In her book, “A history of the Wife,” Yalom describes what it meant to be a wife and the concept of love from the time of the Romans through today. (It's not my favorite book but it brings up some really interesting conversations and historical points.) Yalom points out that that in the beginning marriage was a transaction as women were property and what made a good wife was a woman that produced healthy children and was loyal to her husband (and owner). Our modern concept of love simply did not exist.
The concept of women's rights and independence is a relatively knew thing in history as well. It was only 1920 when women in the US were legally allowed to vote. Another forty years later, the women's rights movement started to take root and as we all know it got things started but there is still a lot of work to do.
I bring up the history a bit to point out that what we call love and partnership and even marriage today is an entirely modern and largely feminist (which is neither good or bad) concept. Egalitarian marriages, for example, are an entirely modern and evolving idea. The concept that we need to talk things out is relatively new. And perhaps because the modern visions of marriage, love, intimacy and commit are so new they pose their own unique challenges.
Let me stop here for a second to be clear about that I mean about intimacy in this context. When I refer to intimacy here, I'm talking about sexual attraction, connection and interactions.
Love is about a bond, a connection a commitment to one degree or another. When you love someone you want to know them inside and out, you want them to know you and seek you out in the same way. But sexual desire is different. It often thrives in mystery, suspense, unknown and tension (this can show up in many forms). Often couples will talk about how their sex lives were the hottest in the beginning of the relationship. Then as time went on and they knew each other better the sex had more meaning but was not as passionate.
Is it putting out the flame or limiting our ability to express ourselves only through words? While it's not may favorite thing, I think there is some real value in the concept of love languages because it allows for more than one way for some to express themselves and be seen. If we limit ourselves to language, it seems as though we are making our worlds and understanding needlessly smaller. Especially for men. Men are not socialized to talk absolutely everything out so a man in a heterosexual relationship is often at a disadvantage to his partner which often makes his actions so much more important to notice.
Men do not always know how to use language to connect and even when they use words, it may not feel as satiating. Let me be clear, I am not and will not tell a woman (or a man for that matter) to engage in a sexual act that they do not want. But I do wonder if there is space for hand holding and embraces that we often discount when we have settled into a routine or a rhythm of life together. I don't think it is necessary or good to limit the expressions of love to sex/sex acts and saying the words, "I love you." We are so much more creative than that.
Often when I meet a new couple, there is plenty of tension but it is of the anger variety. Just yesterday, a client told me she "just needed to let go" of her resentments towards her partner. While I appreciated what she was saying, if it were that simple she would have done it a long time ago. We typically hold on to resentments towards others for one of the following reasons: they are still hurting us in that way, we have angry towards ourselves for being vulnerable to the hurt in the first place and/or fear that if we forgive we will be hurt by that person again. None of that is easy to simply let go.
In her book, "Come As You Are," Nagoski points out that our brains are our biggest sex organs and likens our desire system to the break and accelerator in a car. When your brain is presented with a thought, feeling or sensation it chooses to push on the break or the accelerator. Simple enough.... Accept that for some, anger, resentment and even fear can allow both he break and accelerator to be pushed. When both are pushed, the system is likely to shut down in a tangle of confusing thoughts and feelings that simply very difficult to talk out.
As always, I’m here. If you are ready to work on having the life you want, call me and let’s get started!
Esther Perel has done a lot of work with couples and looked at how to ‘want what you have’ long term. In her book, “Mating in Captivity,” she wrote:
“Love enjoys knowing everything about you; desire needs mystery.”"Mating in Captivity; Unlocking Erotic Intelligence" - Esther Perel
For some people, they believed or hoped that being isolated with their partner and/or family would bring them closer and for some it has. But for many, the mystery and romance has vanished. And worse still, for some it has made it difficult to ignore pre-COVID existing problems.
