I have seen many people emotionally detach in relationships under the “disguise” of practicing non-attachment. However, there is a big difference between shutting down from another person and practicing non-attachment. Personally my life has been one of flipping between destructive co-dependent relationship and detachment. “Compassionate detachment” (or perhaps non-attachment) may have been a better road to tread. However, my awareness of what these types of connections are in practice has been an on-going experiential journey of progressive understanding.
Detachment, Emotional Shut Down & Estrangement
My life journey started with harsh lessons in emotional estrangement and detachment. Both my mother and father were seriously emotionally damaged however, as a child I did not know that! I was conditioned to believe that I was over-emotional because I emotionally reacted to my parent’s physical abuse and the absence of emotional connection with both me and each other. It seemed that the world was incredibly cold, harsh and merciless from a very early age. My father arrived home from the Vietnam War when I was 6 months old. That was the first time he met me. He did not admit to having post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) however, I now know that he did. A symptom of PTSD is “emotional estrangement”, which is the shutting down from loving or connecting emotions. All my memories of my father were of this incredibly shut down, depressed, negative, angry man.
My mother on the other hand, made it clear that she had no desire to have children and seemed to take it out on me throughout my childhood. So detachment had to be cultivated in me to survive my childhood. I learnt to hide myself and to shut down my intense emotions because it only made things worse. In order to cope, I found my own way to shut down from the world around me!!! I learnt the fine art of dissociation and daydreaming!
I do not even think I was aware of shutting down emotionally as an adult in intimate relationship until relatively recently. I have been on the receiving end of punishing behaviour from men in relationships without knowing why. I now see they were reacting to their own perceptions and pain patterns that were triggered by my withdrawal. My shut down however, was an unconscious coping mechanism I learnt in my childhood to survive from my parent’s emotional disconnection. When these men either became volatile, destructive or abandoning, then my abandonment and fear patterns were re-ignited. I concluded that people simply hated me and were going to go out of their way to hurt me no matter what I did. I now see that they WERE reacting to something… my emotional detachment!!!
In psychology we have coined the term “healthy attachment bond” which means an early childhood relationship with significant others that consists of love, trust, supported autonomy, and stability. These are the building blocks of healthy intimate relationships later in life. There are some schools of thought that suggest we can create an inner sense of love and security later in life even if we do not have these early relationships with our parents. Being of the camp of people that believes in the possibility of deep inner change and healing, I advocate that we can re-create a healthy attachment bond in adulthood. It needs to be in intimate relationship (outside of the early parent/child relationship) that these attachment bonds can be formed. A friendship can provide these to some degree, and friendships can be deep and enduring. However often they lack the everyday intimacy and affectionate connection that may be needed in developing a safe and secure attachment bond. An intimate relationship needs to be supportive, loving and stable to cultivate a sense of inner belonging and permanency within the couple relationship. Through this connection, each individual can cultivate a sense of stability and love within themselves individually.
The biggest difference between developing inner safety and security as a young child in a healthy parental relationship and two people developing it in an adult intimate relationship, is that the adults require conscious awareness and good communication skills to be able to pull it off. As a child we are totally reliant on the healthiness of our parent. As an adult we need to constantly practice self-awareness of our already damaged emotional patterns and then communicate them with each other before a safe and secure attachment bond can form.
The Practice of Non-Attachment in Intimate Relationship
The practice of non-attachment in intimate relationship is yet another step forward beyond the safe and secure attachment bond. It is not possible to practice non-attachment until healthy attachments are formed, otherwise they are really only different manifestations of unhealthy detachment. The practice of non-attachment is being able to detach from our own and the people’s patterns while simultaneously being able to connect and love ourselves and others beyond the patterns.
Non-attachment is non-reactive. It is being able to remain present and calm while allowing others to do what they do. Of course it does not mean stay around aggression or violence. Rather it is about “right action” that values self and other, without becoming caught in blame, criticism, reactivity, rescuer/victim patterns, detachment or enmeshment. Non-attachment is being able to remain in a space of compassion and respond to events rather than react. By default, this involves a sense of inner-security, self-love and stability to be able to remain emotionally centred and not become caught in the hurricane of interpersonal relationship dynamics and intrapersonal patterns.
What does attachment mean to you in you relationship?
