The Silent Killer

A few days ago I read a great article about a guy who used Ashley Madison to research why women cheat. It’s fascinating stuff, and well worth the read.

In the article he had the following observation:

When an adulterous man is found out, there are many, many women that can get past the sex act itself.

But the real problem is where his effort has been going. As his wife sits idle, being supportive, holding down her half of the relationship, house and kids, a cheating man will put boat loads of effort into seducing the other woman: four-star restaurants and hotels, gifts, laughter, spontaneity, passion, sex.

From there, it’s a sad realization for his wife that translates to “I’m not worth the effort.” This is a fatal blow to her self-esteem and self-worth and terminal to the relationship.

I’m not worth the effort.

I think this is how relationships truly die. Sure, the discovery of things like affairs can destroy a marriage, but it’s not usually a catastrophic event like that and the same idea will apply.

Rather, it’s like death from 1000 cuts. Most failed relationships are killed slowly, over time.

And it always comes back to effort.

IfItsImportant

Action Means More Than Words

It’s easy to say “I love you”, but what matters is what you do.

How does someone know you love them? How do you show them that love, and express it to them?

Life gets busy, and people understand that. Everyone has times where they get wrapped up in work, family and whatever else life throws at them.

These sorts of things can put a drain on a relationship, but on their own they aren’t a problem.

It becomes a problem when there is a disproportionate amount of time into “me” time vs. “we” time.

Every time your partner is able to make time to do something they want to do, yet they are unable to find time for something as a couple, it adds another cut.

And over time these add up.

This sort of thing tells your partner:

hey – I can drop things to get together with the guys, or go out with the girls. I can make time to play poker with my buddies, or bury myself in my phone. I can make time to…

But you? Sorry, I see you all the time anyhow. Why should I make any effort to see you, to do things with you, or to be with you. After all, you *know* I love you.

Alone Together

If you spend enough time looking and reading you’ll find there are a lot of people out there who are unhappy with the state of their relationships. And it’s common to see an overriding sense of sadness and loneliness.

These are people IN relationships. Their partners are right there, next to them, every day.

But they still feel alone.

Common expressions are things like:

I just wanted him/her to want to be with me,
or to want to do things with me.

People want to feel wanted. They want to feel valued, and loved. And when they don’t, troubles arise.

They see their partner putting time, energy and effort into pretty much everything BUT the relationship. Each time that happens a little piece of them dies, gradually eroding their self-esteem and self-worth.

And it destroys the relationship.

Finding Balance

When hearing their partner isn’t feeling valued or wanted, the person who is not investing time in the relationship (or perhaps investing less) will often get defensive. Their response may be some variation of:

  • But we do spend time together, we see each other all the time
  • My partner is just too needy, I don’t want/need to spend every minute with them
  • It’s important to me to be able to do my own thing
  • I don’t want to do the same things they do
  • What’s the big deal? It’s not like I go out/do my own thing all that often

Or even better, they may go into attack mode and turn things around on their partner with something like:

  • So what, you are saying I should never do my own thing then?

To be clear, this has nothing to do with not wanting your partner to go out and do their own thing. Space and time away from the couple is actually healthy for a relationship, and it’s important that each person has time to themselves as an individual.

If someone wants to go and do their own thing, great. As long as what they are doing is respectful to the relationship there shouldn’t be a problem. It’s not about being with each other all the time.

However there needs to be a commensurate amount of effort put into the relationship. There needs to be a balance between “me” time and “we” time.

And no, family time or time spent doing domestic chores does not count. Family time is just that – family time. And time spent on domestic tasks is just part of co-habitation.

There needs to be time focused on being a couple. On being friends, and lovers; and both building and maintaining the connection that keeps a relationship strong.

It’s about wanting to be with each other. Wanting to do things together. Wanting to share experiences. These are the lifeblood of a relationship.

If a couple doesn’t want to do things together, then what’s the point?

Why are they together?

History isn’t enough.

loving-someone-who-doesnt-feel-the-same-way-is-like

In a relationship, “Me” time is always important, and couples don’t have to have all the same interests.

The activities someone does during their me time, and even the frequency of those activities doesn’t truly matter.

It’s all about the amount of time and effort put into “me” stuff vs. the amount of time and effort put into the couple and into the relationship.

When someone can’t be bothered to make time for the relationship because they are “too busy” with life and kids, but they can make time to do the other stuff it tells the neglected partner that they aren’t worth it.

They aren’t worth the effort.

And without that effort and a sense of feeling valued the relationship will ultimately fail. Because no matter how much someone loves the other person, eventually it will be one cut too many, and even the strongest will break.

The point where we break gets closer everyday
But where do we go?
But where do we go?

I don’t want to be here anymore
I don’t want to be here anymore

I don’t want to be here anymore (be here anymore)
I know there’s nothing left worth staying for
Your paradise is something I’ve endured
See I don’t think I can fight this anymore (fight this anymore)
I’m listening with one foot out the door
But something has to die to be reborn
I don’t want to be here anymore

(We need a better way)
(We need to let go)
– Rise Against

Coping With Life

coping

A few weeks back I had a post chronicling one guys story as his marriage broke down and he started an affair.

It’s a common story. A couple in a long term relationship gets in “a rut”. Their relationship feels stagnant, and one or both parties don’t feel particularly appreciated or valued. Then someone else shows up on the scene who shows an interest in them, and the attention feels great.

They feel valued.

They feel “alive” again.

So they start to spend more time and energy on this new person while simultaneously emotionally pulling out of their relationship.

It’s easy to see how it happens. And it seems the obvious solution to prevent this from happening is to take care of your own relationship.

But for some reason, it doesn’t seem that easy. Why can it be so hard to turn around your relationship when it’s in a bad spot?

As I was thinking about this, I had one of those “aha” moments, where it feels like a bunch of disparate pieces of a puzzle have come together in a way that I had never seen before.

Here’s my theory:

In the vast majority of cases, relationship problems and affairs are not about the relationships at all!!! Rather, they are about coping mechanism.

Let me explain…

Life Sucks

Here’s the thing. Life sucks.

Alright, not really. Life doesn’t suck – but a lot of the *stuff* we need to do sucks. Jobs, groceries, chores, bills, diapers, whatever. This is no surprise, and is something I’ve talked about before.

My idea at the time was that we get so caught up in day to day life that we stop making time for the relationship; so OF COURSE the relationship will suffer.

To turn things around, it stands to reason that you just need to start making time for each other and start having fun together again. Doing this should let people rebuild, while also strengthening the relationship against future breakdown.

Simple, right?

It seems like it should be, but for some reason it isn’t. Many couples get caught up in negative momentum, and have a hard time digging out.

You loved each other once. How hard should it really be to nurture that love?

Harder than it seem it should be.

Why?

