Let’s paint a familiar scenario. You’re out at a restaurant with your partner when you notice his eyes wandering to the beautiful lady across the room or perhaps his eyes rested a bit too long on the backside of the attractive waitress. Immediately, you become incensed at the audacity of the man and this spoils your date night for the rest of the evening. Is this spate of intense jealousy a reasonable response to the common practice of the wandering male eye? Is jealousy ever permitted or is it always an out-of-place emotion which can do more harm than good?
One rule of thumb which must define any committed relationship is a sense of integrity. When mutual integrity forms the basis of a relationship, then partners will not readily act in ways to jeopardize or compromise that union. Having said that, with human nature being as fickle as it is, the road towards relationship integrity can be a rocky one. It is definitely a journey and not a destination. In other words, no relationship is immediately perfect. The preferred quality of your relationship will not be ideal from the get-go but will require hard work and constant dialogue throughout the course of your lives together. So how then should we deal with that green-eyed monster if it rears its ugly head?
Setting realistic parameters for all opposite sex interaction which will occur in the course of your relationship, is advised. This simply means deciding together what is or is not appropriate. Realistically, we will find other people attractive from time to time. Being in love does not make us blind. Acknowledging attractiveness with a cursory glance should be fine. Dwelling on someone else’s attributes in a prolonged way, out rightly flirting with them or even being physical or playful whether or not our partner is there, is, however, disrespectful to our primary relationship. This behavior should be confronted, discussed and hopefully discontinued. Discussing relationship expectations in this regard is therefore critical and partners must be clear and consistent about what they will not tolerate.
On the other hand, jealousy can also be an unreasonable response which stems from insecurity and or immaturity. Sometimes an individual’s idea of commitment means total ownership and control. Of course this is a flawed idea but it exists in several relationships nonetheless. Controlling who your partner speaks to or glances at, even when such behavior is not disrespectful in any way, can mean that there are deeper issues at stake. Fear of abandonment, or fear of rejection in one partner, can contribute to such behavior. Infidelity in a previous relationship can also influence the lens through which we see daily interaction between our partner and others. This must also be confronted and exposed if a relationship is to assume a sense of normalcy.
These extreme examples aside, we may experience a fleeting sense of jealousy occasionally in the course of our relationship; this is human, normal and to be expected. We are in a relationship because we desire exclusivity and at heart we do want to be the only girl or guy in the world, in our partner’s life. Having said that, being open about deep, recurring feelings of insecurity or confronting our partner if his/her actions make us feel disrespected in any way, is also vital to the life and health of our relationships.
When a guy that I know posed this idea some time back to a group of us (woman in head differing from woman in bed) , I thought it particularly uncanny. As a man and a husband, he actually admitted that this was a specific problem for several men. It broached a little discussion about one of the anomalies of relationships.
An intimate relationship is not without its problems; follow the fortunes of Sean and Tricia to see how they cope with their relationship challenges; especially in the bedroom and beyond. These two short films explore the issues of communication, sex and the “other woman”. Produced by Better Blends Relationship Institute, Ultimate Prestige and Fresh Productions, these films were shot on location in beautiful Barbados.
Follow the links to watch and please feel free to comment
Let’s picture it. You come in from work feeling a bit tensed and tired. You undress and pop into the shower for a long steamy bath. You step out to dress hoping to unwind to a wonderful movie, magazine or book; you know, some good old me time. Then you sense it. You’re being watched by a pair of hungry eyes but really, the last thing on your mind is making love. So you look for that long snugly tee shirt, make sure you put on a pair of unsexy undies, hall out your dog-eared novel and pretend that you didn’t read those heated signals.
Let’s change the scenario. You and your spouse have not connected in a while and you have a bit of an itch which needs to be scratched. So you spend some extra time in the shower that night. You put on some of that new scented stuff you bought recently and pull out a little sexy number you haven’t slept in for a while. The kids are all tucked in and you give your man that sexy come hither look. He doesn’t need a second invitation but promises to be in, as soon as he completes that urgent, need-to-be-delivered-in-the-morning project on his computer. What begins as a bearable half hour wait begins to feel like two hours. By the time he turns in, your mood is gone and you’re half asleep and angry at the same time.
