“Put your shoes on, I’ll get your coat; I’m taking you out to dinner tonight.”
I look up through wet lashes and a furrowed brow toward this calm yet commanding voice, my vision blurred, my nervous system frayed. I’ve been battling my computer all day, facing one technical snafu after another, trying to meet a deadline. One look at my blotchy face tells my husband all he needs to know: I need a break NOW. His words cut through my fog of frustration and fatigue, and I acquiesce.
My husband is one of the most tender, kind, and wise men I’ve ever known. In his wisdom, he’s learned when to take charge with me. He knows that giving me a command sometimes is the kindest thing he can do. Thoughtfully applied, taking command brings balance to a relationship. It can help dispel a vicious cycle and allows one partner to relax into the strength of the other. Of course, there are occasions when his take-charge attitude is met by equally stubborn resistance, and in those instances, he usually knows enough to try a different approach. Like I said, he’s a wise man.
Herein lies an important key to skillful communication—how do we keep finding ways that create clear connections instead of blurry attempts and missed opportunities? Part of my job as a coach is helping clients find new ways of perceiving old problems. People pay me good money to name the obvious . . . and then to find a not-so-obvious approach to shifting awareness around it.
One common area where both singles and couples complain they “don’t know what they’re doing wrong” is in creating quality time with another (aka a date). When someone comes to me complaining that they are not getting the results they want in this arena, I share a foundational observation about four basic communication approaches: Command, Offer, Invitation, and Request. Knowing how and when to apply these four different approaches can significantly increase their positive results.
A Command requires the person taking charge to embody a healthy confidence, and it presumes an implicit level of intimacy. As long as the recipient inherently trusts that the command is being made with their best interest at heart, it can be very effective. If done from an unconscious desire to squelch another’s autonomy or expression, it will ultimately backfire.
Making an Offer is the most popular—and most passive—approach in attempting connection. With an Offer, we are vaguely letting someone know that something is important to us without actually asking for what we want. Often the person making the Offer thinks they have been clear in making their intention known (“Come on over anytime!”), but the receiver hasn’t a clue that the Offer has anything to do with them personally. As the old marketing adage says, “If the customer is confused about what you’re selling, their answer is ‘no.’”
One of the most powerful communication shifts I coach clients to make is learning how to make clear Invitations. Invitations involve two exciting elements. They let the person you’re asking know:
1) I want to share an experience with you; and
2) I am willing to take responsibility for making it happen.
This level of candor creates a dynamic tension where the recipient directly feels your attention and must respond. Whether they say “yes” or “no” or “I don’t know” to your invitation becomes secondary to the impact your undivided attention and intention has on them (if they say “I don’t know,” take it as a “no” and move on). Receiving clear, personal invites is flattering to the recipient and deepens presence in the asker. Upgrading wishy-washy offers to purposeful invitations is one of the best ways to start getting more of what you want in your relationships.
The Request approach is borrowed from international conflict mediator Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication. NVC models a way to clarify personal feelings and values and then, based on this data, supports people in making clear requests for what they want. NVC is a great tool for helping couples unravel their stories about each other (“You don’t care how I feel!”) and instead take responsibility for actually asking for what they truly want (“I have a need to be heard about topic X, and I am wondering if you’d be willing to give me some empathy.”)
These foundational approaches all have value, yet knowing which one to employ can make all the difference between igniting chemistry or creating confusion.
Try applying all four in a practice scenario, and notice which ones feel the most—and the least—familiar. Then use the communication approaches that are the least familiar with someone you’re interested in knowing better and notice your results.
This article, written by Joy Hosey, first appeared in the March-April 2015 issue of Spirituality & Health and the Spirituality & Health website.
One of the most common issues I hear from couples is the desire for “more intimacy.” But what exactly does this mean? The classic partner polarization is that for one person, intimacy means more sex, while for the other, it means more emotional connection. Upon deeper examination, however, what generally emerges is that both parties desire more physical closeness.
Skin-to-skin contact is our most primal interface with the world. In infancy, through a merged state with our mother source, we experience safety, nurturance, bliss. As our ego develops, skin becomes our body ego’s demarcation between “self” and “other.” The characteristics of what psychoanalysis calls “skin-ego” can be vulnerability, pleasure, or excitement. Neuroscience supports that the receptors in our skin deeply influence our nervous system development. When we have feelings—anger, embarrassment, anxiety, joy, or sexual arousal—we often feel it directly as a heightened charge at skin level. Imbalances in “skin-ego” lead to either a sense of feeling overly exposed to our environment (aka “thin-skinned”) or defended against intrusion or disappointment (or “thick-skinned”). When we allow someone “to get under our skin” we are admitting vulnerability.