Getting Drunk

Let’s think about drinking for a moment.

Why do people get drunk? I’m not exactly an expert on being drunk, but I can ask questions and do Google searches just as well as the next guy.

There are all sorts of reasons people give for getting drunk, but here are a few:

  • I like how it makes me feel
  • It makes me feel confident
  • It’s fun
  • I feel carefree
  • There’s no stress
  • It makes me feel like anything is possible

Looking at those answers, it seems pretty clear that getting drunk is a form of escapism. It’s a way of forgetting your worries and the stresses of everyday life. It’s a temporary escape from the real world and a way of coping with life (though perhaps it’s more accurate to say it’s a way of not coping).

There are all sorts of things people do to cope with and escape from the stresses of everyday life.

Some people get drunk. Some self-medicate. Some work out, play an instrument, a sport. Some of us read and write blogs.

We all do something. It’s just that:

  1. people have different amounts of stress in their lives
  2. we are different in how well we manage the stresses we do have
  3. some ways of coping with those stresses are healthier than others

Which brings me back to affairs…

Affairs

In many ways affairs perplex me.

Getting attention from someone feels good. I get that. Sex feels good. I get that too.

But when you read stats on affairs you hear things like he/she didn’t find the other person more attractive. They are often someone completely different from their partner – often in ways the cheater professes they do not prefer. And oh yeah, the person who cheated often still loves their spouse.

So why have an affair?

While reading the comments section of another blog recently I read the following:

Does the affair partner really listen more? Value our spouse more? I really don’t think so. I think it is the illusion of a new, illicit relationship. Two broken people, feeding each others’ egos. Sharing stories with fresh ears that haven’t heard it a dozen times already or more. Their relationship exists in an artificial bubble. They steal time from us, and when they are together with the affair partner, there is no pressure, no responsibility

Note that last bit – no pressure. No responsibility.

I think that’s the key.

Previously I thought that affairs were all about the “excitement of the new”. And I’m sure that IS part of it, but I suspect it’s really the escape from reality that is the biggest part.

Like other escapes, it’s a way to temporarily get away from the problems of life. Work, bills, the kids, all of it.

Thing is, like getting drunk affairs are illusions. They are temporary escapes. They are ways of escaping to an imaginary world where love is all about passion, your emotional and physical needs are being met, and you don’t have to deal with the “hard parts” of life.

And while they may give you a temporary escape from your troubles into the arms (and bed) of another, they sure as hell aren’t going to do anything to reduce the levels of stress that someone is trying to escape from.

Maybe I’m crazy here, but I’m pretty sure they are going to make someones stress levels worse.

A lot worse.

Long Term Love

Long term relationships are about a hell of a lot more than just love. They aren’t just going on dates and having fun together.

They include other fun things such as managing a household, balancing a budget, and potentially raising kids. All of these things add responsibility and are potential sources of stress.

One thing about stress – it breaks down empathy. When people are stressed it is a natural defense mechanism to turn inward, and focus on “me”, instead of “we”.

When relationships run into issues I think it’s frequently the responsibility and stress (and how it is managed by each person) that is the problem, and not really the relationship itself.

The problem is, over time is becomes very difficult to separate the two.

An increased focus on “me” just accentuates the stress when you are together as a “we”. So like Pavlov’s dog, your partner comes to represent all these other things. Your partner is seen as the source of responsibility and stress, instead of being seen as a person who is also dealing with the same stresses with you.

What would really happen if you took them out of the equation? Would the stress actually decrease? Would you have less responsibility?

If you constantly fight about *how* to deal with the stresses in life, then sure, that type of conflict would be removed. You would now be able to deal with the stresses of life in whatever way you felt was appropriate.

But the responsibilities and stresses remain.

Actually, one could argue that they would now increase – because instead of having someone there to offload some of the stress onto when you need, you would now have to manage it entirely on your own.

stressquote

For those having or contemplating affairs, guess what. The other person seems “perfect” because the person you are seeing isn’t real. If the relationship were to ever become serious and long term, you would have all the same responsibilities with the new person.

Well, unless they are completely rich and you are having your every whim catered to. Then maybe there’s less stress. Of course if you’re doing that you’re pretty shallow. And you’re also just putting a nice diamond and gold encrusted band-aid on a difficulty in dealing with the stresses of life. But you can always just pay someone to deal with your problems for you, so I suppose there’s that.

As a side note – I think maybe this is one of the real purposes of sex. It’s a release valve from the regular stresses of life and a way for a couple to have a temporary “escape” from the pressures of life, in a way that they can only do together.

Coping Together

Lets face it. Life is full of highs and lows. It can get really busy and stressful, and it sucks sometimes. But that’s life. You deal with it. You do your best to get by.

To me that’s actually one of the strengths of a relationship. You aren’t doing it alone anymore. You have someone with you, and side by side you are going to support each other and help each other get through these hard times.

In good times and in bad.

So one of the best ways to improve your relationship is to try and reduce your stress levels, while simultaneously improving your ability to cope with the stress you do have.

Additionally, try to separate the stresses in life from your partner.

It can be hard to realize it sometimes, but try to ask yourself if the problems are really due to your partner. If they were replaced with a newer shinier model, would things really be better? Or would most of the same problems exist?

I think this notion of associating the responsibilities and stresses of life with the other person is probably one of the biggest contributors to unhappiness in relationships.

If you can accept that it’s often NOT the other person, try to remember that your partner is in the same situation you are.

Try to bring back the idea of “us”. And try to support each other and cope with things together.

The Road to an Affair

dark-road

Affairs.

Lots of people have them.

In some cases people are serial adulterers. They are hedonists who are only interested in themselves, and they don’t care about who they hurt in the process. Basically they are narcissistic and selfish, and just overall not nice people.

But stats say that anywhere from 20-40% of people have affairs at some point. That many people can’t ALL be terrible human beings.

People generally don’t advertise when there has been an affair in their relationship, but often it gets out. And when friends and family find out that someone they know had an affair they are often stunned. A common reaction is:

He/she had an affair? I never thought they were the sort of person who would do that. I guess I didn’t know them that well after all.

This sort of reaction isn’t just isolated to outside observers though, as the betrayed partner is often in a state of shock.

And not only is the betrayed partner shocked, but often the person who HAD the affair is also shocked. Many people who have affairs are somewhat horrified with themselves both during and after. They never thought *they* would be the sort of person to have an affair.

Yet they did.

And that leads them to realize that they aren’t who they thought they were either.

When you look at stories, there are a lot of common elements. Usually starting with long term relationships that are “in a rut”, where the passion is gone or fading. But sadly, that happens to most of us over time.

So is everyone at risk of having an affair? Well, even if 40% of people do, 60% don’t. So are there actually some common characteristics of people that make them more susceptible? I believe there are.