What each of these scenarios reflects is the reality of mismatched timing and differences in desire; clearly a part of any marriage relationship. What should the response be when our spouse wants to get his groove on but we’re clearly not in the mood? What happens when the tables are turned and our amorous advances aren’t exactly met with immediate enthusiasm? The fact is that in a relationship, our sexual expectations will not always be met. Of course we have a number of response options to choose from when this happens; these responses include sulking, anger, withdrawal or understanding. Getting to a place of understanding may not, however, be always easy since we tend to link our sense of worth, acceptance and attractiveness to our sexual desirability. And the truth is that we don’t usually handle sexual rejection or insensitivity very well. We often take it very personally and if it occurs frequently, we can begin to wonder if our partner is cheating on us or no longer finds us attractive. These notions in our head, real or imagined, can introduce much tension into the relationship.
While unresolved issues, buried anger, hidden affairs, relationship neglect and a failure to communicate will most certainly be felt all the way in the bedroom, quite often, desire differences can be a consequence of other factors. Reaching a place of understanding when these differences occur will be critical to our ability to move our relationship forward. The following reflects some of the common reasons why we may not always connect sexually with our spouse.
1. Contrary to popular opinion, most men are not always sexual ever-ready batteries. Work-stress, financial difficulties and even testosterone levels can all affect a man’s desire for sex. Male depression can often be masked and because men are usually not raised to be emotionally expressive, they bury their feelings and can act out by sexually rejecting their spouse.
2. The female hormonal cycle plays a big part in a woman’s desire for sex. As nature would have it, a woman is horniest when she is most likely to get pregnant; which is usually mid-cycle. Outside of this, her desire for sex will fluctuate but can be positively influenced by her partner’s sensitivity to her emotional needs, the overall quality of their relationship and by how she feels about her sexual self.
3. Our misreading of signals on the sexual radar can also contribute to bedroom misses. Our tiredness or preoccupation with work issues can cause us to miss heated looks. A simple request for a back rub or neck massage, can be veiled expressions of sexual desire which men especially miss because many want direct hits like crotch-grabbing, which most of us women are not inclined to give. A simple request by a woman to talk, can also be a roundabout invitation to pleasure-land, since most of us want to also experience a strong emotional connection. Many men who dread communicating with their women, miss the opportunity to turn talk into great sex.
4. In the general scheme of things where meeting our partner’s sexual needs is concerned, selfishness is perhaps the greatest enemy. Being tuned in only to our own needs and concerns means that we care very little about our partner’s. So focusing on our tiredness, our bad day, our feelings, our sex drive or lack thereof, will cause us to deliberately ignore or see as unimportant, the body language of our partner which is screaming at us “make love to me”.
Ultimately, understanding why our sexual groove with our partner may be out of sync, is the first step in attempting to make it right. Carving out time to relax and reconnect in a non-pressured environment, is a great way to get our sexual groove back. Scheduling dates for sex also ensures that at least in those times, we and our partner are on the same page. Of course I am not suggesting that our sexual desires will always match our partner’s or vice versa. Knowing, however, that we each need to move away from an overt focus on ourselves is the first step in attempting to satisfy each other sexually. While a relationship is about a whole lot more than sex, prioritizing sexual intimacy, signals that both you and your partner understand what makes this relationship exclusive and distinct from all others and indicates your willingness to work at it.
While discussing the Rihanna-Chris Brown debacle recently at my hair salon, one patron attempted to sum it up philosophically with these words; “the heart wants what the heart wants”. For those of you not in the know, Pop sensation Rihanna has apparently re-kindled her romantic relationship with the man who literally pulverized her face a couple years ago. Why would a beautiful, wealthy, seemingly intelligent woman do this? For many of us strong, independent ladies, this leaves a decided distaste in the mouth. It’s not that most of us don’t have anything better to do than follow the love lives of celebrities but it is the principle of the thing that strikes a chord.
This prompts the question at the core of our discussion. Why do women stay in bad relationships? This is a difficult question to answer without perhaps asking several others. For example, why should following one’s heart be advocated, if such is ill-advised or even likely to get one maimed? Should we always chase after what our hearts seem to want even if such is not good for us? Is the course of true love always that difficult or have we been fed a big lie with respect to the nature of love?
Most of us females schooled on stories of love have grown accustomed to the idea that we must find an all-consuming passion, in order to be happy or fulfilled. While love is characterized by self-sacrifice, we have mistakenly believed that this means sacrificing ourselves and our common sense on the altar of stupidity; all in the name of love. And Hollywood has not exactly helped.
With the names of popular romantic chick-flicks like “Crazy Stupid Love” “Only You” and “Head Over Heels” we’ve been steadily fed the idea that relationships are born out of some heady, magical string of coincidences which often force women, because of love, to act against their better judgment. I am not denying the headiness of being in love or the overpowering connection we can feel for someone. I am, however, convinced that we women need to look at love as a more holistic emotion; it should be one of strength and not of weakness. Loving a man should not mean having to sacrifice love of self.
