Intimacy

"Am I happy in my marriage?" When was that ever such an important question?

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This week I was listening to some past episodes of the TED Radio Hour podcast, and I stumbled on this interview with Esther Perel. Her book and her TED Talk opened my mind to a new way of thinking. This interview feels like the icing on the cake. I wanted to share it with you because I think it will help you look at your challenges in a different way, or maybe even approach your relationships with a new lens.

I've transcribed the entire interview for you (in case you can't listen to it, or you want to re-visit specific sections). I'd love to hear what you think in the comments!


TED: Do you think love is like a construct or do you think it's a fact?

EP: It's an experience. It's an experience that is mental, emotional, physical, sensual, sensory. It's all-encompassing. That's part of why it's so grand, because it doesn't leave any part of us untouched.

TED: When people meet you and you say, "I'm Esther Perel, I wrote this book called Mating in Captivity." What's the most common reaction you get from people?

EP: Well, the first reaction is usually to the title, "Mating in Captivity." Some people know exactly what I mean. They understand immediately that we don't necessarily like to mate in captivity and so then the next question is, "So, can desire be sustained in the long haul? Can you reconcile the domestic and the erotic in one relationship? Can you reconcile intimacy and sexuality when you're with the same person for the long haul?"

Excerpt from Esther Perel's TEDx Talk:

So, why does good sex so often fade, even for couples who continue to love each other as much as ever? And why does good intimacy not guarantee good sex, contrary to popular belief? Or, the next question would be, can we want what we already have? That's the million-dollar question, right? And why is the forbidden so erotic? What is it about transgression that makes desire so potent? And why does sex make babies, and babies spell erotic disaster in couples? (Laughter) It's kind of the fatal erotic blow, isn't it? And when you love, how does it feel? And when you desire, how is it different?

These are some of the questions that are at the center of my exploration on the nature of erotic desire and its concomitant dilemmas in modern love. So I travel the globe, and what I'm noticing is that everywhere where romanticism has entered, there seems to be a crisis of desire. A crisis of desire, as in owning the wanting -- desire as an expression of our individuality, of our free choice, of our preferences, of our identity -- desire that has become a central concept as part of modern love and individualistic societies.

EP: Desire was never the organizing principle of sexuality for sure in marriage. We had sex because we needed lots of children and we had sex because it was a woman's marital duty. So, desire is very much a concept of our society - of our culture - today... of a consumer society, of a society that has the "I" in the center. And this "I" knows who she is and knows what he wants, and is constantly urged to define it and to want more.

TED: So what does that do? What's the result?

EP: We crumble under the weight of expectation. We've never invested more in love and we've never divorced more in the name of love. We're not having very nice results.

That doesn't mean that when we had less expectations marriages were happier occasions, but people had different expectations of life.

One of the most important things we've done around marriage is that we've brought happiness down from the heavens, and made it first, a possibility, and now today it's a mandate.

Am I happy in my marriage? When was that ever such an important question?

This idea that my marriage is supposed to give me something. That I'm supposed to get something from my partner and that my partner owes me that because somehow it was implicit in our agreement in our joining together that we were going to give each other things like:

I'll never feel alone again! I'll never worry about abandonment! I'll never feel disconnected! I'll never feel unnoticed!

TED: The thing is, marriage is great! I'm speaking for myself here of course. It is that person. That person is your best friend. And that's our expectation. 

EP: In America.

But I can tell you I go to many parts of the world where I don't ever hear people say, "My partner is my best friend."

They HAVE best friends. And it's not their partner. Their partner is their partner. That's a different thing. And frankly, many people treat their partners in ways that they would never treat their best friends. They allow themselves to say and do things that no best friend would ever accept.

Friendship does not operate along the same lines.

Excerpt from Esther Perel's TEDx Talk:

So what sustains desire, and why is it so difficult? And at the heart of sustaining desire in a committed relationship, I think, is the reconciliation of two fundamental human needs. On the one hand, our need for security, for predictability, for safety, for dependability, for reliability, for permanence. All these anchoring, grounding experiences of our lives that we call home. But we also have an equally strong need -- men and women -- for adventure, for novelty, for mystery, for risk, for danger, for the unknown, for the unexpected, surprise -- you get the gist. For journey, for travel. So reconciling our need for security and our need for adventure into one relationship, or what we today like to call a passionate marriage, used to be a contradiction in terms. Marriage was an economic institution in which you were given a partnership for life in terms of children and social status and succession and companionship. But now we want our partner to still give us all these things, but in addition I want you to be my best friend and my trusted confidant and my passionate lover to boot, and we live twice as long.

So we come to one person, and we basically are asking them to give us what once an entire village used to provide. Give me belonging, give me identity, give me continuity, but give me transcendence and mystery and awe all in one. Give me comfort, give me edge. Give me novelty, give me familiarity. Give me predictability, give me surprise. And we think it's a given, and toys and lingerie are going to save us with that.

TED: So if marriage has evolved into this thing that's so fraught with potential problems and pitfalls and obstacles, how do we save it and improve it?