Conscious relationship is one of my passions because I love and honour love itself. While intimate relationship is only one type of relationship where love can be cultivated, it fascinates me because I believe there is so much potential in our intimate relationships, rather than misunderstanding, separation and heartbreak. My hope is that increased awareness of gender and relationship will lead to us healing ourselves and our hearts.
Learnings from my Personal Story
From a very early age I had a deep longing for love. My dad was a Vietnam veteran with PTSD and my mum was psychologically and emotionally shut down. So neither one of them were connected to love within themselves, their relationship or with their children. The only time the word love was even used in their household was when we were getting the strap … “I’m doing this because I love you!” So needless to say, my first introduction to so called love was abuse. There was a deep sense of “wrongness” for me as a child. I knew this was not love! And yet there was no affection, encouragement or half way positive messages about who I was or who I might become.
Perhaps what gave me the deepest sadness in my family of origin was that they were so emotionally shut down. Like androids, these people were not connected to themselves or each other. The aimless, depressed negativity drove me crazy! Later I was to know this as unconsciousness… deeply shutdown patterns that blocked them from the life force… blocked them from love! So my earliest desires to wake up, become conscious and embrace love originated from early childhood experiences.
Over the decades as an adult, I have accessed counselling, spiritual healing, kinesiology, body talk, holographic kinetics, and anything else I could get my hands on! Today I wake up feeling happy! There are times when challenging things happen in life, but my perceptions and beliefs are largely positive. Sometimes I witness my thoughts and their attached emotions, spiral into the old family patterns, but I see them for what they are… simply unconscious patterns that detract me from loving life.
So what does all this have to do with Conscious Relationship?
I learnt in a very real way the importance of healing myself before I can create a conscious, healing and loving intimate relationship. I cannot say I am fully healed… I know that is not true! But I am on my way!!! Becoming more aware of my unconscious patterns that are triggered in intimate relationship, I can take responsibility for my 50% of a relationship and learn from it. My dream for intimate relationships is where both people become consciously aware of their own psychological patterns and learn to create love rather than pain.
This involves understanding the differences between genders and honouring those differences. If women are generally emotionally based creatures while men are often physically based, then what can we learn from each other in regards to respecting each other? It is not so much about becoming like the other, but rather to understand what the other is about in how they approach life. The idea of opening to happiness through connection, honouring differences and complementing our partners in intimate relationships, is the cornerstone of conscious relationship. By observing and learning from our own reactions, we can learn to give better to our relationships. By learning how to communicate even when we speak different languages, we can create shared meaning and purpose in our relationships. By understanding and appreciating what the feminine and masculine give and HOW they give, we can increase gratitude and reduce resentment. This is essential if we are going to shift our intimate relationships from the average, shut down relationships that exist in the sludge of life.
How we connect to our intimate partner is a choice! If we struggle with resentment, criticism, guilt or condemnation towards our partner, then perhaps it is time to heal. First this process is in each individual self. Secondly, the relationship itself may need healing. Becoming conscious simply opens the door to healing and finding happiness in relationship. Conscious awareness is an on-going process that sometimes requires guidance through therapy, self-help avenues and other healing modalities. But it is worth it!!! For it is the difference between mastering ourselves and our relationships, and perpetuating the living hell of the unconscious relationships of the past. Without compassionate awareness towards ourselves, there cannot be love for another.
What are the important ingredients of Conscious Relationships in your experience?
If a woman is more feminine than masculine in her essence, then she is likely to be “emotionally based” in her self and world perspective. Being “emotionally based” means that the origin of her thought stems from emotional wisdom rather than rational or logical thought. Her understanding of the world is relationship orientated rather than physically orientated. Her understanding is first felt with the emotion held within her body, rather than the thought in her head.
Women and Emotion
David Deida described the process of emotionally based wisdom in his book “The Way of the Superior Man”. He discussed an analogy where a man asked another man to a movie and the other man responded, “It depends on the movie”! If he liked the move then he would say “yes”, if he did not like the movie then he would say “no”. Nice and simple! Now if a man asked a woman to a movie she would “yes” or “no” depending on how she felt about the connection between them. If she felt loving and close then she would say “yes”, but if she felt annoyed or distant then she would say “no”. So her decision would be based on the landscape of the emotional connection that she felt with the man. The movie itself is largely irrelevant! In counselling when I have described this process behind masculine and feminine decision making, women often laugh (a little embarrassed to have their operating system described out loud) and the men look at me like I have just turned green! “You’re joking”! They have exclaimed, probably trying to figure out how they can work out anything is her alien mind!