But getting the type of physical contact we want is not always easy. Asking your partner for more touch and expecting them to understand what you mean is like telling them you are hungry without telling them what kind of food you want. Take Deni and Pam, for instance: Deni delights in slow, featherlight stroking on her skin, while Pam requires firm, deep pressure to help her relax. Their early forays in intimacy were fraught with frustration until they finally understood each other’s unique wiring. Much like the five basic taste sensations (sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami), there are also specific tactile styles. I call these basic styles The Five Fingers of Touch. They are:
Nurturing Touch: Often, when a couple comes to me after a long period of disenchantment with each other, both parties are longing for a revival of nurturing touch. Shoulder or foot rubs, back scratches, or head stroking are all common ways we communicate loving support to our partner. This helps us feel safe and bonded and is an essential antidote to stressors in our lives.
Playful Touch: Tapping, gentle pinching, wrestling, and conscious tickling can evoke levity and laughter for many couples. Making faces, growling, or other funny sounds can shift a dull atmosphere to one of comical camaraderie.
Passionate Touch: This involves short bursts of robust energy that disarms your partner. An unexpected full-body embrace or firmly holding their face or squeezing their buttocks can wake you both up from a trance of business-as-usual relating.
Sensual Touch: Awakening somatic senses is the key here. By subtly applying various types of pressure, tempo, vibration, and temperature, you can help shift your partner’s attention from outside concerns to internal pleasure. Soothing or tantalizing sounds, smells, and tastes can be added to enhance the receiver’s experience of sensory arousal.
Sexual Touch: Erogenous zones exist all over our bodies, not just our genitals. Knowing your partner’s favorite turn-on zones—and discovering new ones—can open up new realms of intimacy. And keep in mind that what feels good in one encounter may not be true in the next. Sexual touch is a wonderful opportunity to explore new tactile arenas while tenderly dialoguing with your partner about their experience.
There is an old relationship aphorism that says when a couple is having sex, it accounts for about 15 percent of their relational focus, but when they’re not having sex, it accounts for 85 percent. So when a couple wants to rebuild their sexual rapport, I invite them to invest a lot more attention in the first four fingers of touch—Nurturing, Playful, Passionate, and Sensual—to help open new pathways to Sexual touching satisfaction.
This simple game empowers people to ask for more of what they want, as well as to gain comfort in interrupting touch that doesn’t feel so good. It also helps both partners learn to be more present and more creative with each other. Here’s how you play:
This article, written by Joy Hosey, first appeared in the January-February 2015 issue of Spirituality & Health and the Spirituality & Health website.
Hunter and Gina have come to see me for relationship guidance. They’ve been together for nine years, have two children, and are admittedly stuck. They’ve driven here separately, meeting up after a busy day of work and family. This is their third visit, and although Gina seems fidgety and Hunter distracted, they both say they are glad to be back in my office. As I guide us through a short, heart-centered meditation to help them get present as to why they’ve come, tears start to stream from Gina’s eyes. When the meditation is complete, both of them are visibly more relaxed and are softly gazing at each other as Gina exclaims, “I don’t even know why I’m crying!” Hunter smiles empathetically.
This is a common scene that I see with couples. There is something about having a dedicated space—in this case, my office—where sharing vulnerable truths and having them heard creates an atmosphere of intimacy. Whenever I first meet with couples, I always inquire about two key factors that affect long-term relating: How many hours a week do they devote to their relationship, and how much appreciation do they feel and express with each other? Often, couples admit that their attention is going everywhere else—jobs, kids, pets, projects—and that their relationship is starved of quality time.
So how much time is required for successful relating? Well, according to renowned relationship researcher John Gottman, Ph.D., five hours a week of “you-and-me time,” is key to long-term thriving partnerships. Gottman should know. He has spent four decades observing, interviewing, and videotaping couples and cataloging the multitude of micro-expressions and macro-patterns that make—or break—a relationship. He is credited with more than a 93 percent success rate in predicting whether a couple will divorce or not, based on his studies over the years.
While time spent together is a predictive ingredient for relational harmony, I focus more on the quality of the space a couple provides for their relationship. Space is not just a physical phenomenon, it is an atmosphere that includes nonjudgmental attention, mutual respect, and appreciation. When we create “sacred space” for intimate relating, a palpable atmosphere emerges that evokes breath, allows presence, and invites connection. And, with practice, it only takes a few moments to establish.