EP: Oh yes, I get that question all the time, and I have a different answer every day. It ranges from, you know, the secret to happy relationship -- I don't think in those terms actually. That's the first thing. It's not my language. I don't think about secrets, nor "keys to..." nor 7 ways to..., nor "10 steps..."

TED: You don't have the answer for us -- like the bumper sticker answer?

EP: No. But I do have a sense in the American context, it's often a "can do" question. You know, this is a society that thinks that every problem has a solution. And then one of my answers is that this dilemma between our need for security and our need for adventure, and how we're trying to bring them together under one roof is maybe more a paradox that we manage, and less a problem that we solve.

How Can I Make This Day More Pleasurable For You?

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My hubby and I have a game we play to deepen our connection, get out of ruts, or to be in service of replenishing each others feeling of surplus.The game can be played by the hour, the day, the month... whatever timeline feels best so that you both are in optimal surplus.

This morning I was the one feeling depleted and overwhelmed. He restarted the game by flirtatiously asking, "How can I make this day more pleasurable for you?"

This game sounds easier than it is. It requires that the receiver stop playing victim or martyr and take responsibility for their needs and wants, be able/willing to express them, and gracefully receive the others aid.

In order for this to work cleanly, it also requires the giver to be genuinely generous, not aiding with undercurrents of resentment, imposition or burden. It's actually the opposite, it requires taking pleasure from making someone's day easier and better.

I am generally emotionally and behaviorally flexible, but when I am tired or low resourced I still have difficulty answering this question. Today I wanted to default to victim mode, "There's nothing you can do, it's all up to me." (Yes, I'm noticing the manipulative current of resentment embedded in there and also shame and guilt for wanting/needing anything versus being totally self sufficient.)

But that's the whole point of the game - to pattern-interrupt those default modes that assert we are alone carrying the burdens of the universe and don't get to have help.

After 5 minutes of complaining he shimmies a bit closer and teases, "You still haven't answered the question. How can make this day more pleasurable?"

He's right. I still haven't answered the question. There's that guilty feeling again. I close my eyes, take a deep breath and try. What can I give myself permission to ask for that would contribute to my being in surplus?

How about a hug?

He happily obliges. I smile thinking he's like a male Amma. For as long as I've known him, one of his gifts are his love soaked hugs.

My nervous system begins to relax. I feel better.

Anyone up for playing this game with someone you are close to today? I'm curious what kinds of requests you have that would make your day more pleasurable?

Here's a few more of mine:

    • Massage
    • Exercise
    • Hot tub
    • Help with kids
    • Healthy lunch made for me
    • Love notes reminding me of something lovable about me
    • Sleeping in
    • alone time
    • a movie
    • 5 minutes of complaining (i got this one already, but i wanted to point out that sometimes the 5 min bitch + moan session is a great service. the overload just needs to come out and then i can move past it)

What is on your list?


Don't forget to participate in National Love Note Day! Click the button below to join in the fun, and make someone's day a little more pleasurable.

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Episode #37 - Forgiveness and Sex with Ty and Terri

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To enter a relationship is to court pain.
-Leo Buscaglia

If we truly desire to experience deep, soul-shaking, life-changing love, we have to drop our shields, tear down our walls, and let people into our hearts. To love is to constantly run the risk of being hurt. Loving is staring potential pain in the face without flinching.

Sadly, people who live this way - and love this way - sometimes get hurt. The hurts of the heart are often the most painful. That pain can be dangerous if you don't have the right knowledge and tools to help you recover from these hurts. Many people have opened their hearts to love freely and passionately only to be hurt, and react by building new walls twice as thick as before.

There is a secret tool available to us that will help keep us out of our Fortress of Solitude. That tool is Forgiveness.

Too many people withhold forgiveness because the person who wronged them hasn't suffered enough, or even acknowledged that they've done something wrong. They hold on to the emotionally-cancerous grudge as it slowly eats away at their happiness and consumes their lives. They don't understand the true purpose of forgiveness.

Forgiveness does far more for the forgiver than the forgivee.

Forgiveness is allowing yourself to move on. Forgiveness is letting go of the burden of a grudge. Forgiveness is not allowing someone else's choices to ruin your life. Forgiveness is acknowledging the imperfectness in us all, and chalking up mistake after mistake to being human. Forgiveness is a fresh start. Forgiveness is a clean slate. Forgiveness is a newly opened heart... a heart receptive to love and resilient to the inevitable pain that life unexpectedly hit us with.

Forgiveness is not fair, which is what makes it so beautiful.

Forgiveness is mercy winning over justice. It's love conquering hate. It's new life rising victorious over death.

Forgiveness, like love, is often irrational and counter-intuitive. It works when put into practice by the shamelessly optimistic. Forgiveness is often mistaken for a feeling, when in fact, it's a choice.

Those who never learn forgive will never have hearts open enough truly love... because, one forgives to the degree that one loves.

Who do you need to forgive? How can you forgive more freely? Can you forgive somebody even if the emotions of pain are still present? Share your experiences and thoughts in the comments!


Here are some of the books referenced in the podcast:

Episode #33 - Your Relationship Lacks Intimacy, And It's Your Fault... Ladies

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[powerpress]

Warning: This post and the associated podcast are controversial... which is exactly why I like them so much.


