Relationship Tips Blog

Four Approaches to Desire

“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.


Four Approaches to a Movie

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.

  • Command: “That film is finally opening Saturday night:  I’ll pick you up at seven!”
  • Offer: “It looks like that movie we’ve been waiting for is finally opening this weekend. We should go.”
  • Invitation: “I would love to take you to that movie. Are you available on Saturday night?”
  • Request: “I can’t remember the last time we went to a movie. My request is that we make a plan to see the opening of this film this weekend and have some quality time together.”

 

This article, written by Joy Hosey, first appeared in the March-April 2015 issue of Spirituality & Health and the Spirituality & Health website.

The Five Fingers of Touch

illustration titled Holding Hands by Sarah Walton, illustrating the article The Five Fingers of Touch by Joy Hosey

Image Credit: “Holding Hands,” by Sarah Walton

 

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.


Are You Willing? An Intimacy Game Worth Playing

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:

  • Create a safe space with a time boundary (start with 15 minutes each way) and no outside distractions. Decide who will be the first “Toucher” and “Receiver.”
  • The Toucher names any boundaries he or she may have in offering touch in service to the Receiver, to which the Receiver agrees.
  • The Receiver lies down comfortably and asks for a form of touch by saying, ”Would you be willing to . . .” (e.g., “stroke my arm?”)
  • The Toucher responds to the Receiver’s specific request.
  • The Receiver then affirms his or her pleasure and/or practices asking for more of what they want (e.g., “Would you stroke my arm a little more lightly and extend the stroke up to my shoulder?”)
  • When the Receiver feels “complete” with a particular touch he or she says, “Would you be willing to stop now?”
  • The Toucher’s response to the Receiver’s requests is always “Yes, thank you.”
  • The Toucher may ask, “Is this what you want?” Otherwise, silence and deep breathing are encouraged.
  • The Receiver is encouraged to practice asking for—and expanding upon—forms of touch that bring pleasure.
  • Receiver and Toucher can experiment playing this game with eyes open and eyes closed to find out what invites more receptivity.
  • Upon completion, take a moment to share your experience (or a couple may prefer to wait until both have received before talking).

This article, written by Joy Hosey, first appeared in the January-February 2015 issue of Spirituality & Health and the Spirituality & Health website.

Quality Space

Image of a couple sitting on the eddge of a cup of water, illustrating the article Quality Space by Joy Hosey

Image Credit: “Untitled,” by Sarah Clement

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.


Does Another Cup Runneth Over for Your Lover?

To more deeply understand your relational priorities, collect a number of small cups to represent all your most important relationships: partner, children, pets, work, friends, home and garden, personal time, creative projects, etc.
Now put out a larger bowl filled with dried beans beside these cups. Each day, take out as many beans as there are cups. In other words, if you have 10 cups take out 10 beans. At the end of each day, place your daily beans into the cups according to how much time and attention you gave to each cup. Do this for as long as you need to see your pattern.
Of course the goal is not to have equal distribution every day. But if you see that you are consistently putting most of your beans into a particular cup, you may want to create a space to connect with whomever you’ve been neglecting.
This article, written by Joy Hosey, first appeared in the November-December 2014 issue of Spirituality & Health and the Spirituality & Health website.

The Path to Harmony for Couples

image of a road in the country, illustrating the article The Path to Harmony for Couples by Joy HoseySCENE 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.

Building a New Relationship with My Feet

image of a child's feet, illustrating the article Building a New Relationship with My Feet by Joy HoseyAs a kid, my hands and feet were a source of quiet shame for me. I was born with what adults kindly referred to as “old soul’s hands,” which in the schoolyard translated to a regular inquiry from kids: “How come your hands look like an old lady’s?” My feet, with their gap-toed goofiness, didn’t fare much better. “I bet you could peel a banana with those!” teased one schoolmate. It wasn’t until I started practicing yoga in my late 20s that my wide toe span garnered admiration. Suddenly, my “monkey feet” were the envy of other, close-toed bipeds. My journey into appreciating feet was just beginning.

When I discovered reflexology in my late 30s, I was immediately fascinated with its practical applications. Reflexology is an ancient healing modality that recognizes the hands and feet as precise maps of the entire body, with reflex points that correspond to all the organs and systems. A far cry from a “foot rub,” reflexology addresses health by helping to harmonize all the major body systems, including spinal, muscular, lymphatic, digestive, immune, and endocrine. Through applying pressure to reflex points in the feet, a healing response occurs in the correlating system. There are various styles of reflexology, depending on the lineage. I consider it a powerful “folk medicine,” a living modality that is influenced by whatever culture — or person — adopts it.

Learning reflexology was like receiving a secret treasure map to the body. At the time, I was working as a Pilates trainer and Breema instructor, two modalities that actively include the feet. Pilates is generally practiced while barefoot, so when I began to learn reflexology, it was easy to observe how tendencies in the body correlated with tendencies in the feet. Weak/tight hips equaled weak/tight ankles; shoulder and neck issues were evident in the toes — the same for low-back issues. Working consciously with the feet brought balance to the entire body, and vice versa.

What I found was that when my clients began paying more attention to their feet, their feet responded. “What is this point? It keeps talking to me!” was a standard comment. I would then get to play translator for the budding relationship between my clients and their feet. I secretly enjoyed their surprised looks when, in reading their feet, I could accurately relate to them the physical issue their feet were reflecting. For many, this seems like magic, but for a reflexologist it’s business as usual.

Yet it wasn’t until I left my Pilates practice that the more soulful aspects of reflexology emerged for me. I took three months in the wilds of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula, completely removed from all that I knew and those who knew me. I walked barefoot, practiced yoga, and lived on the most ferocious coastline I’d ever seen.

I also had the opportunity to touch a lot of soles, Mexican and American alike. No longer looking through the Pilates lens of physical structure, something subtle and sublime started to occur: When I touched people’s feet, I received impressions. I saw colors, energy, spirits around them. I received messages about issues they were facing. Holding people’s feet seems to give me access to touching into a deeper level of their being.

Since my Baja sojourn, my “old soul’s hands” have touched hundreds of people, helping them renew, rebalance, and reconnect with their entire body and being through their most humble servants — the feet. Most people have a deeply restorative experience from a session (see Soletosoulwellness.com). Occasionally, a body reacts with a “restless leg” type syndrome. If this occurs, I invite my client to spend 5 to 30 minutes barefoot on damp earth. This seems to help rebalance the electrical system.

When people ask me how to best care for their feet, my advice is simple: touch them in any way that feels good. Soak them in warm water. Allow them to breathe. And most important, let your feet touch the earth as often as possible. And don’t forget to wiggle your toes!

This article, written by Joy Hosey, first appeared in the March-April 2011 issue of Spirituality & Health and the Spirituality & Health website.