In this post I want to explore that, as well as provide some thoughts for those who are either having an affair or have thought about it.

The Myth

I think the idea that sexual needs not being met leads to an affair is only partially true. Yeah, if your sexual needs aren’t being met it will spill out into the rest of the relationship. But I actually think that’s a symptom and not a cause.

I believe affairs are much more frequently about emotional needs and connection. And when you feel emotionally connected then sex is a natural result of that.

So people are in relationships that are in a rut, and the emotional connection has broken down. They meet someone and connect emotionally, and don’t actually intend for it to go any further. But once that emotional connection has been made, nature takes over.

In fact, a recent British survey on affairs found that for both men and women, attention and emotional connection were among the leading reasons for affairs. Here are the top three reasons, broken down by gender:

  • I felt flattered by the attention (men 35%, women 44%)
  • I felt emotionally deprived in my relationship (men 29%, women 43%)
  • I was dissatisfied with my sex life (men 32%, women 15%)

Note the difference between men and women when it comes to their sex life. Sex is twice as important to men than women. I suspect those numbers are skewed a bit by different perceptions around sex. For men, sex is often seen as symbol of the relationship, so dissatisfaction with a sex life is dissatisfaction with the relationship. For both genders however sex is only part of the reason behind an affair, and attention and emotional connection are more significant factors.

When people say they didn’t mean for an affair to happen or it was a mistake, I think there is some truth to that. They probably weren’t looking for an affair. They were actually looking for attention and an emotional connection that was lacking in their own relationship.

They just didn’t mean for it to go as far as it did. But by pursuing a friendship/relationship after they knew feelings were developing, they are completely at fault.

cheating

The Cheaters Perspective

In the blogsphere you find many stories of relationships broken by affairs, mostly from the perspective of the betrayed spouse. A few months back I found a blog written by a guy on the other side of the fence; someone who betrayed his wife and is now trying to deal with the fallout from his decisions.

An affair is always wrong – I will never suggest otherwise. But although we may not choose to have affairs, the pain and loneliness of a stagnant relationship is something I suspect many couples in long term relationship can relate to.

In his blog he starts with the affair and it’s ongoing aftermath, and slowly peels back different layers of his history. But for purposes of telling his story here I will try to stitch together a few pieces in some degree of chronological order (The sections below in blue are reprinted from his site with permission).

The Breakdown of the Marriage

Up until this point in our marriage we only really ever fought about one topic. Sex. I have a higher drive than she does and so it has always caused friction. I would make an advance, sometimes I would handle it poorly and sulk for a short time but often times I just would leave the bedroom to watch TV or something else. Just so I would not bother her. Then she would feel extremely guilty and we would end up doing it in the morning half the time or maybe the next week. Either way neither of us ever felt good about the situation.

After a few years of this, I started to believe that even when she accepted my advances she was just doing it to get her “wifely duties” completed. It wasn’t because she wanted me or even sex for that matter. It was very hard for me to deal with but I did what I thought was best. First I assumed I must suck at sex. I must be awful because I love how she makes me feel and if I don’t make her feel this way then I could see why she doesn’t want me.

I would try and talk to her about it but it usually ended up having the focus about sex and not just my wanting to know that she did indeed want me around. Then she would feel guilty and then try to have sex with me and then I did not want it because it was only because she felt guilty, not because she wanted me. It was a frustrating cycle. I don’t know if you can imagine but having the only person you have known and loved constantly reject you and avoid you will destroy you. She was everything I had ever known.

My response was to keep slowly pulling out of our marriage. I stopped going out of my way to work on us. I stopped reading and researching ways to make your marriage better and closer. Instead I just avoided alone time. We stopped having sex but every couple of months and it was nothing spectacular.

The Rise of the Affair

One day as I was driving home from my commute I came across an app to meet other people. I could view peoples pictures and decide if they were a match for me. After a couple of weeks I had a few dozen matches of people I thought were out of my league. I would chat with a few here and there but one drew me in particular. She was funny and cute and we seemed to really have a good time chatting back and forth. We talked for a few months and I noticed I was much more pleasant at home. I felt good about myself because my ego was being fed. I was happier and even my kids noticed it.

I thought this was a perfect setup. I really believed I had no intention of ever meeting her and she never pushed to meet me. We were both content with what we were getting. It seemed to take the edge off my marital problems and my wife and I were getting along better. We still were not very active in the bedroom but when she denied me it wasn’t such a big deal because I knew there was at least someone else who found me attractive and good company.

But it also started a destructive dialog in my head. It was something like:

  • “These women find you funny and attractive but your own wife doesn’t.”
  • “She won’t be intimate with you because she does not find you good-looking.”
  • “You are just the father of her children and her partner but you will never be the love of her life and you can never make her happy.”

These thoughts or ones similar would just pour through my mind. I couldn’t get them to stop.

Exciting and New

We kept sharing more and more personal information with each other. This went on for a days and I felt like we really had a connection. She kept telling me how easy it was to talk to me and how I can make her feel so safe that she can share most anything with me. She told me that she has not felt this at ease with anyone before. I told her that I felt the same. I was a lot less guarded around her and felt like I could say anything and it would not surprise her or scare her away. I was thinking how much different she was than my wife. How exciting, how refreshing. I did not feel judged, just accepted. I felt like she really understood me and liked me for who I was, even though she truly did not know who I was yet.

I think this led to a lot of the attraction I felt. It was new and exciting and she was interested in everything I had to say. We were sharing and exploring each other intellectually and emotionally. I really believe that is what really hooked me, it had been a long time since someone made me feel this way and I wasn’t even sure if I actually felt this excited and close to my wife all those years ago. Now in hindsight, I can say that this is probably how I first started with my wife.

Crossing the Line

Now I have thought about this for a while, why did I finally decide to meet her again even though I was pretty sure deep down that I knew what I was getting into. I know on the surface I thought I could control myself. So really, the second time I was going to see this woman we would actually do it. No way! Not in a million years! Uggghhhh… (I guess on the surface I was old-fashioned, but deep down I knew. I really knew).

Ending the Affair

I was lonely and dying for attention, which is what led me to look for it else where. I did not do this looking for an affair, but just some attention that validated I was worth something. Then I met the other woman (OW), one thing led to another until I was in a full blown affair. It was euphoria when were together and agony when we were apart. This is what fed the illusion that it was such a great “relationship”. The reality was, it was just fantasy land and as I began to see her with everyday problems like us, the less and less I wanted to be with her.

I think I was finally really realizing what I had done. I was seeing that the OW was really just fantasy land and none of it was real. My wife helped me recognize this by her asking about the OW and why she was so perfect. I told her she wasn’t and if I decide to leave the marriage I am not running into her arms. She has a lot of problems that she would have to fix before I would let her around my kids. Once I told her this it pretty much shattered the fantasy that I had with her. I started seeing her with her problems and everyday trials just like everyone else.