Shifting our physical environment can be a first step. Many couples find that their relational stresses melt away when they go to a place that nourishes them both, whether it’s a five-star hotel or camping in the wilds. Yet it’s also important to find ways to create space for your relationship at home, where habits are more embedded. Like many couples, my husband and I have our favorite places to sit in our living room. Sometimes, though, he surprises me by moving two chairs and a small café table we have to a completely different location. As we look out onto the garden or some other less-familiar visual, there is an atmosphere of freshness and playfulness in our communication. One of our primary sacred spaces is our hot tub. When we enter it together at the end of a busy day apart, our intention is to get current with each other and to reestablish our connection anew. We also consider our bedroom a sanctuary for relating and relaxing. We do our best to keep it technology and clutter free.
Working with elemental energies—whether through warm water, lit candles, deep breathing, or sitting on the earth—is a reliable way for us to cultivate inner spaciousness. Yet physical ambience is just the backdrop; what matters most is the quality of presence that resides in that space. Ultimately, what sets sacred space apart from our normal habits is intent—we must choose to turn off our phones and tune in to practices that allow us to listen, breathe, touch, and literally face our beloved.
Carving out five hours a week for your relationship can seem daunting, especially with children and staggered work schedules. Yet, what if you committed to simply pausing, deepening your breath, and taking a full 20 seconds to meet your partner’s eyes at the end of the day? Twenty seconds is how long it reportedly takes for our oxytocin receptor sites to be activated and to begin flooding our systems with this well-known “love hormone.” Intentional greetings are a space where we ritually acknowledge our shared connection; oxytocin seals the deal by rebooting our biochemistry so that we feel bonded. I encourage couples to get a steady diet of both if they cherish their life together.
Building Your Ally “Ship”
Long-term partnering is a lot like an on-going high-seas adventure in your very own relation “ship.” And like a ship, your vessel has many compartments that hold the precious cargo of your combined lives: Family, friends, intimacy, play, work, home, finances, to name a few.
Take a moment to consider the current shape of your relation-ship. Is it a luxury liner or a battleship? Or perhaps it feels more like a remake of The Titanic?
If – and before – you find that your relation-ship is foundering, consider recommitting to an even larger container of Love known as allyship.
What is an ally?
An ally is someone who intuitively knows that their soul’s evolution is intrinsically woven with their partner and cherishes this sacred connection. When you commit to being an ally, and perceiving your partner one, you create a space for larger truths to be revealed. This can be helpful when petty truths (aka complaints, blaming) begin to permeate your daily lives. Principles of Healthy Allyship include:
• Trust your partner’s process
• See them in their wholeness
(esp. when they are fixated on a smaller version of themselves)
• Stay present when your partner is upset (do not fix, blame or coddle)
• Tell your truth, including the difficult ones
• Support them in following their truth (and follow your own)
• Embrace challenges as opportunities to grow
• Be more committed to your evolution – and theirs – than you are to old, defensive patterns
• Acknowledge & appreciate your ally often!
Imagine embodying these principles and living them. If your energy/vitality increases as you do so, then I invite your to try on the following Ally Commitment. Say it out loud, either alone or with your partner. Breathe after each time you say it, allowing the words to penetrate your being. Notice any resistances you may have and allow them to surface and be acknowledged. Take your time. Say it daily, both to yourself and your partner.
Remember, a commitment is not a platitude. It is a reflection of a core value that aligns us with a greater truth of our essence. It feels good when we align with this truth, that’s why we recommit to it, again and again.
Try it out and let me know what you experience!
From my heart to yours,
If Love is what you’re after, here is the bottom line for creating lasting intimacy with another.
“The first people had questions, and they were free.
The second people had answers, and they became enslaved.”
~ Ancient Earth Wisdom
Questions, I have questions. Or at least my mind does. Like a precocious two-year old, it never seems to tire of asking “Why?” Mostly I consider this a sign of healthy curiosity. I have always been a Hungry Learner, seeking to understand the world. What does not feel very healthy however, is my mind’s compulsion to identify, label and draw conclusions based on limited information. In other words, questions are not the problem as much as my mind’s addiction to having “the answer.”
I spent a good deal of my twenties and thirties searching for antidotes to my educated mind. I stopped reading and began meditating. I immersed myself in the esoteric realms and began to explore working with energy. I excavated my emotional body, unearthing the deep doubt, grief and anger that proved the invisible backdrop for my deeply conditioned Know-It-All persona. I went on vision quests and began opening up to the vastness of the universe, humbly acknowledging how little I truly understood of Life. I learned to pray.