The truth is that feminine based thinking is quite different from masculine based thinking. Also, In our Western world emotionally based wisdom is often not understood, no matter about honoured or respected. I believe the feminine harbours a deep wound about the lack of understanding and honouring of emotional based thinking, which then becomes projected at the masculine. While men have been targeted for their lack of understanding of emotional based thinking, in my experience it is women who do not understand themselves that creates the initial problem. Women are often in the dark about her own emotions which leads to us mis-understanding herself. Much of her anger at men may be mis-placed, especially if the man wants to be respectful of the woman and genuinely does not understand her.
Women Understanding Emotion
In my work as both a woman and a psychologist, I have witnessed and related to women’s struggle with their own emotions. Women are often confused, in a great deal of emotional distress and unable to understand or express themselves. The more no-one can understand her emotional landscape, the more she becomes “Kali, the destroyer”. Without validating the emotion and understanding the real wisdom behind her feeling-space, asking her to “self-sooth” her own emotion often lands like a lead balloon. Rational explanation or logic simply do not and will never suffice to temper her emotional distress or anger.
This is why women often seek emotional comfort from other women. If you watch two women having coffee, one will talk about how they feel about a whole lot of experiences and the other will listen and validate. When she is finished (if the relationship is balanced) the other one will express how they feel about their experiences and the first one will validate her emotions. Without this process being conscious, they are giving and receiving emotional validation through direct verbal communication. If you watch two men (with a masculine essence), if they are talking they are likely to be talking on a rational basis, or not talking at all.
Even though women are thinking and communicating on an emotional basis much of the time, they often cannot express what they are doing, and are at a loss to describe it to men (or other women with a masculine essence). I hear some men say “women just like to talk… about nothing”, however women actually are talking about something! They are often talking about the ever changing emotional landscape within themselves, relationship and the world! This is the other problem… that women’s rational thinking created in their minds is often in contrast to emotional wisdom. So within women, there is often a battle between rational (socially defined) thinking and emotional body-felt wisdom. It is not that emotions are less confusing to men, it is just that women’s connection with emotion is very strong and they can find it very difficult if not impossible to compartmentalise it.
It is up to Women to understand themselves and respectfully communicate the process feeling-orientated-thinking to men. It will only be through women’s self-understanding and respectful description of emotional processes that will lead to men taking respectful notice of women’s perspectives. Emotional outbursts, cold shoulders, criticism and anger generally do nothing to women’s cause of being understood by the masculine. Women need to learn to surf the emotion, as compartmentalizing it does not seem to work for the feminine. Women cannot turn their backs on feminine wisdom, rather they need to learn from her, by learning how to work with emotion rather than dump it on others (or themselves, which only leads to excessive guilt).
So as women we need to understand ourselves and realise that men (when in their masculine) are doing something that is very different, although equally valid. Working with women to help them understand and work with their emotions is the corner stone to helping both men and women honour the emotional perspective and feminine wisdom.
Questions for Women ….
As a woman how well do you know your emotional self?
Interested in learning how to work with your emotions and honour the feminine?
“Surfing the Waves of Emotion” for Women is being held on the 7th July 2012, bookings are essential!
Rebuilding trust after either one or two people in an intimate relationship has betrayed the other is a challenging processing. It can be the trust is broken be repetitive small things such as not turning up on time to an arranged meeting. Or it may be big things such as an affair. The broken trust may result from lack of understanding another’s perception. For example, one party may not have known that forgetting to buy fish on Fridays is sacrilege. Or it may be that there was deliberate deceit, often mixed with avoidance, denial and maybe even harboured resentment.
To re-build trust in a couple relationship the key is to communicate and if both parties want to repair the relationship, then they need to embark on a healing process. If it was a legitimate mis-understanding then there needs to be exploration of values, significant meanings of events, and family of origin norms and patterns. It is very normal to not understand your partner’s nuances because they grew up in a different family with different rules. So now is he time for exploration and open communication between the couple which can enrich and deepen the connection, if both people are in the space of compassion and an open mind.