I have tried to give excuses for why the affair happened. The reality is I am the one who made the decision to cheat. If I thought the marriage was that bad I should have left, not taken this route. I made that choice and she had nothing to do with that choice. I have to take responsibility and be a key component in both her recovery and my own.

Things to Learn

As I said earlier, cheating is always wrong. But generally, it doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Most commonly, an affair is an attempt to fill gaps that are missing in a relationship. And attention is the number one thing both men and women are looking for.

They want to feel loved again, and they want to feel valued. In the story above, the guy turned to “dating apps” for the attention he felt was missing in his relationship. This is not uncommon.

I recently read an article on Tindr that found 36% of users are actually married, and an additional 12% are in a “committed” relationship. That’s almost ½ of all users who are probably not looking for an actual relationship. So what are they looking for?

Sex? Probably. An ego boost? Definitely. But mostly, attention.

It’s a sad commentary that in many relationships, we often do a poor job of making our partners feel loved and valued. And eventually, they look elsewhere for the attention that is missing.

In a prior post I talk about some of the reasons I think this happens. Basically I think we get too caught up in every day life, and we stop making our partners a priority. After all, they will always be there, right? Thing is, when you stop making the other person a priority they start to feel it. And it hurts.

Some people won’t like this, but I believe in relationships damaged by an affair the partner who was cheated on does hold some of the blame. I’m not suggesting it’s 50/50 or anything, and they aren’t the ones who cheated. But in most cases they contributed to the conditions that led to affair. Unless they recognize their own role in the breakdown of the relationship (whatever it may be), they will never be able to heal and move forward.

Life does get busy. Jobs, kids, house maintenance, personal lives etc. But in order for a relationship to survive, it needs maintenance. It needs time, and effort put into it. And it can’t only come from one person. Both members of the relationship need to feel valued, and loved.

When we subconsciously think “I’m married now, I don’t need to try”, problems will invariably set in. Relationships only stagnate when you let them.

For the person who has cheated (or is on that path), a few things to consider:

When the guy in the story above was on the dating app, it felt good. He was getting the attention from other women that he wasn’t getting from his wife, and it made him question why? He came to his own conclusion:

What did they see that my wife didn’t? This question never went away. I could not get it out of my head. It would not go away. I was the same person wasn’t I? I looked the same, had the same personality, then why?

It is a funny question to me now. What did they see that my wife didn’t? I can answer it without a problem. They saw someone who had an interest in them. Who made them feel attractive and interesting. So they never saw me, they saw what I was giving them. So the real question I should have been asking myself was not “What did they see that my wife didn’t?” but “What I am giving them that I am not giving my wife?”.

Another thing to note is that an affair is rarely about our partners, or our relationships. It is about ourselves, and our coping mechanisms. As another person wrote after his affair:

I wish I’d known what love was. I craved feelings I labeled as love. Feelings that came from having someone I valued value me in return. It made me feel I was all that. In fact, the more I esteemed the other person, the stronger the effect. But, what I really loved was how they made me feel about myself. The reflection of my image in their eyes made me feel amazing. But love isn’t that feeling, rather it’s the grace my wife extended, not when I deserved it, but rather when I least deserved it.

One final thought.

People are often more susceptible to have affairs when they are dealing with things like depression, or if they have issues with self-esteem or self-love. If you struggle with loving yourself, external validation from others is needed. However it’s important to understand the following:

All the external adoration, respect and adulation in the world, can’t drown out the internal voices that tell us, we are not good enough and unworthy of; happiness, love and an abundant life. When we need others to tell us we’re amazing, worthy and lovable, in order to feel good about ourselves, it is never enough. It goes into the bottomless pit where our inherent self-worth should be. It may feel like we are reaching out to receive love, but in actuality, we are seeking external noise to help drown out our negative core beliefs.”
― Jaeda DeWalt

Affairs are never the answer. They are a form of escapism, a way of running from the problems that relationships will face from time to time. Sure, the cheater gets an ego boost and some sexual release – which helps them feel better (for a time). But they don’t solve anything, and they don’t make things any better.

A better solution is effort. Communication. No matter where you are, and how deep the hole is you can always get out. But you need to want to.

The guy in the story realized that he felt good around other women because they were giving him attention. But that attention was in turn because of the attention he was providing to them. Attention that he had stopped giving his wife long ago.

What is an Affair?

redribbon

What is an affair? When does an affair become an affair?

In the past I’ve talked about how commonly people seem to consider an affair occurring only when you have had sex with the other person.

To me, that interpretation is really broken.

Sex seems like a level that affairs hit when they have reached “the point of no return”, but it has always seemed to me that the “affair” started long before that.

Affairs don’t just happen. There are any number of choices made by both parties that lead to an affair. But at what point does a relationship cross that line?

I’ve been searching for a better way of describing and identifying an affair, and recently came across it in the form of a Ted Talk video by Esther Perel. If you haven’t seen it, it’s truly a great video and well worth spending 20 mins on.

In this, she defines an affair as a relationship with three characteristics:

  1. A secretive relationship
  2. With an emotional connection
  3. And sexual alchemy

Let’s look at each of these characteristics in turn.

A Secretive Relationship

First, the relationship is secretive. That doesn’t mean the betrayed partner doesn’t know about the person. In fact, in the VAST majority of affairs the betrayed partner does know the “other person”. Often they know them quite well, and may even consider them a friend or at least an acquaintance.

Statistically, men are most likely to have an affair with a co-worker while women are most likely to have an affair with a friend. So it’s not as if the people are unknown. And often the betrayer will even talk about them and mention them in conversation.

What is secretive about the relationship is the nature of it.

Even if the affair has not progressed to a sexual stage (and some never do), the betrayer keeps a lot of details away from their partner. How often they are seeing the person, the sorts of things they talk about, etc.

So while the betrayed partner likely knows about the other person, they have no idea what’s actually going on. They think it’s just a co-worker, or an acquaintance. What they don’t realize is just how much time and energy their partner is expending on this other person. How invested their partner is in this new relationship, usually at the expense of their own.

The betrayer may claim “it’s just a friendship, it’s nothing” – and maybe part of them even believes that. But if that were true, then why hide it? The fact that they are hiding details from their partner indicates that at least at some level, they know they are doing something wrong.

In one case I know of, the husband had a very close friendship with a co-worker. They talked/texted all the time outside of work, and sometimes the husband would go meet this person without telling his wife where he was going or who he was going with.

When the wife found out about the relationship she confronted her husband on it. He insisted it was nothing, and that they were “just friends”. When she asked why, if they were just friends, was he so secretive and evasive about the “friendship” his response was “because I knew you wouldn’t like it”.