Ladies, does your relationship suck? Has it grown stale and boring? Do you feel hopeless, and yearn to feel connected and adored?

What if I told you it's all your fault?

Wait, wait, wait! Don't close your browser!

I get it. It sounds ridiculously chauvinistic and immature. Of course it's easy for me to absolve myself of blame and say that a lack of intimacy in a relationship is not a man's fault, but a woman's... but what if I told you this idea isn't something me and my guy friends cooked up during some late-night video game and pizza binge? What if I told you it came from a relationship expert who is also conveniently (for me) a woman?

Laura Doyle believes that women are the gatekeepers to intimacy in a relationship. She has focused her entire career on empowering women (she refuses to work with men, or even couples) with skills, tactics, and tools to radically transform their average, mundane, or even horrible relationships. If a lack of intimacy exists, and abuse is not present in the relationship, she believes women have the power to change it.

6 Intimacy Skills to Transform Your Relationship

  1. Self Care - In any relationship, you are responsible for your own happiness. If you rely on others to fill your self-worth tank, you'll inevitably end up stranded on the side of the highway of life, broken down, frustrated, and alone. Rather than relying on others to fill up that love tank, take initiative and fill it up yourself.  This means you must love yourself, not just with words, but with actions.Make a list of things that fill you with joy, energy, and happiness then do those things every day. Make them a priority. Whether it's sitting down to enjoy a cup of coffee, calling an old friend, writing in your journal, meditation or yoga, reading out of a good book, or some intense exercise, make a commitment to do the stuff you love religiously... make it as big of a priority as brushing your teeth - which you do regularly (I hope).
  2. Relinquish Inappropriate Control - Did you know that something as simple as telling a man he's doing something wrong - even when well-intentioned - can be incredibly emasculating? As a man, I feel a sense of pride when I can provide, protect, or otherwise take care of those that I love. Often times, correcting things (especially small things), make us feel like we can't do anything right. It's easy to feel defeated, incompetent, and worthless when you can't even dress yourself, or clean a mirror properly.Sure, many of you may say that I'm being over-sensitive. We men just need to "pony up" and "be a man" when it comes to taking criticism. Well, as a man, I'm telling you from the bottom of my heart: If you want more intimacy in your relationship, think before you speak. Your words can fill us up with courage, open us up to vulnerability, and give us the courage to slay dragons... or they can strip us of our confidence. The ball is in your court.
  3. Receive Graciously - When a man gives you something, whether it's a gift, a compliment, or some form of help, he's reaching out in an attempt to connect. It's a display of his love and care. A rejection or dismissal of his effort to bond with you are not only a rejection of the offer itself, but a rejection of his attempt to connect, and subsequently a rejection of him.Rather than play the "not good enough" card, thank him and tell him how much you appreciate him... because he thinks you're good enough, and sometimes that's all that matters.
  4. Respect - For this skill, I quote Mrs. Doyle herself. Her words are just too perfect:

    "Lack of respect causes more divorces than cheating does because for men, respect is like oxygen. They need it more than sex. Respect means that you don't dismiss, criticize, contradict or try to teach him anything. Of course he won't do things the same way you do; for that, you could have just married yourself. But with your respect, he will once again do the things that amazed and delighted you to begin with -- so much so that you married him."

  5. Gratitude - Good men don't do kind things with the expectation of thanks, but honestly, nothing is sexier than a woman who regularly expresses gratitude... especially for the things that you don't expect them to be grateful for. When a woman expresses appreciation for something I did for them, it makes me feel like $1 million. It makes me want to do more nice things more often.Cultivating a habit of expressing gratitude every day will also put you in a mindset of looking for the very best things. When you see and recognize the best in a man, he will rise to the occasion, and become the best version of himself. Your gratitude has the ability to unlock hidden reserves of potential, intimacy, and overwhelming love.
  6. Vulnerability - A truly intimate and trusting relationship requires vulnerability at its very core. Getting naked emotionally with someone often requires a lot more of that trust than getting naked physically with them. Being vulnerable requires honesty and assertiveness, and responsibility. Merely expressing how we feel is now vulnerability. Rather than nagging or criticizing, state your desires. "I feel lonely," is far more vulnerable than "You never come home on time." "I miss you so much," is far more vulnerable than, "When was the last time you took me on a date?"Striving to come to the table palms-open to express your feelings and your needs is courageous... and this approach not only avoids putting men on the defensive, but encourages them to do what they love doing most: step up to the plate and make their women happy.

Most of us do not realize how much individual power we possess to influence, change, and improve our relationships. We get stuck in the tedium of the day-to-day. We forget that little things can make an enormous difference. I hope you have the courage to give these 6 tips a try in your relationship... especially if you see it suffering.

And don't forget to listen to today's podcast at the top of the page. It is full of amazing stuff that blew my mind. I'm sure it will rock yours as well.

[jbox title="Show Notes:" border="5" radius="15"] Thanks for reading and listening to the podcast. Don't forget to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes to get episodes delivered to your computer every week!

Check out Laura Doyle's website The Surrendered Wife. And here are some links to her books:

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