It may take a little more imagination and effort than before but there is absolutely not reason you can’t go on dates. Maybe instead of dinner at a nice restaurant you fix of the dinning room or spot outside and cook a nice dinner or get take out. Treat it like a date, set a time, put on non-athleisure wear, no TV or phones. Instead of a movie at a theater, rent something online or find a virtual show/concert. There are plenty of fun things to do and your partner will appreciate the effort and time you put into making it a nice experience and not just any other dinner or movie on the couch.
One of my favorite stories… A friend of mine loves, “The Grinch” one night last summer her husband set up a Christmas in June in their back patio with the TV outside, popcorn blankets, etc so that they could have a date night at home and she loved it.
It is so easy to see your partner as the problem in conflict. While they may be part of the problem, it is critical that you ask yourself what your part is in any conflict. Perhaps it is difficult for your to truly listen and hear them about because you are under added stress and anxiety. Perhaps you don't feel as though they are listening to you. If you want your relationship to work in or out of quarantine, it is critical that you be willing to accept responsibility for your part in the relationship both good and bad.
When we focus on what we are doing right and what our partner is doing wrong, we are setting ourselves up for a crash.
It is easy to point fingers and assign blame but it really isn't all that productive.
Think about when you get a review or evaluation from your boss. If they sat you down and spent an hour giving you a detailed list of each mistake you have made in the last couple of months but no idea how to improve or what they need instead, you would likely want to quit. Your relationship is the exact same way. Do not just tell your partner what they are doing wrong, tell them what you need (and want) instead. It is so much more constructive.
Go for a bike ride, play cards with your friends online, work on a personal project in another room. Do not fall into the trap of feeling like if you are not working and at home that you must being int eh same room or engaging in the same things, that's waaayyyy too much intensity and together time.
Part of what your partner likely enjoyed about you when you met is that you had your own life and interests that made you interesting to begin with. Get back to those or even try some new ones, reach out to your friends and family, do something for a struggling neighbor or your community. There is so much about you that makes you who you are outside of your partner it is really important not to lose touch with those things - especially now.
It is important to have one (maybe two) people to share your hurts and frustrations in your relationship but it is really important to run around and tell everyone in your network how awful your partner is and how badly they treat you. You would hate it if your partner told each person in their life about each and every mistake you made so don't do it to them.
And be careful who you seek support from on those issues. You know you have some friends and family members that don't give good advice and/or who are already not keen on your partner. If you want your relationship to work, seek out people who will listen to you and support you but also help challenge you to own your part and see it from your partner's perspective.
I do not know a single person who has not had stress related to COVID. Kids, business, friends, uncertainty... All of use could use a little extra grace, yourself included. It's ok to make mistakes. What's important is that we take ownership of them when we do make them.
Your partner deserves the same compassion. Maybe they aren't talking about it as much as other people in your world but their life has changed just as much as yours so it's worth cutting your partner a bit of slack as well.
As always, I’m here. If you are ready to work on having the life you want, call me and let’s get started!
Dating in a time when it is considered healthy to stay a minimum of six feet away from people is a unique challenge unto itself. Not that it wasn’t difficult enough to strike up a conversation with a stranger or even meet someone before the pandemic. In fact, my neighbor last weekend said she hasn’t been on a date with anyone in months because it was too difficult to meet before for the pandemic, so why bother trying during the pandemic?
Look, dating is difficult. If it were 1950, it would be different for a host of different reasons. From my perspective, there are two reasons it is uniquely difficult to day now (sans pandemic): the paradox of choice and no accountability.
First, no one hits on each other IRL (in real life- those of you like me to do not speak or think in shorthand text messages) so you are forced to get online. If you can make the jump and actually commit to a dating app – though many people seem to be using multiple platforms – there are too many options. So if you match with someone who is uber responsive… “NEXT!” The paradox of choice essentially comes down to the fact that when our brain only has 2-3 options, it can make a good choice. But when it has a seemly bottomless well of choices, your brain freaks out and becomes paralyzed. Which means that forging a real connection on one of these apps is so much more difficult.