Ummm, alright. So if he knew she wouldn’t like it, then that would seem to indicate he knew at some level that there was something wrong. And he chose to pursue the relationship in spite of that.

Maybe there truly was nothing more than friendship. But the fact that he kept it going in spite of knowing how his wife would feel about it indicates at the very least a lack of empathy, and putting himself and what he wanted ahead of the good of the relationship.

The secretive nature of the relationship destroyed trust, and once broken trust is very hard to regain.

An Emotional Connection

Next is an emotional connection, and to me this is where the real affair begins. Maybe it starts out as a friendship, or a co-worker at work. But as you get to know the other person better you start to open up more, and discuss increasingly personal details about your life.

This type of discussion builds closeness. But this closeness is a huge danger sign for someone in a relationship.

If you think back to how your existing relationship began, it was probably exactly like this. How someone looks may be the characteristic that caused you to initially notice them, but it was likely long talks and “getting to know them” that caused feelings to form.

Once an emotional connection starts to form with someone else? Well, that’s not really a great sign for your existing relationship.

In many affairs the cheating partners fall in love (or at least believe they have). Incidentally, women are more likely to believe they have fallen in love while men tend to see the affair as “harmless fun”, and something that is filling a gap that is missing in their current relationship.

But whether or not they have fallen in love, they have allowed themselves to open up to the other person in a way that has created an emotional connection, and allowed it to grow.
A while back I had a post called Can guys and girls just be friends? (when they are already in relationships), where I suggest that no, they can’t.

That’s not entirely true. Guys and girls CAN be friends, but if you are in a relationship it changes the nature of the friendship. You aren’t single – and you shouldn’t act like you are. Certain topics shouldn’t be discussed, and the biggest one of all is you should NEVER discuss any problems you are having in your relationship with the other person.

Sexual Alchemy

Lastly is sexual alchemy. See, you don’t need to have had sex for things to be an affair. You don’t even need to have kissed. But you feel *something*, and when you do you KNOW you feel it. A cheating partner may tell the betrayed partner that “nothing happened”, or “they are just a friend”. Well, they can lie to their partner but they can’t lie to themselves. They know they felt something. And even if they didn’t act on it, they know they’ve thought about it.

If they are starting to feel good about themselves when they are around the other person and find themselves looking forward to the next time they see them, then these are HUGE red flags that the nature of their feelings are changing. When that happens, if they are already in a relationship they owe it to both themselves and the other person to stop. Cut off contact with the other person, and figure out what they really want.

I think Esther Perels definition of an affair is perfect. A secretive relationship with an emotional connection where you feel *something*.

If someone is pursuing a “friendship” like this while they are already in a relationship, then whether or not it goes any further than this it’s an affair.

Plain and simple.

Is This All There Is?

Driving off

Is this all there is? This is a question everyone asks themselves eventually.

Is the life I have right now the one I want?

Is there more to life?

Growing up, we have a bit of a romanticized notion of what “being an adult” will be, and what life will look like.

We will be free. We won’t have to live under the rules of our parents. We won’t have to go to school every day. We will be adults – we will be our own person and be able to live our lives how we want!!!

And then we get there.

Once out “on our own” we need a place to live, and we need to eat. So we get a job. Maybe we find one we like, and maybe we just find one that will pay us. But that’s alright, because it pays enough of the bills to let us get by. If we want more “stuff”, we need a better job.

But the job is just a job. Sure we may make some friends at work, but our job is just there to help us finance our life; and our life is the important part.

In our personal life we have friends and family. Often we have a spouse or a partner, and maybe we have kids. THOSE are a greater source of happiness than our job.

But our friends and family have their own lives too. And as much as we may love our spouse and kids, they can be sources of stress and conflict almost as much as they are sources of joy.

We live our lives, and although there may be a lot of joy, life becomes routine. We need to work to pay the bills, and hopefully put away a bit of money to be able to go on a vacation once in a while. Or get a nicer car, or a nicer house.

So we find ourselves in this cycle, going through the motions of life day after day, month after month, and year after year.

Eventually though, *something* triggers you to take a look at your life.

And you come to the realization that being an adult is not what you expected. Careers aren’t what we expected. Marriage is not what you expected. And being a parent is not what you expected.

And you find yourself asking, is this it?

Is this all there is?

Midlife “Crisis”

I think this stage of taking a hard look at your life is what is often referred to as a midlife crisis.

As a kid, I thought a midlife crisis was a bit of a joke. When I heard the term I had visions of an older guy who would divorce his wife, get a sports car and a girlfriend at least 10 years younger (probably a yoga instructor).

It was the sort of thing you saw in movies and on TV, but I didn’t think it really happened.

Of course as a kid I also thought that marriages lasted forever, people would always love their partners and affairs only happened in soap operas. Ha!!!

Now that I’m at midlife myself I read peoples stories on blogs, and I look around at friends and acquaintances and I see that midlife crisis is actually quite real.

It’s just not quite what I thought, and the idea of the sports car and the yoga instructor isn’t often that accurate.

More commonly, instead of a “crisis” people have a period of midlife reflection and transformation.

Sure, some people respond badly, act selfishly and do some really stupid things (and those are the ones we most frequently hear about). But that doesn’t have to be what it’s about.

And in fact, this period in life can also be very healthy.

What Causes Midlife Crisis?

If midlife crisis is a period of reflection and transformation, what causes it?

I think mid-life crisis is really about recognition of our own mortality. It happens anywhere from some ones late 30’s to early 50’s (around “mid”-life). And if you hear enough stories you start to see that there is usually some sort of trigger.

The person going through it often has lost someone close to them, or perhaps they or someone close to them has been impacted by a serious illness.

Sometimes the trigger is just age, and with it the realization that statistically their time on this earth is moving into its second half; and we are closer to our death than our birth.

Why do People Handle it Differently?

To me, the biggest question is why do people handle it so differently? At this time of reflection, some people don’t seem affected at all. Others take stock of their lives and decide to take up a new hobby. And then we have those who dump their partner, buy a sports car and start dating the yoga instructor.

It’s clear that not all approaches are equal, and some have much more significant long term repercussions than others.

Each person is doing what seems right to them at the time, but in the cases that are “newsworthy” to friends and loved ones it often seems like they are watching a car crash. They are watching a loved one engage in what appear to be self-destructive actions and decisions.

So what causes this difference in behavior?

I think it’s primarily due to two things:

  • The size of the gap between where you hoped/wanted to be and where you feel you are
  • The degree of control you feel you have had over how you got to your current situation

The first one seems obvious. You sit back and look at your life, and it’s not what you expected. Maybe a big part of that is due to a romanticized notion of what life “should” look like, but if your life doesn’t look like the one you wanted and you believe that your time is running out, it makes sense to want to make changes.