Women stay in less than favorable partnerships for a number of reasons including low self-esteem, financial dependency, and co-dependency. Issues like children and finance, though resolvable, are external reasons why some women decide to stay. Self-esteem and co-dependency point to unresolved internal issues which need more specific attention. A co-dependent relationship is fueled by both individuals’ unhealthy need of each other and this need is powerful glue which can bind a couple together. A man may need his woman to be weak and needy or she may be stronger and need an indecisive man to feel in control. Some females from conservative back grounds may crave a “bad boy” type which makes them feel rebellious, powerful and worldly.
Dependency on a man or on a romantic relationship for feelings of worth makes a woman vulnerable to the point where she may tolerate anything to maintain that relationship. Tolerating emotional abuse, physical abuse or infidelity is a cry for help. Unfortunately many women are not in a place to assess their own behavior and hence continue in that place of weakness indefinitely.
What must a woman do if she needs to grow past the place of being victim especially when she feels at home in this role? She should look deep within herself, to honestly evaluate her own happiness. Unfortunately, many women in unfavorable relationships are in denial and are blinded to their own victimization. They, nonetheless, can be helped if they are lovingly confronted by friends and family. Forcing a girlfriend in this position to ask herself some critical questions may not make us the most popular friend, but it is a true demonstration of being our sister’s keeper.
Making a decision to walk away from a toxic relationship is a personal one which must emerge from a place of strength and resolve. While Rihanna may claim to “love” Chris Brown, we must ask whether or not she is demonstrating sufficient self-love at this time. And of course there is room for forgiveness and redefining of a relationship but a woman must be very sure; especially when abuse has been involved. Love does not make us responsible for someone else’s weaknesses but should actually help us lead that one we claim to love into personal accountability.
Many of us love too much pizza or too much dessert or even too much romance. Being a sucker to the latter can actually get us roped into unhealthy dependencies. Making a decision to stand on our own two feet even if alone for a while, is perhaps the ultimate salute to the idea of maturing womanhood.
I have to admit that I am no green thumb. Plants under my care tend not to thrive. The truth is that whenever I have had a young plant, I usually begin with loads of enthusiasm which tends to peter off as time goes by. If we think about it, many of us treat our significant relationships or marriages like this; we begin with enthusiasm only to allow them to languish in neglect.
And a relationship is like plant. It’s a living, breathing thing which requires loads of attention if it is to grow and thrive. If, however, we pursue our relationships on automatic pilot instead of with thought or intention, then we run the risk of missing valuable “growth-moments”. When that plant becomes dry and withered because of a lack of water, sunlight or nourishing soil, then it will take some pruning, watering and overall care to get it back to a healthy state.
If our relationship is suffering with neglect and needs an injection of life and renewal, then the following pointers should help us maximize growth.
The idea of “bouncing back” from an affair actually doesn’t sit very well with me. It seems somehow to suggest a happy, cheerful recovery period and belies the stress inherent in dealing with the aftermath of infidelity. When I think of the movement past an affair, I tend to think more of a difficult, painful, reluctant crawl back to wherever that couple was before or hopefully to an even better place.
When a relationship which is designed to be sexually exclusive, is threatened by a third party, then that relationship runs the risk of becoming unglued at the seams. Sex with an “outside” partner, threatens the core of what marriage stands for; the idea of forsaking all others. While there are a variety of reasons why people cheat, if a coupe desires to move beyond the affair, then there is the need for honest reflection, to determine why the affair happened.
People cheat for a variety of reasons including relationship neglect, boredom, sexual dissatisfaction, emotional disconnection, sexual greed, unhappiness, low self-esteem, and this list goes on. This knowledge of “why” is critical because it identifies the relationship’s weaknesses. If the couple intends to go forward, this information will be necessary to preserve relationship health and to safeguard it against future threats. This of course assumes that the underlying issues are exposed and remedied through honest and open communication.
While a knowledge of what made the relationship vulnerable to infidelity is great, the reason for cheating should not be used to excuse the act. In other words, the partner who understands why he/she cheated must also be willing to assume responsibility for the affair. It is therefore never kosher to intimate that your partner made you do it. The guilty party must own up to a moment of weakness, bad judgment, a lack of integrity, selfishness and the like. Admitting where you went wrong is critical to the experience of forgiveness.
Forgiveness should be seen as a mutual, active process and not as a one-time event. The words “I forgive you” must never be forced or said prematurely. The victim of infidelity needs to be given time to grieve the relationship which was. This grieving process is experienced differently by individuals and may be evidenced by emotional and sexual withdrawal, depression, anger, rage, crying or sessions of screaming and throwing things. Whatever the case, it is critical that the victim of infidelity is allowed to vent before there is even am attempt at “fixing” things.