When our worlds were much smaller (before the internet), we were mostly limited to our networks for potential dating candidates; work, school, church and other social groups were typically how people met one another. Which meant there was not a lot of choice but also that there was a much greater chance that the person I am meeting/courting knows someone else in my life and that would keep both parties more accountable…. Meaning people were not nearly as inclined to ghost or flake on people because our community/social network would keep us accountable.
Duh!! What in your life are you proud of that wasn’t difficult? Think about it, I’ll wait. Yes, dating will make you vulnerable and uncomfortable and if you don’t want to do it – don’t. No judgment. But make that choice from a self-love and empowered place not a place of exhaustion and self-pity. If you need a break, take one but do not just blame it on the internet.
For the safety of women, I sincerely hope that the virtual first date becomes the new normal!!! Not to mention the fringe benefits for dudes! Guys, how many of you get annoyed that you have to pay for the first date? You can be honest, it’s just me. The virtual first date means you will never again show up to meet a new person to learn that you were catfished, it means that you will never again be waiting awkwardly outside while the other person is (quite rudely) late and wondering if they will bother to show up, it means not feeling like you have shell out money just to meet someone new and it means that a woman doesn’t have to risk her personal safety to meet a man she doesn’t know. Ummm, YES!!!
Yup! Which gives all of us a unique opportunity to talk about our needs and boundaries. If you are a healthcare worker/first responder, someone with a health concern or caring for someone with a health concern you can still date. It does mean that you will have to ask for you what need and then be willing to be a little creative with how and maybe even when you connect.
One of my clients sent me THIS article about a couple in LA who met online during the stay at home orders and they are thinking about of the box and actually enjoying it. It reads like an old fashion courtship and I think it sounds lovely.
While we are on the subject about how people are handling this all differently, can we take a minute to remember to reserve judgment? No one situation is the same and none of us have access to magical information that allows us to see into the future and know exactly what could have/should have been done. Just like with every other situation in life, can we please agree that your job is to figure out what works for you and everyone else needs to figure out what works for them?
If you feel clear and good about what you are doing to social distance, awesome! Do that and communicate to other people so they can respect it. If someone doesn't respect it, guess what! They won't respect your other boundaries so thank them for letting you know who they are at the gate!
Most of us have had the luxury of taking the passive presence of others for granted. Remember when you looked forward to just being by yourself?! It's ok to admit that suddenly being alone all the time is difficult. And as the video below points out, that loneliness looks different for different people.
As she Perel said, there are a lot of different ways to connect to people. There is a new group starting up in the Austin area in June that will begin virtual but ultimately beginning meeting monthly in person. The point of the CRUSH group is to bring together singles who are health and well-being minded who want to support each other while they all look for partnership.
As always, I’m here. If you are ready to work on having the life you want, call me and let’s get started!
Earlier this year I virtually met Marie from her streaming show Mxiety. Last night we teamed up to talk to her community and let them share, talk and ask questions about how to work through their Anxiety during quarantine. You can watch it HERE.
For a lot of couples, being in quarantine has turned up the intensity of stress and even conflict. In fact, I think most couples have likely struggled in all the stress. Financial concerns are huge, for some having to negotiate the kids being home all the time, having to learn new ways to blow off steam, losing access to some of your hobbies and living and working in what may feel like ever shrinking quarters, not to mention navigating health concerns with the need for connection with friends, family and the outside world. It can be difficult to manage all of it, especially when you’re in it so today let’s look at some options for getting through it together.
One of my clients laughed the other day when recounting some of their relationship stress. At the end of each day before quarantine, they used to enjoy sharing their days. Now, since they share a one-bedroom apartment and they are both working from home, they know what happened all day. This couple found that finding articles online to discuss is helpful as well as future planning and dreaming.
Though it may be difficult to get out of the house, if you can even go for a walk or a drive in your car that is helpful. Go see something outside of the four walls you are working, living and sharing together. Do this together as well as alone.