I think the second reason is actually MUCH more important though.

I write about relationships, but the main underlying theme in my writing is choice and accountability. I feel that choice, and the belief that you have the ability to make choices is one of the biggest keys to happiness.

When I hear stories about midlife crisis, the people who make the biggest changes are usually people who have been living the life they thought they “had” to, or the life they felt was expected of them. Commonly they didn’t assert themselves, and instead just went with the flow.

And now they don’t want to do that anymore. Instead, they decide to live the life they “want” to live – usually acting very impulsively and with little thought about consequences. It’s at once a rebellion and an assertion of individuality; a way of taking control of their own life – with either very little thought given to the damage being done in the process or a belief that they have “sacrificed” for long enough and they don’t want to anymore.

I truly believe this element of choice and control is much more important than the actual gap between where someone is and where they want to be.

If the gap is large but it’s a result of your own choices? Well, there’s no one to blame but yourself. You may not have what you want but you’ve done the best with what you had.

If you feel that you have been living the live that was expected of you though?

People can have what from all outward appearances are great lives. Great families, jobs, partners that truly care about them and support them. It doesn’t matter how “great” a persons life is though if they don’t feel they “choose it”.

No matter how much good there is, if they feel they have been living the life that others expected of them then it lays the groundwork for considerable resentment.

What is the Crisis?

When this midlife time of reflection becomes a crisis, there are a few common areas. These include the following:

Loss of Identity

This is probably the biggest one. In life we play a number of different roles. And in the process of growing and changing it’s easy to find that in all the roles we have “lost ourselves”.

We have become the parent, the partner, the co-worker, the child. We are all these different things to different people. But who are we?

I think we are the sum of all these things. Each of them makes up a part of us that is part of who we truly are.

When there is a sense of lost identity, maybe people never actually knew who they really were. This realization can be painful, but also powerful.

And midlife becomes a time of finding yourself again, and perhaps finally accepting yourself for who you are, instead of looking at who you are not.

Loss of Freedom

At midlife people often talk about “wanting to be free”. There is often sadness at lost youth, and a yearning for the freedom that came with it.

But the sad truth is, as much as we may try there is no going back. We were “free” because we were kids. We had adults to take care of us and look after us.

Once you are an adult? Freedom doesn’t really exist – at least not in the way it did when we were kids. You pretty much have to go to work. You have to have shelter, you have to eat. If you have kids, you have to take care of them. And if you want a relationship, you have to put effort in.

All of these things definitely DO put restrictions on you.

You absolutely CAN choose to walk away from those restrictions, and some do. Some hit a point that they find the stress too high and they just walk away one or all of these parts of their lives – their partner, their job, and even their children.

However when people do that they are looking for a freedom that they will never truly find. And that type of freedom not only comes at great cost, but is also usually not quite what someone expects.

Feeling Stuck

Another issue that can cause midlife to be a time of crisis is the sense of being “stuck”. Life has become mundane and routine. You feel like you are just going through the motions. Alive, but not truly living.

The advertising world tells us that “normal” is bad. It tells us that we are special, we aren’t like all the “other people”. We deserve more.

Then we look over and see the kids. And the mortgage. And the bills. And the pile of laundry.

And over time a sense of sadness and hopelessness builds, which in time can turn to depression.

I think this is probably the leading cause of affairs and divorce. People are looking for some sort of change to shake them out of the rut they are in, and finding comfort in the arms of another is an easy (and temporary) way out. People who have affairs often say that they wanted “to feel alive again”, and that they had lost that feeling.

Affairs are a quick fix though, and they don’t address the underlying issues. I talk about this as it applies to relationships in Losing the Spark. But even individually we all need goals. We need things to strive towards (both individually and as a couple) in order to allow us to get through day to day life.

Truthfully, we all could probably do with a bit more excitement our lives. But it doesn’t just happen, we need to build it in.

A Time for Change

Midlife is a time for reflection. Even if you have been living the life you felt you had to, or the one you felt was expected of you – sometimes when you take a good look at it you realize hey, it’s not so bad.

Maybe there are a few changes you can make, a few goals to pursue, a bit of improvement in communication with people you care about.

And sometimes improving a few little things can make a world of difference. We don’t necessarily have to wipe the board clean and start our life over again.

Last year I hit 40. Mid-life.

There was a bit of turmoil in my life at the time, but I can truly say I never entertained thoughts of the sports car and the yoga instructor.

I did reflect on my life, and I do on a fairly regular basis. But every time I do, I come to the same conclusions.

Yes, life could have been different. There are any number of choices I made which, had I chosen differently would have resulted in a different “me” today.

But I have no regrets. All of my choices were mine, and all of them helped shape me into the person I am today.

And honestly? I like me. Hell, I love me.

And I love my life.

My life is not perfect and it never will be. And things won’t always work out the way I want. But I have a lot of things to be thankful for.

And I ALWAYS have choice.

Others matter to me, and I care about their opinions. They may even influence some of my choices in the way I live my life. But they were still my choices.

I can always choose to improve the things I don’t like, accept them as they are, or change them.

And so can you.

Momentum Shifts

Momentum

Momentum is defined as:

“the strength or force that something has when it’s moving”

Looked at this way momentum is often thought of in terms of a physical object, but physical objects aren’t the only things that can have momentum.

Momentum is also found in the world of sports. Take basketball (since that’s what I know best):

Maybe a player hits a few shots, then makes a great defensive play. Next thing you know the game is coming easily and the player (or team) is “in a zone”, confidence builds and everything seems to be working. In this case momentum is more like a feeling or an energy; and this energy can be seen through body language. When things are going well players are loose, carefree, and seem to be having fun. It can’t really be quantified, but anyone who has felt it or even just witnessed it knows it real.

One thing about momentum though, you can’t always control it and it’s not always positive. Just as positive momentum can build, players or teams can go cold and the momentum can shift. Sometimes a team appears to have a game well in hand, and then something happens. Maybe they start missing a few shots, or have some defensive lapses. At first it’s not a big deal as they still have the lead. But as the game becomes closer the energy starts to shift, and instead of playing freely players start to tighten up. Doubt starts to creep in and they start to rush. The opponent senses the shift, as do the fans.

When this happens a coach will often call a timeout to give the team a bit of a pep talk and try to prevent the negative momentum from building any further. See, momentum in this sense comes down a lot to confidence and belief. It is a form of energy visible largely through body language.

Momentum in Relationships

Relationships also have momentum. The early days of a relationship are often generally marked by a sense of positive momentum. The couple may just be getting to know each other, but they are relaxed, comfortable with each other and having fun.

Unfortunately just as there is positive momentum, there can also be negative momentum. And when you find yourself getting caught in negative momentum you can feel powerless to stop it.

