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

Emotional Intelligence - Feelings vs. Thoughts

At the heart of the work I do with individuals and couples is exploring the depth of emotions through identifying them, articulating them, and owning them. Sometimes though, it’s tough for people to differentiate between what they are feeling and what they are thinking. For example, I asked a male married client what he was feeling when his wife continually asked him whether he had taken the dog for a walk. “I feel like she’s being a pain in my ass!” he responded.

When I gently pointed out that this was a thought and not a feeling, he did not understand the distinction I was making. I told him that a feeling is an emotion, which is often linked to thoughts, but that what we think mentally and what we feel emotionally can be experienced separately. I have found that for some people, it is difficult for them to know what they are feeling, even though they may be experiencing a strong reaction.

In such cases, I may offer options of potential feelings. I like Lucia Capacchione's nine “Families of Feelings,” to assist in this process. The nine families of feelings include: Happy, Sad, Angry, Afraid, Playful, Loving, Confused, Depressed, and Peaceful. So in the above example, the gentlemen may have been feeling agitated (Angry), hurt or discouraged (Sad), anxious (Afraid) and conflicted (Confused). Although I’m careful not to put words in people’s mouths, I’ve found that this can start to bridge the gap between mind and body, thoughts and emotions. This “emotional intelligence” allows us to understand ourselves better and therefore have more meaningful and joyful (Happy) relationships.

Jennifer Gunsaullus, Ph.D.

Sex Therapy & Relationship Counseling in San Diego