When you feel yourself going from frustration to anger, stop. Take a break from the conversation and agree to come back to the conversation at a specific time. The only thing worse than being trapped at home is being trapped at home with someone who is seething with you because you said something you didn’t mean.
I can’t overstate the importance of finding something to look forward to. Maybe it’s a phone/virtual date with friends or a driveway picnic with family or a class you decided to take online but find something. It will help keep you sane and take pressure off of your relationship.
When things are as stressful as they have been, it is really easy to start to bicker with your partner. The minute you start to see your partner as the enemy, life at home will start to become a battle. Even if it requires daily effort, make sure that you make a mental inventory of what your partner does right as well as what and how they add good things to your life. Your partner is not the enemy, stress is.
Remember in February and March when we didn't think that COVID-19 would get the bad where we live? That was fun, right? Ignorance really is bliss. In a way I'm glad I didn't really know what was coming as I simply would have worried about things far beyond my control. As we settle into our new reality, I thought it would be helpful to share some do's and don'ts for how to get through this time.
If one more person (I'm looking at you Rosseta Stone emails and social media) tells me one more time that I have so much extra time on my hands I might scream. The truth is, while I may have a little extra time it is not that I have a lot more energy. In fact, the stress and uncertainty is really draining. So please do not start to tell yourself stories about how you have a ton of time that you are just wasting.
The stress, the fear, the loss, the uncertainty is going to bring out the best and worst in us all. We can see that in random acts of kindness and in petty arguments. We can feel it in ourselves and we may struggle to not lose our patience with people. What could be more normal? Even those among us who are not control freaks, are losing autonomy and the ability to move about freely.
None of us were supposed to know how to do this so it's ok that it has been difficult and an adjustment. The best way to be compassionate with others is to start with yourself.
I can’t stress this enough, having a routine is soooo important to have a semi-normal existence right now. It may take some experimentation to get it right but it will make things feels so much better and easier when you do. And yes, it will have to change when all this is over. But for today, that is the only day you can deal with, create a routine. We can worry about later when it gets here.
It doesn't matter how big or small that thing is... virtual coffee with a friend, a movie you decide to rent/download, an art project, a walk on a nice day. It doesn't matter, find something and be intentional about it.
I feel like people are getting a little burnt out on all the Zoom meetings and, FaceTime'ing and Google Hangouts.... Part of that is because most of us are talking to screens all day so the idea of yet another screen is a little exhausting. Part of what a lot of us are missing is just sharing space with other humans... well, mostly just the ones we like. So instead of planning a FaceTime to talk maybe just have it on while you read and the other person cooks or goes about their day. Maybe you talk and maybe you don't but it could help feel like you're in their presence again that would feel good.
Especially since the weather is getting a bit better, go OUTSIDE. Stay 6 feet away from people you aren't sheltering with but go for a walk, read in the grass. Better yet, bring a folding chair to your friend's drive way and talk, see each other in real life.
There is an expression in the news, "if it bleeds, it leads." Media outlets are going to show us as much bad news as they can because that is what gets them ratings. TURN. IT. OFF. You can read then news (the news- not social media) online from a trusted media source, you do not need to watch the constant stream of negativity. At this point most of it is speculation instead of new and useful facts.
HERE is a link to a short video that will walk you through an at-home EMDR technique. This is perfect for overwhelming feelings of panic and/or anxiety. It is not designed to deal with old traumas but it is great for something that happened earlier in the day or week. It is also a good way to decompress for particularly stressful working conditions.
We have all lost something to COVID-19. For some of us it is a loved one, a job, a home, time with family members, graduations, proms, trips, birthdays, weddings, etc. This has been a time of total upheaval and it is easy to get carried away in a tide of all that we have lost. But this will not last forever and in the meantime to keep taking care of ourselves so that we are ready to fully recover when this is over.