The problem with negative momentum in relationships is that there is no coach to call a timeout and try to get things under control. Instead, this negative momentum can feed off itself and build, potentially spiraling out of control.

The Downward Spiral

I recently read an article by couples therapists Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt talking about how negative energy impacts relationships.

The therapists were a couple themselves, and as their own marriage was struggling they made an interesting discovery. Their discovery was that this negative momentum makes it very difficult to get out because people start to guard themselves, misinterpret things and look for offense even where none is intended.

As a result, even when partners are making attempts to improve the relationship and “make things better”, it often doesn’t work. People can become unable to recognize genuine love.

Harville ticks off the ways we deflect what we secretly crave: by devaluing praise; by assuming the other person is insincere; by criticizing the sender of a positive message for not getting it right, not doing it on time, or not doing it often enough; by not listening; or by feeling embarrassed.

For instance, there was the wife who told her husband she needed him to express more affection—then resisted his kisses and kind words because, she said, they didn’t feel genuine. Another husband admitted that when his wife offered verbal support, he shut down and didn’t respond. And when a new father took time off from work to help his exhausted wife with their twins, she refused to let him do his share.

“The common wisdom,” they write, “is that romantic relationships would stay happy if people did a better job of giving to each other. But that’s not what we’ve discovered. We’ve found that many people need to do a better job of receiving the gifts their partners are already offering. It’s surprising how often the compliments, appreciation and encouragement of a well-intentioned partner make no dent in the armor of an unhappy partner.

Ulterior Motives

When we are unhappy, we start to put up barriers, perpetuating our unhappiness and making it difficult for things to improve. One of the big problems is when we start looking for ulterior motives. If you are looking for hidden meanings and slights, you will always be able to find them.

This causes people to discount genuine attempts at improving and strengthening the relationship. People take the approach of “oh, he/she is only doing this because they want something”.

Yeah, they probably do want something. They want to make the relationship better. They want to see their partner smile again. They want to experience a loving relationship the way they once had. They want to be happy again as a couple. “Wanting something” doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

So they do their best to try to make things better, but they don’t know how. And when all their attempts at improving things are ignored or looked at suspiciously eventually they will give up.

That is when relationships die.

Loss of Hope

I’ve said before that I don’t think it’s ever too late. Sure, there are some cases where it’s best for everyone if a relationship ends. Often when relationships end I think that both people do still love each other. But that love is buried under layers of hurt and resentment, and it has gotten to the point where they don’t believe they will ever be happy again.

Consider the following:

suicide

It’s kind of a morbid thought, but I think the same thing happens in relationships. I don’t think anyone “wants” a divorce (alright, maybe some do but those are probably exceptions). They just want to be happy again, and they have lost hope that they will be able to.

Frequently when long term relationships fail, one or both members wish they could have made it work. And often long after the relationship has ended, people hold out hope that they will somehow be able to reconcile.

A buddy of mine ended up divorced after his wife walked out on him, and even after the divorce he wore his ring for 6 months hoping that somehow they could figure things out. Eventually he gave up and moved on with his life (only to have her come back wanting to patch things up after it was too late). Reading other blogs and comments sections, for the person who was dumped/scorned/left there is often a wish that things could be different, and they could be back together.

The failure of a long term relationship is not an easy thing, and the only people who seem to be unfazed by it are people who have already started a new relationship prior to ending the old one. Incidentally, those affair relationships are almost always doomed to failure. Stats say that 40-50% of first marriages fail (pretty depressing), but when you look at numbers on the affair relationships that cause marriages to end, the stats jump to around 80%.

Changing Perspective

I think people give up on their relationships too easily. Long term love isn’t always easy – you need to build it, and keep building it every day of your life.

Negative momentum can threaten to tear things down, so we need to find ways to recognize when it is happening, stop it and turn it around when it occurs.

We need to start opening ourselves up to genuine gestures of love, and stop looking for problems and issues. You will always be able to find things to be unhappy about if you are looking for them.

You get out of life what you put into it. It can be hard when you are unhappy, but you need to start focusing on the positive, and appreciating the things that are good. I’m sure there is a lot of good, but it can be hard to see when you are caught in negative momentum.

No matter what state your relationship is in, things can always get better. Things can always improve. But you need to open yourself up and allow love back in.

For any readers out there who have “been through the fires”, I would love to hear from you. What are some things that you have used to hold on and maintain your love when times were tough? Feel free to comment below or email me at thezombieshuffle@outlook.com

Building Closeness and Intimacy

closeness

For anyone who has read my site, you know I believe very strongly in love and in long term relationships. I also believe they naturally go through ups and downs, but maintaining and nurturing love is a choice.

You choose how you treat your partner. How much time you spend together, how you spend that time together, how much you value them and appreciate them. You choose how much effort you put into your relationship, and how much you are willing to accept them for who they are.

This idea of choice is supported by every relationship expert I have read or heard about. They all talk about how maintaining long term love is a mindset, an outlook, and a choice.

But what about falling in love? Many people think of love and romance as this magical thing, based on feeling and emotion. And it is. But is falling in love a choice too?

Creating Closeness

A buddy of mine recently pointed me to a fascinating study by Dr. Arthur Aron, called The Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness. I’ll admit the name leaves a bit to be desired, but the study itself is pretty interesting. The study was intended to understand whether or not closeness or intimacy could be created. For the experiment he defined intimacy as “a process in which each feels his or her innermost self validated, understood and cared for by the other.”

His experiment was quite simple. Members of the opposite gender were paired up and given a number of self-disclosure and relationship building tasks of increasing intensity to carry out over a 1 ½ hr period. They were then asked questions measuring the degree of closeness they felt was built through the procedure.

I believe there are variations of the questions, but you can find a sample of them here

He found that:

One key pattern associated with the development of a close relationship among peers is sustained, escalating, reciprocal, personalistic self-disclosure

One interesting part of the study was that he found that it didn’t really matter if you agreed with each other’s ideas and opinions. That didn’t seem to impact the building of intimacy. The important part was the act of self-disclosure.

Falling in Love

There are no real surprises in Dr. Arons study. People often say love “just happens”, but that’s completely untrue. We all know that part of falling in love is getting to know the other person. That’s the time of discovery, where things are new and exciting.

Even in cases where “your eyes met across the room and you knew it was love”, there was still some sort of a process. Your eyes met because there was mutual physical attraction. That may be a good start, but it’s simply the starting point. Even if you moved straight from eyes meeting to sex, that doesn’t make it a relationship (sorry Hollywood and romance novels, it’s true). There will always be a period where you get to know each other, and this period involves self-disclosure.

Does that mean you can make someone fall in love with you? No. Does it mean you can make yourself fall in love with someone simply by learning about them? Well, kind of.