If the betrayal was deliberate, then rebuilding trust can be more difficult, especially if the betrayal was big, such as an affair. This healing process involves the person who broke the trust becoming very open, transparent in their thoughts, feelings and actions, and incredibly patient while their partner recovers. It is very normal for the person who has been betrayed to need to ask a million questions, go through intense anger and hopelessness, and wonder if it is worth continuing the relationship. The person who betrayed the other needs to earn their trust back, through openness and displays of commitment. It is hard work! However eventually, it can be rewarding as it can bring skeletons out of the closet and motivate both parties to look at what has been denied or avoided in the relationship. Ironically, it can even bring people closer, but only if they enter this process. If it is glossed over or the person betrayed has not been able to re-build the trust in their partner, then it can be excruciatingly painful or the relationship can disintegrate.
Trust is an incredibly important ingredient in healthy intimate relationships and needs to be nurtured and cultivated if the relationship is to thrive. Ultimately, the key is to cultivate openness, respect, good will and communication from the beginning of the relationship and seek professional help at any point in the relationship if needed. This maximizes trust and minimizes misunderstandings or even deceit. If both parties hold positive, loving attitudes to each other, open communication can occur and trust can build.
Have you ever healed trust in your intimate relationship?
What aspects of your connection did it deepen?
The Aftermath of Loss & Betrayal
Trust is an essential ingredient in our lives as it lays the inner foundation for taking risks, trying new things, meeting new people and generally being open to new life experiences. Without trust we close our hearts and our minds and crawl into a hole, hoping to avoid any more pain. However trust is easily broken on many levels, and when major breaches of trust occur, we not only learn not to trust other people, but also ourselves and life. Rebuilding trust is a healing process, whether it is within an intimate relationship, a family or after a series of harrowing life experiences.
When we lose trust in life or in significant relationships, we lose trust in ourselves. In significant relationships such as couple’s relationships or family relationships, this can happen following sexual, physical and emotional abuse, personal violations, abandonment, or prolonged destructive patterns. In terms of general life events, loss of trust can follow trauma such as a plane crash, a serious car crash or natural disasters. These all lead to a loss of trust in our ability to protect ourselves and ensure safety and security. A loss of trust in ourselves and life is disorientating and feeds anxiety and depression. If the loss of trust is pervasive in life then we can start to heal by learning to trust ourselves.
Re-Building Trust in Perceptions & Emotions
The healing process to re-build trust in ourselves involves learning to reconnect to adaptive emotions, as part of the loss of trust is in our emotional guidance mechanism. Generally, after experiencing emotionally painful circumstances that rock our world and faith in life, our emotions become distorted. We can become very distressed and susceptible to depression and anxiety. Extreme circumstances lead to extreme emotions, which can mislead us if we do not understand the nature of emotions. Relearning to accurately listen to our emotions can result in re-engaging in self-trust.
When we do not trust our emotions, it is disorientating, confusing and impairs decision making. We do not believe that we will know how to cope with new situations. This is especially hard if the lack of trust of emotions resulted from childhood abuse, as there was never trust in emotions. If the abuse has been severe, it may be the case that the person also needs to learn to trust their own thoughts and perceptions as well as emotions. So learning to read emotions and distinguish between what are adaptive emotions as opposed to trauma emotions is vital to learning to trust ourselves.
Another important aspect of learning to trust ourselves is knowing how to establish and maintain healthy boundaries. Interpersonal boundaries are our ability to let in good, healthy experiences and keep out the destructive and painful experiences. Boundaries are about or ability to say “yes” and “no”.
When there have been interpersonal breaches of trust, abuse or personal violations, then trust can be difficult to maintain. We often question ourselves, such as “could /I have seen it in advance”, “why did they do this to me”, “what was so bad about me that they could have done this to me” etc. However, if someone has broken another person’s trust deliberately then they are responsible for their actions. Our only say in the situation is to stay or leave, and if the choice is to stay, then under what circumstances. For example, the criteria that may be put to a person who has abused the other that they seek therapy and that the relationship can only continue under safe circumstances. So establishing and maintaining safe and secure boundaries leads to increased trust in ourselves.