I often find that people, especially those that have experienced trauma have an internal battle. There is a fight between what they know and how they feel. And often how we feel overrides what we know. The trouble is that this often happens so quickly we don’t realize that we are acting on information that is not fact but feeling. We do this because our brains and bodies are built to keep us safe. The trouble is, they don’t always do a good job of slowing down and evaluating information as it comes in and hell breaks loose in our nervous systems.
The longer we push on and refuse to evaluate what we believe we know, the harder it becomes to challenge those feelings masquerading as facts.
“Imagination is central to recovery; without an inner imagination of an alternative future there is no place to go.”Bessel Van der Kolk
Van Der Kolk isn’t suggesting that buying a coloring book or starting a craft project will undo or erase your trauma. What he is suggesting is the act of bravery required to see yourself in a new way.
The interesting thing about these beliefs that we have been carrying around not bothering to challenge or confront is what when asked, we can provide “proof” that these are true.
The way this works, is if you decide something is true (and this could be about yourself or the world around you)- you will find evidence to support this belief. So, if I think/feel/believe I’m dumb, I will have plenty of examples of times I made mistakes. Alternatively, if I believe I’m smart, I’ll have totally different data points to support that.
For many survivors of trauma, it is almost impossible to imagine that you are not what you have come to believe. So it is an act of bravery to even question the painful things you say to yourself:
I won’t even challenge you to believe the opposite about yourself but it will not feel true at all. I would challenge you to pick some that feels half way. If you believe you are weak, could you instead believe that you are human and it is ok to have needs? You could work your way up to “I’m not weak” later if you can dare to imagine that there is alternative future for yourself.
I don’t know when it happened…. Maybe it started stoic western European settlers that came to what would become the US via very difficult journeys then had to do awful things to Native Americans and at times to each other while making new lives but somehow our culture has separated the body and the mind. It’s as though we somehow believe they inhabit different spaces. Well, they don’t.
I think that the concept that our minds and our bodies are completely separate entities is what yields things like; “psychologically addicted, not physically,” a cultural obsession with numbing out, the idea that feelings are not data, etc. The truth is that our minds live in our bodies and if you believe nothing else, surely you believe that they impact one another. If you break a bone, doesn’t the pain distract you from other tasks? When you are anxious or afraid does your body temperature shift and heart rate change? When you find someone attractive, do your pupils dilatate?
Having accepted (hopefully you have if you’re still reading) that your brain takes in information, then processes that data and some of that data includes feelings, then it has a reaction. For some, a sticking point is decision making. In a war between your prefrontal cortex and other higher reasoning processes and your lizard brain, the cultural narrative is that the higher reasoning wins. The truth is that depends a lot on history of trauma and if you have resources to deal with the information that your brain is processing.
For example, if you are a gambling addict and you have a near win. Your brain processes that information the same way it does a win. Even though you lost, your brain no longer processes data the same way a non-gambling addict brain does. A non-gabling addict’s brain sees a near win as it truly is, a loss. That doesn’t mean that a gambling addict is doomed to gamble forever but the addict must learn coping skills to win the war with the lizard brain and stop.
"All traumatized people seem to have the evolution of their lives halted: they are attached to an insurmountable obstacle"Pierre Janet (1919)
In the past we have talked a little bit about what is called ‘big T trauma’ versus ‘little t trauma.’ (Just in case you don’t remember/know…. Big T trauma refers to a large event, like being at ground 0 for 9/11 or witnessing a horrible accident. Little t trauma is more insidious and often down played or over looked. If someone called you a loser once in an argument, it would likely bother you but you would be able to get over it. However, if someone called you a loser every day for a year, you would likely be highly impacted by that. That is what little t trauma is like; death by a thousand cuts.)
The different kinds of trauma are important. Some new-ish research is also emerging about the difference between childhood traumas and adult traumas. We are learning that childhood trauma and neglect alters the way the brain (yes, both the lizard brain and the higher reasoning sections) grows and develops and leaves it permanently altered. This does not mean that adult survivors of childhood trauma cannot be highly intelligent and go on to live happy, healthy lives. It means that the structures of their brains are different and their trauma is more treatment resistant than that of a person whose trauma onset was in adulthood.