Getting to know someone is how you build intimacy, but it doesn’t always result in love. Some relationships fail quickly, while others start as friendships and develop into love over an extended period of time (potentially years). There is no single formula that will result in success.

Personally, I suspect that when friendships turn into love there was always a degree of attraction for at least one of the members. The whole idea of the dreaded “friend zone” is where someone has feelings for another person that aren’t returned. They often stick around, keeping themselves in the other person’s life with the hopes that maybe it will develop into something more. This happens all the time and is a common theme in love stories (both fictional and real).

In blogs and comments sections there are MANY people out there who are convinced that they are “the one” for someone else. People talk about how much they do for the other person and how they are always there for them, but their love is not returned.

So why do some relationships bloom into love, while others don’t? This depends on the level of intimacy and closeness. As you learn more about another person, you allow yourself to be vulnerable with them, and you become more comfortable sharing information about yourself. We all have emotional walls around ourselves, and when we have let someone breach that wall? I believe that’s when love develops.

Intimacy in Long Term Relationships

If closeness and intimacy is built by sharing and self-disclosure, what exactly does this mean to long term relationships? There seems to be a perception that long term relationships are incompatible with love and romance, and there is some truth to that.

Intimacy or closeness develops through reciprocal self-disclosure, and that period is exciting as it is new and you are learning. But eventually you have learned a lot about each other. Intimacy is built, and the relationship is established. Now how do you maintain it? How do you prevent it from breaking down over time?

That is the part many people struggle with over time. They have finally achieved what they believe they were looking for. They are in a stable relationship, and things are “safe”. A problem is that it’s easy to become comfortable, and it’s easy for both partners to stop doing the little things that you did during the courting stage. Another thing about safe and comfortable is that it can become routine and boring.

Plus over time you start to realize that your partner is just a regular person, who has flaws like any other. Conflict will happen, and depending on how you deal with it conflict can erode the feelings of closeness.

In many relationships, one day you realize the sense of intimacy that brought you together is gone (or at least eroded). You figure maybe it’s a phase that will pass. But it doesn’t, so you find yourselves in a relationship where you have become largely roommates. And being roommates sucks.

Can Guys and Girls Just be Friends – Revisited

One of my most popular posts (in terms of views, comments and likes) is Can Guys and Girls Just be Friends?

In answer to the titular question, my belief is both yes and no. I suppose I’m waffling here, but it really depends on the nature of your interactions and what you are telling the other person.

One reader shared a story with me about her affair, and how it started innocently enough. She was married, and started corresponding with someone through social media. Over time their messages became more intense, and she realized she had fallen in love with this other guy.

It’s easy to see how this happens. I’m not sure about her case, but if the existing relationship is in a bit of a rut and you meet someone new, even if it starts as “just friends”, as you open up to each other the simple nature of intimacy makes it so you are at risk of having it develop into something more.

I recently read an article where someone tried the Dr. Aron questions, and found that they worked for building intimacy. In the article the person states:

The questions reminded me of the infamous boiling frog experiment in which the frog doesn’t feel the water getting hotter until it’s too late. With us, because the level of vulnerability increased gradually, I didn’t notice we had entered intimate territory until we were already there.

When this experiment is done over a period of an hour or so, I can understand that. But when it comes to affairs, I find that very difficult to believe.

People aren’t stupid, they KNOW when the landscape has shifted from feelings of friendship into feelings that might be something more. People can tell when they are becoming excited to hear from the other person, and when they are happy to see them. They know when they are thinking about the other person more than they should be. They know when the relationship has crossed lines that take it beyond friendship and into something more.

They just don’t care. It feels good and is exciting, so they choose to continue the relationship anyways. They may deny that it’s an affair, but the affair has started long before sex, or even the first kiss.

It IS possible to love two people at once. Putting yourself in the position for that love to develop is a choice. Let’s face it, if you are putting yourself in that position then chances are good your relationship is in a troubled spot. If it’s healthy then you probably aren’t taking a lot of time to get to intimately know members of the opposite sex. And if you do, and those feelings start to arise? At that point continuing to see that person after it has developed into love is also a choice.

Back to the idea of guys and girls just being friends, it rarely works (not saying never here, but very rarely). For it to work you really need to put boundaries on the types of interactions you have, and the level of sharing that occurs – especially if you are already in a relationship.

Intimacy and Rebuilding

Alright, intimacy is built through emotionally opening up and sharing with the other person. But this is something that happens as you are learning each other, and once you already know each other well you can’t really “build” intimacy in the same way. Over time relationships can get into a rut and intimacy can break down. So what do you do?

Well, Dr. Aron’s findings on intimacy have some bearing on how you get out of a rut. Think back to his experiment. Did it involve two people sitting in a room watching TV together? Umm, no. How about two people going about individual tasks independently of each other. Again, no.

It involved two people INTERACTING, opening up to each other and allowing themselves to be vulnerable around each other. So why would we expect rebuilding a relationship to work any differently? Why do people wait for “feelings to come back”, or just start living individual lives? How in the world is that ever supposed to help a relationship?

To rebuild a relationship there are things you can do, but you need to DO them. You need to take action, and be conscious about it. You need to recreate the conditions where you fell in love.

BuildingARelationship

Relationship experts agree that you need to actively rebuild. You need to spend time together, make each other priorities in your lives and relearn each other. Even when you have been with someone for years, there is always more you can learn. Beyond learning each other you can also build experiences. So do things together. Go on dates where you have to interact. Maybe find an activity you are both interested in and do it together.

Dr. John Gottman talks about rebuilding your love maps, and he has a series of exercises and questions for couples to do together similar to Dr. Arons findings. In her book Hold Me Tight, Dr. Sue Johnson talks about something similar. She talks about sharing something deep and intimate with someone you love. Different experts suggests different (though similar) things. The main commonality is that rebuilding needs to be intentional, and it needs to be active.

Letting Go of the Past

Rebuilding a relationship isn’t easy. Rebuilding intimacy and closeness means allowing yourself to be vulnerable again, and allowing yourself to be hurt. If your relationship is troubled then that can be difficult. Chances are you have been hurt, so you have emotional walls build up to protect yourself from being hurt again.

But you can’t hold back. You have to let the walls come down and let the other person back in. Think of the study, it is allowing yourself to be vulnerable that allows closeness and intimacy to build (or in this case, rebuild). So if you continue to build up walls, all you are doing is preventing closeness from returning. Effectively you are sabotaging your chances of rebuilding.

If you are holding back, you need to ask yourself why. What are you holding back for? Do you truly want to rebuild the relationship? If so you need to let go.

It’s like the team building exercises on trust, when one person leans back and the other catches them. If you truly want to rebuild a relationship, you need to be willing to take that step and trust your partner. Be willing to open up your heart to them. Be willing to lean back and let them catch you. Build closeness and intimacy into your life, and never let it go.