Trusting in Life
The final important aspect of re-building trust in ourselves that I will mention today is re-building trust in life. This can be very difficult after prolonged and severe abusive circumstances or a natural disaster. A counsellor once said to me “most of us live life under the illusion of safety” … of course, until it is devastated by traumatic experiences. The hard thing is that without trust there is a general foreshortened sense of future, disconnection with happiness and increased stress and anxiety. This is some of the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. So re-building trust under these circumstances is about creating new meaning of safety, security or purpose in life or even death.
It is interesting that one population that is particularly resilient to post-traumatic stress disorder is the Buddhist monks. Psychologist found that even after the atrocities that the Chinese Government inflicted on the Buddhist monk population in Tibet, which included torture and murder, most monks who survived were not traumatised.
When we look at the reasons behind the monk’s resilience, we find that their meaning of life and death is quite unique. Death is something they work towards their whole lives. A deep practice in meditation and mindfulness combined with a lifelong goal of reaching enlightenment buffers them from fearing death. Therefore they have a deep trust in life and death that many of us struggle with. Their trust is also not associated with physical safety and security. Rather they learn to detach from desire, including the desire to stay alive. In their detachment from the desire to live, they also lose their attachment to the emotions anxiety or fear that are usually associated with dying. Finally, with a loss of anxiety related to dying and powerful meanings about death that are positive, they also would not experience a loss of control in their lives or a sense of not coping. They are likely to experience some emotions, however they would not be consumed in the emotion nor would they hold on to the emotion in their bodies. So the Buddhist monks give us some interesting insights into trusting life, even in the face of trauma or adversity.
So whether rebuilding trust is following natural disaster or inflicted by other people, learning to trust ourselves again is vital to embracing life again. This could be done through reconnecting with ourselves and learning to trust our own thoughts, feelings and actions, or it may be through learning to establish healthy boundaries in interpersonal relationships. Finally, the meanings we make of life and death and the practice of mindfulness and meditation all contribute to establishing trust in life.
When has your trust been tested?
How did you overcome the challenge and re-build trust again?
Anxiety is a tricky condition because it feeds itself. It is like a snow ball that rolls down a hill, collecting more snow and growing bigger as it rolls down. Peace of mind and relaxation are the opposite of anxiety. When we are relaxed we can be open hearted and open minded, and things seem to flow easily and freely. A peaceful mind can make it easier to respond to events in the world, rather than emotionally react.
When we are stressed and anxious on the other hand, we are more likely to make mistakes, things seem hard and we feel overwhelmed and exhausted. That is why it is said that love is the opposite to fear! Fear, stress and anxiety close our hearts, feed our defensiveness and put us into a state of fight/flight. So to decrease anxiety, the key is to starve the anxiety of the thoughts, feelings and actions that feed it.
Mindfulness helps us in this pursuit by teaching us how to witness the thoughts, feelings and actions that feed anxiety. It helps us do “dis-identify” from the roller-coaster of anxiety and its food.
The benefits of Mindfulness to reduce anxiety are twofold. Beside the process of witnessing, it also teaches us to breathe! The fight/flight response which is associated with anxiety is a physiological reaction that involves shortness of breath, increased heart rate, sweaty palms and nausea or an upset stomach. These physiological reactions occur because anxiety is a fear response where if we were faced with an immediate real threat, we would need to survive. So all the blood rushes to our hands and feet and away from our internal organs. We can help turn this physical anxiety response around however, we would be hard pushed to change our blood flow! So we focus on our breath! This is a physiological symptom of anxiety that we do have some control over. So mindfulness can help us to slow down our breath while witnessing our thoughts, feelings and actions.
There are several different forms of anxiety. There is generalised anxiety which is not consciously attached to any one cause or trigger. There is panic disorder and phobias, which is anxiety associated with a specific trigger. There is post traumatic stress disorder which results from experiencing a traumatic event. There is obsessive-compulsive disorder, which is an anxiety disorder that results in unusual ritual behaviour to avoid the anxiety and unusual believes. There is social phobia, which is a fear of social relating, and there is agoraphobia which is a fear of leaving the house. All of these conditions can be incredibly debilitating however, therapy can help make sense of the thoughts and feelings behind anxiety, and by using regular mindfulness practice, people can overcome these conditions.