I found myself drawn to indigenous ways that, instead of providing answers, offered awareness practices that enabled personal discovery. It was during this chapter that I had the great fortune of meeting and working with Paula Underwood Spencer (Turtle Woman Singing), whose father’s clan hailed from the Oneida nation of the Iroquois Confederacy. I learned many things in my precious years with her before her spirit left her body. However, the wisdom practice she shared that has influenced me the most (and the scores of folks I’ve since shared it with) is The Rule of Six.
The Rule of Six (Rof6) says that for each apparent phenomenon, devise at least six plausible explanations, every one of which can indeed explain the phenomenon. There are probably 60, but if you devise six, this will sensitize you to the vast array of potential options and prevent you from locking in on the first thing that sounds “right” as The Truth. This attitude supports the mind in discovering new ways of perceiving, keeping our perceptual biases in check while allowing them their say.
I love that I can apply the Rof6 to a wide variety of perplexities. One day it could be “Why are our local hummingbirds choosing not to migrate this year?” The next day might find me anxiously pondering “Why did my sweetheart not say good-bye this morning when he knows I am not feeling well?” Whatever the inquiry, the Rof6 invites me to explore beyond my mind’s knee-jerk reasoning. I find that identifying three possible answers for any phenomenon is fairly easy. It’s stretching into the fourth, fifth and sixth that requires much more lateral thinking!
There is a second phase of the Rof6. After you’ve fully named six possible explanations for whatever phenomenon you are seeking to understand, you then apply your Personal Probability Factor (PPF) to each of your six explanations. This PPF is determined by your own, unique life experience – there is no right answer. Of course, a PPF cannot be either 0% or 100%, because both of these percentages are absolutes. It is not important that your PPF’s add up to 100%, as you are not determining a “winning” thought, but evaluating your beliefs an assessing which of the possibilities strikes you as being the most likely.
In the case of the second scenario, I might apply the Rof6 thus:
“Why did my sweetheart not say good-bye to me this morning when he knows I’m not feeling well?”
1) He’s an inconsiderate jerk (PPF 20%);
2) I’m so pathetic; he’s lost interest in me romantically (PPF 15%);
3) He’s afraid of catching whatever I’ve got (PPF 25%);
4) He was afraid I might ask him for help, which would put him behind schedule (PPF 40%);
5) He assumed I needed to rest and didn’t want to disturb me (PPF 55%);
6) He was running extremely late because he was up most of the night with me (PPF 30%).
By the time I have imagined at least six possible answers to my query, my mind is much more receptive and much less agitated. Remembering to apply this simple practice has broadened my perspective and loosened the grip of both the righteousness and doubt that plagued my early years. Paradoxically, learning to identify many possible reasons for any situation has helped me develop more clarity in my choices, not less. Certainty is overrated if it’s based on faulty reasoning. Being less wedded to my habitual stances and more open to possibilities has been a wisdom path for this recovering Know-It-All.
(This article first appeared in the Jan/Feb 2012 Spirituality & Health Magazine.)
There is nothing like the flush of young love. We feel alive, full of innocence and hope, completely open to another’s needs and desires. Our emotions and chemistry are skewed in favor of believing that This Is Someone I Will Treasure Forever.
This is true whether the person is your lover or your child. For most couples, they first have this experience with each other and then fall in love all over again with their children.
Of course, with birth comes an incessant demand on a couple’s physical, material and logistical resources, particularly the mother if she is breastfeeding. After a day of caring for the intimate needs of a young child – crying, crawling, chewing, sucking and wetting on you – is it any wonder that personal downtime is often preferred over even more intimacy?
Luckily, there seems to be a point when children start to develop basic behaviors that have them asserting their autonomy. At that point, parents are finally able to pause, gaze into each other’s eyes and ask some essential questions: Who are you, who am I, and more importantly, who are WE beyond these sacred, sweaty robes of parenthood we’ve been wearing for so many moons?
Despite the stressors, I frequently witness couples expressing a lot of gratitude towards each other when they take time to sincerely acknowledge how much they successfully collaborate. Parents tend to spend a majority of their time focused outward, standing side-by-side a team. Although this side-by-side stance is essential to successful collaborations, adult bonding requires face-to-face intimacy in order to thrive. If a couple desires a relationship beyond parenting, they must be willing to regularly relinquish their parental identities for committed chunks of you-and-me time.
To put it simply, when we get overly identified with any role we play, we have less energy for other roles. Here’s an experiment: Imagine your life like a pie chart that includes all the ways you choose to use your precious, finite energy. Note how big a slice each of the following “roles” gets in your current Life Pie distribution:
• Help Mate
• Hard Worker
• “Good” Parent
• Home Creator
• Best Friend
• World Changer
• Beauty/Vitality Seeker
Now take a few moments to recall the primary roles you identified with in the first months of your relationship. If you have children, chances are that the second half of this list recalls roles you fondly remember from your “B.C.” era (Before Children). If so, you may want to consider (at least temporarily) reapportioning your pie!
