of the hardest pieces to rebuild is trust.  There has been hurt, maybe lashing out in both directions, recrimination, guilt, and shame.

One basic tool for understanding how trust is rebuilt is what I refer to as the Intimacy feedback loop.

The first step is “Risking Vulnerability”.  This is a hard one.  It means choosing to tell, reveal, or do something that makes you feel vulnerable, risking that the other person will have the power to use it to hurt you (again). The challenge is in not risking unwisely.  If your counterpart has not shown evidence of being willing to work on things or to be vulnerable in their own turn, you might not be ready to engage in this process.  But if both of you are on the same page about building trust and being trust-worthy, then it is time to risk.  Start small, be careful and cautious, but risk being vulnerable about something.

The next step is “Connection and Safety”.  When one person risks becoming vulnerable and shares something sensitive or fearful, the other has two choices: to receive and hold gently, or to reject and misuse the information.  When what is risked is received, heard, and validated, both partners feel closer to each other, and trust begins to grow.  When what is risked is rejected or misused, the emotional distance is increased and trust is destroyed exponentially more.

Risk that results in safe connection (trust) leads to Intimacy.  Intimacy leads to an increased capacity to risk, and so on around the circle.  The building of trust happens incrementally, never all at once.  This is especially true when damage has been done within the relationship.  The one who has been hurt is rightly cautious of trusting the one who has hurt them.  To expect anyone to “get over it”  quickly is unreasonable, no matter what “it” is.

The hard task of the one who had done the harm is to receive and absorb this distrust, and to allow for it to be present, even after much has been amended.  Acknowledging the hurt, behaving in a way contrary to the hurtful behavior, and to remain patient for healing is all a part of remaining trustworthy, and contributes to the rebuilding of trust.  And it will take time.

Trust operates on a fader, not on an “on/off” switch.  Sometimes you’ll trust at 40%, and sometimes at 10%.  It will slide back and forth.  Just because trust is lower today than it was yesterday does not mean it isn’t growing.  It may just mean you’re having a bad day and that the pain is closer to the surface.  It takes a great deal to totally destroy trust, just as total “100%” trust is impossible to achieve (and is unwarranted, given that we are all fallible human beings!).

Try to hold to the long view of this as a growth process; that with all the ups and downs, as long as you are continuing to hold each other gently and honor each others’ risks, trust will continue to grow between you.  Give it the time it needs. Keep on walking the circle.

7 tips for a healthier marriage

by: Andy Gear, PLPC
1. Avoid blaming

In our consumer culture it is tempting to look for ways to change the other person. We often look at the people in our relationships as we would products and want them to perform to our liking (Doherty). However, it is ineffective and destructive to try to change someone else. Instead it is much more effective to initiate change in your own behavior. In most cases changing how you approach the relationship will have a positive effect on the marriage, regardless of your partner’s intention to change. This is a countercultural way of living, but one that will improve relationships immensely if lived consistently.

2. Take time to reflect

Changing the way you act in relationships requires a great deal of self-reflection. We must think about who we truly are and how we want to live. It is vital to see beyond our surface frustrations to the softer emotions that are driving our fears and longings. If we do not reflect, we will see our marriage issues as merely frustrations with the other person’s behavior. In order to communicate with your spouse effectively you must know what is going on inside you.

3. Determine true needs

Reject the consumer mentality that your partner must meet your each and every desire. Spouses cannot meet every one of our needs and that is ok. We can distinguish between our needs and desires. We all have hopes and desires, but it is unfair to establish goals for another person. Determine what you truly need from your spouse, and what are simply desires or qualities that can be met by a friend.

4. Communicate your needs directly

Communicate to your spouse what you truly need in the relationship honestly and directly. Though it may be terrifying, we must have the courage to communicate our honest feelings to our spouse instead of someone else. If we do not communicate what we most long for in the relationship, our partner is unable to respond to our deepest needs.  But if we communicate our deepest feelings we open ourselves up to the possibility of closer intimacy.

5. Respond to each other’s needs

Respond to your partner’s feelings, reassuring them that you are there for them (Johnson). Be emotionally responsive to each other’s deepest fears and needs. It is not about agreeing with the other person’s view but trying to understand where the other person is coming from. Our problems often have more to do with the hurt and the disconnection than about the disagreements. Seeing one’s partner respond empathetically to their deepest needs has a deeply bonding effect. This does not imply that we solve them, but that we show that we understand. Showing your partner that they matter to you helps create a safe and secure relationship where one can be less defensive (Johnson).

6. Clarify your commitment

Knowing that you are both committed to the marriage can help lower the emotional intensity of your conflict. It helps to understand that the frustrations you are pointing out in your partner are not deal breakers. Agree that you do not want divorce to be a part of the conversation (Doherty). With this commitment, you can take the time to improve the marriage at its root, rather than frantically trying to rescue the marriage from the brink. Of course not all couples will be able to tell each other that divorce is not an option, but for those who can, this can reduce tension and improve your ability to work on your marriage.

7. Fight for the relationship

Relationships naturally weaken when they are neglected. Resist the urge to simply fight for your own needs, instead fight for the needs of the relationship (Doherty). Take responsibility for the relationship and be intentional about it.  Work together to look for creative and practical ways to continue to connect in your daily lives. Make it a priority. Staying together even through a difficult marriage (except in extreme cases) is rewarding, both for you and for your entire family. But keeping that close connection requires work, commitment, and making the relationship a priority.