Angie tended to feel sick in the stomach with anxiety every time she had to meet with her boss at work. Richard, her boss, was older than Angie and while he was a fair man, he had a self-confident and direct demeanour. After attending a meditation morning with her friend, Angie decided to begin a mindfulness practice to increase her awareness of her thoughts, emotions and physiological reactions, to reduce her stress. Most of the time throughout the day she gauged her anxiety and stress to be relatively calm. However, when she knew she had to speak to Richard, she noticed feeling sick in the stomach, her throat tighten, her palms were sweaty and her breathe was shallow. She also felt her heart quicken, her hands were slightly shaky and her mind became foggy. Before practicing mindfulness, Angie knew she was stressed when she had to see Richard, but she did not know how anxious she really felt.
As Angie allowed herself to witness her mind and body’s reactions to seeing Richard, she realised her own unique anxiety reaction. To turn it around and feel more confident, she slowed down her breathing and wriggled her fingers. She then challenged some of the thoughts that were entering her mind. She witnessed thoughts that told her she was inadequate and left her feeling like a small child. She knew she was a good worker and that she had nothing to hide and yet she felt like a “naughty girl”. As she watched her thoughts and emotions, she realised that she felt the same way when she was younger and got in trouble for things she did not do. So bit by bit she comforted her inner child within and learnt how to stay in her adult self while speaking to Richard.
The power of mindfulness is that in practicing it, we can increase our self-awareness if we allow ourselves to simply listen! Angie’s story is a great example of how over time we can benefit from increasing self-awareness and practicing mindfulness.
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Sexual connection in intimate relationship is another vital aspect of a healthy loving relationship. But the topic of sex in relationship is far bigger than just sex. The quality, frequency and integrity of sex reflect the broader dynamic in the relationship. Ultimately everyone in intimate relationship wants to feel connected to the one they love. They want to feel the love inside their own heart for their partner, and they want to feel loved by their partner. No matter what women and men say about one another, closeness and love is what we are looking for.
It is not unusual to hear women say, “he just wants sex!” Likewise, men might say “all she wants to do is talk!” But what is important here is that both parties actually want the same thing… love! They just have different ways of giving and receiving love. In an intimate relationship where a man does actually care about the woman he is with, he is likely to want sex. Generally speaking, men seek closeness and intimacy through physical sexual contact. There can be other issues happening for a man that get in the way of wanting sex in a relationship, this is also not uncommon. But those issues would need to be addressed by him and possibly in therapy.
Women, on the other hand, often seek closeness and connection through verbal communication. They generally need to feel close and connected to the man before they are ready for sex. So you can see how this dynamic plays out in relationships.
Unconscious Sex in Relationship
I went to a fantastic talk last night presented by Janet McGeever and Gene Thompson on conscious lovemaking. Their overview of traditional sex and conscious lovemaking was very enlightening and it neatly fits with what I have said above.
In their seminar they stated that traditional sex is about expectation, tension, the goal of orgasm, and intercourse. The man has a job to do… to get his woman to orgasm before he can, while maintaining an erection. The woman often feels disconnected because he is not present with her, rather he is concentrating on his “task” to perform. She may even fake orgasm for a range of different reasons. She may feel his pressure and be trying to help him overcome it by allowing him to ejaculate, thinking he has done his job well. Or if the broader context of the relationship is compromised, she may just want it over and done with so she can sleep. A great point Janet and Gene made was that a lot of women have an expectation of themselves that they have to serve their man by being sexually available for him. This can recruit her into having sex without wanting to or being ready to, which ends up having a huge closing down effect on her emotionally and physically.
So the man expects himself to perform his job and she expects that she has to serve him sexually. Neither party ends up enjoying it in the long term. So while sex may be great at the beginning, it becomes mundane and a chore as the relationship matures.
Janet and Gene then went on to describe conscious lovemaking. They stated in their seminar that in contrast to traditional sex in a relationship, conscious lovemaking is relaxed, not goal orientated, has no expectations of self or other, and is far broader than just intercourse. Janet spoke about the woman’s experience in sex where the positive polarity with a man is in the breast and heart area, while the man’s positive polarity in the genitals. This positive and negative polarity has to happen to for the sexual and love attraction to happen between a man and a woman. She starts to warm up in the heart and breasts, he starts to warm up in the penis. If all goes well, the energy will move down her body to her genitals and for him, it will move up to his heart.
