Regain Your Relationship Soul

"We sell our soul in spoonfuls."

A client once paraphrased this quotation and it resonated deeply with me both personally and professionally. He was speaking to that seemingly incomprehensible transition from a wonderful, connected relationship, to one with walls, deceit, and hurt. How does this happen in such a loving context? One spoonful at a time.

It is often hard to see this deterioration happening in a relationship, until you are far down the path. A powerful foundation to set at the beginning of a relationship is regular check-in times. Even just 20 minutes every week, or one hour every month, can ensure you are on the same page. You can rate your satisfaction or awareness level in areas such as closeness, needs being met, fun, resentments, and feeling heard or understood. Use a 1-10 scale which allows you to quantify your feelings and monitor changes over time. This helps you notice potential problems earlier. The environment of each check-in should be compassionate, open-hearted, and non-defensive, while understanding that this context may take time to build.

If you're at the other end of the spectrum, in a long-term relationship and asking, "How did we get here?", you can still implement a similar structure. It's never too late. I suggest starting small, with each individual choosing one topic area that concerns the other, and making a commitment to work on it (e.g., communicate more, touch more, increase household chores, listen attentively, ask about your partner's day, share deep thoughts, plan quality time, etc.). At your weekly check-in, rate how much effort you put into your task and your partner can rate how much they perceived your efforts, and vice versa. Be kind with each other, as this is sensitive terrain. Clarify with specific ideas and suggestions if it feels like you're using different language, and commit to small daily actions.

Without structured accountability and feedback, it can be difficult to stay on target to shift and create new patterns. Creating a safe, nurturing environment once a week to bare your soul can give your relationship new life. And a spoonful at a time, you can feed each other's soul.

(Photo props: Found on this site.)

~Dr. Jenn Gunsaullus, Sex Therapist, Marriage Counselor, & University Sexuality Speaker -- San Diego, CA

Breaking Patterns - Building Healthy Relationships

It can be challenging to avoid falling into old patterns at the start of a new relationship. The excitement, new-ness, hormones, and wanting to present yourself in the best light, can create a context where old patterns are resurfacing without you realizing.

Sometimes after a relationship breaks up, you can look back and see small (or perhaps large) ways that you were not being true to yourself. I recommend making a list of questions to prepare for yourself ahead of time; start by analyzing where and how you think you lost part of yourself in past relationships. Did you agree with everything your new partner offered and said so as not to make waves? Did you use alcohol as a social lubricant to make sexual encounters less fraught with self-consciousness? Did you start spending every available moment with this person, to the detriment of friendships and other obligations?

We all have patterns and ruts that can lead to the same unwanted outcomes, irritations, and disappointments in the long run. If this resonates with you, here are some specific questions to get you started so you can check in with yourself as you’re getting into a new relationship:

  • Am I voicing my needs? In a responsible, honest way?
  • Do I feel out of balance? This includes physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, and spiritually?
  • Am I reacting to irritations from a past relationship, without giving this person a chance?
  • What is my intuition telling me as to whether this is a healthy relationship for me?
  • Do I respect this person? Do they respect me?
  • Am I afraid to be vulnerable and express my true self?
  • Does this person bring out the best in me?
  • Am I taking care of and nurturing myself?

Add questions that are relevant to your patterns. Pull this list out when you have started a new relationship. Be gentle when answering your questions. This is definitely not about beating yourself up, but about staying grounded, authentic, and present in your new relationship and on your path of building healthy relationships.

Jennifer Gunsaullus, Ph.D.

Sex Therapy & Relationship Counseling in San Diego