One fun practice you can implement immediately is to take a moment and invoke a role you want to reclaim – then appreciate your mate from that part of yourself. Let’s say your inner Playmate wants some attention. You can embody that energy and (playfully!) declare to your mate: ”My Playmate has something to say: I so love going on adventures with you! Remember the time we…?” Then allow yourself to fully express your inner Playmate for a few minutes. Who knows? It might inspire you to create a play date together (no children allowed!)
How much time are you willing to invest in nurturing your one-on-one connection with your mate? 5%? 10%? 30%? As it turns out, it requires only about 3% (or five hours) of the 168 hours allotted to you each week, according to Relationship Researcher John Gottman.
Five hours can seem daunting at first, but the dividends are so worth it. You may even find your children encouraging you to have “special time” together when they feel the positive effect it produces. Date nights, joining a couple’s class or receiving relationship coaching are all great ways to reestablish quality time together.
SCENE ONE: My partner and I are in the car on a road trip, having a glorious time. I’m singing along to an old pop tune, rocking out, while he reads his GPS. I see him furrow his brow and then he asks to turn off the radio — ka-thud.
In that instant, I go from exuberant karaoke queen to crestfallen idiot as a series of scenarios cascade through my consciousness: He doesn’t like my voice; I should be a better navigator; he’s always squelching my expression. And in that micro-moment when I perceive him — and myself — from this lens of judgment, I recoil from him, if only slightly. Left unchecked, there’s a good chance that by the end of our road trip, I will have an internal file of “evidence” outlining all the ways he’s been controlling and judging me the entire trip — and beyond! You get the idea.
Welcome to the World of Withholds
“Withholds” occur when we project old thoughts and feelings onto current reality and (here’s the critical part) act as if they’re real but fail to reveal them. Whatever the content of the withhold, the energetic outcome is the same: we subtly (or not so subtly) withdraw from our partner. A minor incident becomes fodder for what likely is an old and recurrent theme in our life. These themes, or perceptual biases, start to take on a life of their own, and couples can find themselves staring across an abyss at someone they love but can’t relate to anymore.
In exploring the dynamics of thriving, intimate relationships, both personally and professionally, I’ve come to the conclusion that staying current and transparent is a key ingredient to long-term intimacy. This means finding honorable ways of confiding our inner reality to our mate, including the petty stuff. Although most couples say they value honesty, most consistently fudge the truth with each other — or worse, verbally bludgeon their mate under the guise of “I am just being honest.” Ouch.
Sharing withholds is an intimacy practice where both partners agree to share their inner terrain while taking full responsibility for their thoughts and feelings, instead of defending them. When done successfully, blame and shame take a back seat to self-acceptance and empathy. This requires the sharer of the withhold to acknowledge his or her inner world through a lens of curiosity, noting what body sensations, emotions, thoughts, and/or old memories were evoked. Having some distance from the triggering event and choosing to humbly reveal oneself (with one’s mate agreeing to act as a witness) helps bridge a gap before it becomes a gulf.
The practice of sharing withholds is not for the faint of heart or rigidly stubborn. It requires both partners’ agreement to let go of their defensive postures (or at least take full responsibility for them). I guide people to break down a withhold into four steps:
1. Talk about the triggering moment as if describing a snapshot.
2. Name the bodily sensations that occurred.
3. Claim any feelings (usually it’s some version of sad, mad, afraid).
4. Take ownership of any thoughts, stories, imaginings, or memories that were evoked.
It helps — a lot! — when the receiver of the withhold can offer authentic empathy for what’s been shared.
SCENE TWO: Fifteen minutes later down the road, after having sat with my earlier reactions to my mate, I ask him if he’s willing to hear a withhold. When he agrees, I tell him that when I was singing and saw his furrowed brow, followed by a request to turn off the radio, I had a visceral reaction — my throat tightened, my belly knotted up, and my exuberant energy dropped dramatically. I realize I felt scared when I saw his brow furrow and then got angry by his request. I share with him the cascade of thoughts and stories I made up about him and myself, ultimately realizing that it reminded me of scenes with my father in childhood — how he would send me to my room when I was “too loud.” I feel the pain of that early hurt wash through me and dissipate. When I am finished, my sweetheart smiles kindly and says, “I had no idea all that was happening. I was focused on directions and was afraid we were lost!”
“We almost were,” I tell him, and smile back.
This article, written by Joy Hosey, first appeared in the September-October 2011 issue of Spirituality & Health and the Spirituality & Health website.