After hearing about this last night, I realised how much that explanation fits perfectly with what I already knew about sex in relationships. For the sexual and love polarity to work between a man and a woman it is vital that she moves from the heart/emotional down to the physical, and that he moves from the physical to the heart/emotional.
The important trick in conscious relationship is to honour yourself and your partner by understanding the different movements of sexual/emotional energies in men and women, and respecting and embracing those differences. Working with this natural lore, rather than forcing our own will on how we think it should be done … men think sex/women think conversation or non-sexual affection… is the key to great on-going sex in the long term and a healthy, connected loving intimate relationship.
In my last blog, “Misunderstanding Communication Styles Between Gender”, I spoke about how different styles of communication between men and women create misunderstanding and conflict in intimate relationships. Today I want to focus on strategies that both genders can adopt to enhance communication within their relationship.
An Open Mindset: Assume Nothing!
The first strategy is to develop an open mind set to yourself and your partner. We often assume and take for granted that other people know what we are trying not communicate. In couples counselling I have become all too aware how this is simply often not the case, and especially in the context of intimate relationship. Perhaps that is why so much blame is often thrown around in relationships. People are trying to communicate information that is dear to their hearts, and the other person seems to attack them for it. Often that person is not intending to attack their partner (unless they are already hurt and are trying to hurt them). Rather they are often just trying to communicate and be understood with no avail! Generally people do not go into relationships to hurt and hate the person they say they love. Conflict in intimate relationships is usually the result of a whole lot of misunderstanding.
As for the person who is aiming to hurt their partner, that strategy never works. A rule of thumb in intimate relationships is “if one person wins an argument, they both lose!”
So keeping an open mind, not only about the content of what your partner is saying, but also the process of how they are saying it, can help cultivate a shared understanding between both members of the couple.
Mindfulness Practice: Cultivating Self Awareness
The second strategy is mindfulness practice. We can open our mind about what and how our partner is communicating, but we also have to watch our own style of communication. We often do not reflect on or take notice of how we are communicating or what we are actually saying. Often we are so busy in the midst of unconsciously reacting in intimate relationship, that we simply do not practice the awareness required to successfully navigate through the minefield of relationship. However, intimate relationship does not have to be a minefield! Through mindfulness we can learn to witness thoughts, feelings and actions that arise in response to our partners. We can do this for both pleasant and unpleasant emotional reactions. So mindfulness is an important ingredient to conscious relationships, by helping people to break free from their unconscious reactive patterns. [Feel free to subscribe to my 10 days of Mindfulness Tips & Audio Mediations … it is a free subscription]
One thing I love about Taoist philosophy is that they promote intimate relationship as a conscious daily practice. It is amazing that in the West couples can ‘stay together’ for decades and know nothing about cultivating conscious practice in intimate relationship. It is no surprise that they end up in psychotherapy when the children leave home. They have been existing together in the same geographical location however, they were not really participating in intimate relationship. They may not have even had an interesting conversation with each each other for fifteen years. So cultivating mindfulness practice in conscious relationship can help enhance the connection between both members of the couple.
Honour Ourselves and Each Other
Besides understanding different styles of communication and cultivating conscious awareness of self through mindfulness practice, the third important strategy underlying communication in intimate relationship is to consciously set the intention behind the communication. Good will between both partners is essential to effective communication in conscious relationship. We could call it ‘goals’ or ‘agenda’ but I call it intention because it embraces feeling into the conscious and unconscious currents underneath the communication.
Setting an intention involves really checking out our own intent behind our communication. For example, I might actually say, “you never listen to me” or “why do you always push the point?” But what am I really trying to say? Your partner may hear blame or criticism when what you may really want to say is… “I feel really hurt and frustrated because I don’t feel understood. What is happening between us in our communication that we mis-understand each other so much?”
Honouring ourselves and each other is about checking out our intention with compassion and understanding for our patterns. It is about giving ourselves and our partner the respect to listen deeply rather than react out of our emotional pain. It is about regularly carving time out of the day to pay attention to, and cultivate, real connection with our partners. It is also about knowing ourselves, and standing in our truth solidly with compassion for self and other. It is about self-value and honest communication, while considering our partners perspective.