Yup, there is it. Adult onset trauma is three times more likely to be 'cured' than childhood and it doesn't generally take as long to successfully treat. We believe that the reason is because of the difference in the brain structures dating back to development. But it's difficult to be sure because most people will not let you direct their brains until they die.
I think part of what Pierre Janet is saying the quote above is that trauma influences, often even defines us after it happens. That doesn't have to be a bad thing. If the trauma makes you see the world in a new way or means that you take time for yourself to heal. Sadly, more often than not, we allow our traumas to define us (i.e. my caregivers didn't love me and therefore I have no value or I must prove my value to deserve love). That is where treatment comes into play.
I'll talk more in the next blog about treatment but I want to leave you with something else I found:
Working with trauma is as much about remembering how we survived as it is about what is brokenBessel Van Der Kolk - The Body Keeps the Score
You survived. No matter what happened to you and no matter how you did it... You did survived. It is entirely up to you how to plan to live going forward.
Do you have physical complaints and keep going to the doctor, who tells you there’s nothing wrong with you? If this keeps happening to you, you probably have somatic symptoms that often are related to trauma. Keep reading then.
Somatization is basically any physical symptom that doesn’t have a physical cause, and it is a very common experience. It can be especially common for people in certain cultural groups, and is often related to anxiety, depression, and trauma. The Cleveland Clinic says it affects between 5 and 7 percent of the population, but I see it fairly often in my practice with clients who have trauma issues.
It happens when you have some physical disturbance, pain somewhere or a strange physical sensation you can’t otherwise account for. You go to the doctor and they run tests that show nothing, nada, no trace of a problem where you were convinced something was a problem. You’re left scratching your head and the pain or sensation keeps coming up despite the doctor’s reassurance that nothing was wrong. It is especially the case if you experience distress about having the pain or sensation. Some people might notice this, but not get upset about it. In your case, it can be very upsetting. That’s how it gets diagnosed.
Trauma therapy is one way somatic symptom disorder is treated. If there is an underlying anxiety, trauma, or depressive disorder, then treating that is the most effective way to get rid of it. The main thing to know is that you have a strong mind-body connection with this problem, and that is a good thing! The reason why is that your body is trying to tell you to pay attention to what’s going on and that there’s something wrong. It’s just that the problem isn’t where you thought it was. It’s somewhere else. If you’ve ever heard the saying ‘It’s all in your head,’ then you’ve got the idea.
The temptation is to blame yourself if someone tells you ‘It’s all in your head,’ but that only makes things worse. You give yourself a guilt trip for having these, but very often the culprit is some traumatic experience earlier in life. Often this happens in childhood, in which case you are definitely not to blame for it! The main thing to keep in mind is that the body registers these traumatic experiences and stores them somehow so that they’ll come up when you need to work on them with therapy help.
I’ve been working with clients who struggle with somatic symptoms virtually my entire career, and can assure you they are treatable. They practically always go away with a combination of relaxation techniques and by using some form of trauma therapy. EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is one such therapy, and has an excellent track record for helping people alleviate underlying depression, anxiety, and trauma that is often related to somatic symptoms. I urge you to give a licensed EMDR practitioner like me or Nicole a call if you are ready to get the help you need to get past somatic symptoms and what may be contributing to them. It may be the best money you’ve ever spent, and probably better than continuing to go to endless doctor’s appointments to hear the same thing you’ve been hearing all along.
About the author: Scott Kampschaefer, LCSW is a private practice therapist in Austin, Texas. He has an extensive background in working with depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder at a clinic for older adults with these disorders in Austin. He now works with adults and adolescents 14 and up in private practice. His e-book is entitled Life’s Lessons from the Young and the Old and is available for purchase on Amazon.