This venting is also often a process and not a one-off event which is characterized by the convenient forgetting of all that has occurred. An affair forever changes a relationship and even though healing is possible, what was lost can never be regained and as painful as this might be for both parties to accept, it must be, if there is to be true progress. This process may be assisted through counseling, therapy or personal pursuits like journaling which help to clarify difficult emotions.
Redefining the damaged relationship is necessary and should be seen as an on-going part of the healing process. Deciding together how you want your new relationship to look is going to be a major step in getting your couple groove back. Since an affair involves a fair amount of deceit, then coming clean about all aspects of the affair will be critical to moving forward. This means a new commitment to honesty and accountability, in an attempt to rebuild trust. Questions are to be expected and should be answered candidly.
Since rekindling a healthy sex life is likely to be more challenging, the guilty party should take the cue from his/her partner. While sex itself can be a great healer, it should never be forced prematurely. At the same time, carving out special time together for meaningful communication, attentiveness, romantic gestures and the like, are useful strategies for reconnecting as a couple.
As human beings we all have an overpowering need for human connection. We want to feel as though we matter. It is important that we are affirmed and that our worth is validated. Most of us therefore enter marriage expecting that our spouse will meet our deep need for love and acceptance. In an ideal world where we all came from well-adjusted families, this would probably be true. Since, however, we enter marriage with our own individual, often flawed emotional life-scripts; sometimes we are not exactly poised to meet someone else’s emotional needs. This is especially so, if when growing up ours were not met.
In other words, inadequate parenting or abuse, can affect our ability to reach out to someone else. So while our spouse may have a valid need, we may not be in an emotionally healthy place to either recognize or meet that need. Additionally, unmatched marital expectations, different socialization, poor communication, even gender-influenced ways of relating, can contribute to emotional disconnection in marriage.
This leads us to the issue of emotional infidelity. In the same way that we pursue extra-marital sex because we need to have specific needs met, we also pursue extra-marital, emotional attachments because a basic need may not be met in our marriage. In the same way that sexual exclusivity defines marriage, there should also be a peculiar or distinctive quality to the emotional intimacy which should characterize our marriage.
Does this mean that we should not have meaningful friendships outside of our marriage? I don’t think so necessarily, but when such friendships are with the opposite sex, we have to exercise clear controls for ensuring that such relationships do not cross the emotional boundaries which could harm our primary relationship.
So what exactly does an inappropriate emotional Attachment look like and is it always dangerous? Deep, opposite sex, emotional friendships become lethal in a number of scenarios. These include when:
1. the relationship replaces the deep, meaningful communication which should take place between husband and wife
2. the friendship Causes divided loyalty in the marriage where the spouse prefers to spend time sharing with his/her friend as opposed to sharing with the spouse
3. the connection Fosters sexual attraction. It is known that the more we open up to someone we feel emotionally connected to, the more vulnerable we are to becoming sexually involved with that person.
4. the spouse feels uncomfortable or threatened by the friendship and perceives that the intimacy of the marriage is under threat.
5. the emotional tie is accompanied by flirting, touching, or sexual innuendo but stops short of actual intercourse. This can encourage the guilty spouse to be misguided into thinking that nothing wrong is being done while the marriage is actually being steadily eroded.
How then can we guard against emotional infidelity?
Preserving the emotional sanctity of the marriage may not be a big deal for couples who have solid relationships and connect regularly. For those with communication challenges, or for relationships with tensions or unmet needs, greater vigilance may be required. Whatever the state of the relationship, however, some thought and discipline is needed if the uniqueness of the marriage relationship is to be preserved. The following tips should be helpful.
1. Be open and honest with your partner about your expectations in the relationship; share your feelings about the issue of your emotional needs and please make them known.
2. Cultivate a close relationship by spending more time together. If you are tending your relationship, then it will be very difficult for your relationship to be intruded upon.
3. Set rules with respect to boundaries with friends of the opposite sex. Insist that any close friend also becomes a friend of the couple.
4. As a couple, agree not to have secret liaisons like lunches or after-work dinners with someone either of you feel emotionally attracted to.
5. Practice disclosure when appropriate, if you feel yourself drawn to someone other than your spouse. Being open about extra-marital attraction, dis-empowers it and encourages accountability in the relationship.
6. Don’t expect your partner to meet your every need. Seeking ways to develop yourself or to enjoy your own company lifts some of the responsibility and weight from your partner and makes you less emotionally vulnerable to others.