So here are those strategies again:
- Have an open mindset towards yourself and your partner
- Practice mindfulness to step out of reactive patterns
- Honour yourself and your partner through positive intention
Conscious intimate relationship is all about co-creating connection in love. It involves regular practice which is as important as maintaining your physical health, parenting your children or paying your bills. These strategies in communication are the cornerstone of creating conscious relationship. Learning and adopting them as everyday habits could enhance the quality of your relationship.
In what ways could these strategies help enhance your relationship?
In couples counselling, it is amazing how often I hear a woman in an intimate relationship with a man say “he just needs to communicate with me!” And then I hear man say in frustration, “but I do communicate with you. What more do you want?” Both parties look deflated from this on-going unresolved argument that leaves them both confused, increasingly frustrated and hurt. After listening to this common conflict in so many couple relationships I realised there is a lot more going on than meets the eye!
Verbal Communication Differences
The word “communication” actually means something very different to most men and women. Let’s start with verbal communication! The actual reason or purpose behind verbal communication is also different between the genders. Generally men will verbally communicate to address a problem or fix an issue. It is a tool for getting something done.
Verbal communication for women, on the other hand, is often to connect with the other person and share how they feel. It is how they mentally process information (between feelings and thoughts)… it is like an integrating of understanding themselves in relations to the world known through their feelings. Through verbal communication they support and receive support from other people. Women develop closeness and interpersonal connection through vernal communication and mutual understanding. So women do a great deal of relating with others through verbal communication.
So when we clearly lay-out the stark differences between the very agendas of verbal communication between men and women, it is not surprise that there is so much misunderstanding in heterosexual intimate relationships.
Non-Verbal Communication Differences
There is another important distinction between the genders when it comes to communication. So far I have specifically focussed on vernal communication, however non-verbal communication (or subtle communication) is another kettle of fish! Women are more likely to verbally communicate their inner reality and emotions, while men are less likely to do that through direct verbal communication. However this does not mean that men do not feel. They simply do not often have the language for expressing or understanding emotion in the same way that women do. Men are more likely to pick up non-vernal cues of mood or emotion.
About a decade ago, after listening to a lot of men talk about how they operated in the world, I realised that as a woman I had missed an important aspect of men’s reality and communication. I began asking my male friends about it and found out about an important missing ingredient to understanding men’s communication styles. One friend said it is like a ‘code’ that men just know. They are picking up other men’s moods and feelings and agendas through this subtle body language. I started to hear about how important this was for boys and men to survive in Western masculine culture. Men feel intuitively and through physical body tension what is around them and how to keep themselves out of danger.
I already knew from conversations with my brother and other male friends that masculine culture has a strong element of putting other men down to make themselves feel better. There is a very competitive pecking order in mainstream masculine culture that results in boys and men getting bashed if they ignore it. So many men are living a reality of self-protection and trying to relax to de-stress whenever they can.
This is very different from a woman’s reality in Western culture. Women live in the flow and ebb of the colourful world of emotion and interpersonal relating. They often can see multiple perspectives and is more interested in creating a sense of self that attracts what she needs and wants into her life. She is often living in a world of giving and receiving emotional support from friends. Her insecurities are more about herself in terms of her attractiveness. Her shame is often focussed towards body image, sexuality or her emotional self. So unlike her male counterparts who use verbal communication to figure out problems or overcome threats, she verbally communicates about her emotions and seeks to feel accepted by others through that communication.
She is often aware of the emotional landscape around her but she is not aware of the male “code language” or subtle communication between men. Men may not be aware that she does not GET IT and become confused at her reactions. In fact, he is unlikely to be aware that he is doing it… he just does it!!! Likewise, she is likely to be unaware that he is not feeling the world in the way that she does, and is likely to feel hurt and confused when his words or actions show he is oblivious to her emotions, even though she has told him how she feels.
So Where Does This Leave Us?
So you can start to see the basis for so much mis-understanding between the genders and why communication is not as simple as it seems between men and women. Firstly, they are often speaking different languages. One uses vernal communication while the other uses body-language to negotiate interpersonal relationships. Secondly, men and women often have different agendas to their communication. Thirdly, men and women generally experience different internal-felt-realities.
With this awareness of gender differences in communication styles, men and women can begin to consciously enhance understanding in communication and deepen connection. In my next blog I will outline conscious strategies to enhance communication in intimate relationships.
When has communication been difficult in your relationship?
In what way does information in this blog help you to understand mis-communication in your relationship?