Developing closeness in your marriage requires adding and eliminating

growing in intimacy

We have been married for 12 years. Family life feels familiar, safe, like a well-loved blanket.

Hubs and I may be lovers but we also feel like besties. I feel I can talk to him about anything.

One day, I told him about a conversation I had with an acquaintance about one of our kids. This kiddo is high in his need for control, and one of the ways that we’ve managed this very real need is to give him control over when to do his work, how to plan his schedule, and what skills he wishes to learn.

Hubs laughed and said, “That’s me too. I’m like that.”

“I know!” I replied.

Intimacy is the sense of another person fully knowing you, and loving you because of who you are—as well as in spite of it. This requires taking a leap into rare honesty and allowing yourself to be vulnerable. (Source)

Indeed, one cannot achieve true intimacy without knowledge and understanding of the other personknowing who your spouse is, what makes them tick, what makes them come alive.

But one cannot be fully known if one does not let yourself be seen. So intimacy requires us to be vulnerable about our weaknesses, flaws, and even insecurities.

In her book The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown writes:

To love someone fiercely, to believe in something with your whole heart, to celebrate a fleeting moment in time, to fully engage in a life that doesn’t come with guarantees—these are risks that involve vulnerability and often pain. But I’m learning that recognizing and leaning into the discomfort of vulnerability teaches us how to live with joy, gratitude, and grace.

Vulnerability is indeed hard and uncomfortable. In fact it took a long time for me to feel safe enough to let go of the protective layers I held over myself.

Thankfully, hubs carved a safe space for me. A space where I could go just as I am, unafraid of being judged or criticised, a little cave where I could feel loved, understood and accepted.

13 ways to add trust and intimacy in a relationship

We deepen our trust and intimacy whenever we:

1. Turn toward each other more than you turn away (video). As Daphne de Marneffe writes in her book The Rough Patch, “Couples turn away from each other for any number of apparent reasons, but underneath it all, it’s usually because they feel misunderstood, unheard, or unable to agree.”

2. Support each other in times of failure or discouragement.

3. Establish rituals of connection, like a goodbye hug or a 10-min chat before bed.

4. Speak well of each other, especially in front of others.

5. Believe in the otherand express that in words or actions.

6. Express who we really are and what we really feel inside (even when it may lead to a disagreement).

7. Celebrate each other’s successes, however small.

8. Sit with the other person’s emotionseven if you feel just as lost or hopeless just make an effort to not turn away or shut the emotions out.

9. Express unconditional acceptance of each other.

10. Practise listening without judgment. Whenever we do this, we provide a safe space for more sharing and disclosure to happen in future.

11. Acknowledge and appreciate the other’s strengths.

12. Make time for things that each other enjoys (including sex of course).

13. Forgive, often.

Eliminate these top 5 intimacy stealers

1. Digital devicesYes, digital devices are so sexy that they often tend to divide and isolate even the best of us. Keep them away from bedrooms if possible, and especially during date nights or movie nights with your spouse. This tells your partner that your eyes are for him/her only.

2. Ignoring your spouse when he/she is trying to talkNot really listening counts to. We all know when someone isn’t really listening to us, even when they give eye contact.

3. Frequent and drawn-out cold warsCold wars, if frequent, can drain the passion and energy from a marriage. It can make us question the strength of our marriage and doubt or distrust our partner. To resolve the issues, communication is key, and here I’m going to use the analogy of the golden ring (The Rough Patch, Marneffe).

In the golden ring mindset, “partners figuratively stand alongside each other and look together at their shared problem, collaborating rather than competing.” I love this analogy because each partner brings their need into the ring and are able to think about the problem more objectively.

4. CriticismFrequently criticising your partner or putting them down (especially in public) can make them feel insecure and unappreciated. Instead of being blowing up flaws or negative traits, try to add more positive and affirming words to your vocabulary. This doesn’t mean that you sweep all the negative things under the carpet; there is still a time and place for dealing with certain recurring issues. But do so with love, compassion, and respect as it will allow your partner to be less defensive and more open to feedback.

5. Ignoring small problemsIs there something you wish he would do but he doesn’t? Or does he do something that annoys you to no end? (Maybe leaving his dirty clothes around the house?) If the issue is a nagging one and it’s causing resentment, it may be better to nip it in the bud. Find a time/place that is conducive for talking and give each other a headsup so you’re prepared. (Try the ring analogy I shared in point 3.)

What is one thing that has helped you grow closer to your spouse?

Love in the time of coronavirus

It’s Valentine’s day this week but I don’t think the florists and restaurants are going to be that busy—at least not as busy as previous years.

Many couples will choose to go low-key, because of the nCoV19 virus that’s been spreading on our shores.

For the hub and I, this will be our 15th Valentine’s day together. Not that we are big on celebrating it, we’d never splash out on an expensive dinner just because it’s V-day, but I do insist ask that he bring home a small trinket each year. Whether it’s chocolate, a small bouquet of flowers, or a special meal (so I don’t have to cook up a sweat), it’s just a little something to remind him that he still needs to pursue me, to make an effort now and then, even though I’m legally and lovingly his wife.

This year will be pretty special. Well, we’re definitely staying home…because he’s arranged to meet an ID at our place to talk about the design of our new home.

When I found out, I wasn’t mad. But I said sarcastically: “Oh so clever, like that we don’t need to celebrate.”

To which he replied: “I think it’s romantic.”

To be honest, just like how the CNY mood quickly dissipated into the air when news of the virus hit our media (and minds), it may be hard to conjure up lovey-dovey feelings this week, as we hunker down and prepare ourselves for when the spread gets worst.

Since we can’t go out on dates (well unless you count walking out to the hawker centre to get takeaway a date), we are going to make use of the time we have at home to:

  • Plan for our new home
  • Read books (I’ve downloaded The Handmaid’s Tale and The Meaning of Marriage into Overdrive)
  • Ask each other questions (like these or these)
  • Create a bucket list of places/things we’d like to do and visit
  • Play more board games with the kids (our hot favourites currently are Organ Attack, Monopoly Deal, and Go Nuts for Donuts.
  • Do devotionals regularly at night (we use ODB’s Give Us This Day, kindly gifted to us by Susan from A Juggling Mom. You can also request a copy online.)

 

If like us, you’re planning to keep it simple this Valentine’s weekend, here are some small but meaningful acts of love you can consider:

  • Plant a kiss on his cheek before he leaves for work
  • Sneak a card into his briefcase
  • Cook him a nice steak (or whatever he likes) for dinner/pack a surprise dinner and let her have a break from the kitchen
  • Gather everyone into the room for a movie (yes this year, the kids will get to experience Valentine’s day with us)
  • Watch your tongue and use more affirming words, while reducing critical or harsh words
  • Take care of the meals/laundry/housework without complaining
  • Go for a leisurely walk at the park if weather permits
  • Light some candles or open a bottle of wine, just because

 

I started out writing about marital love, but in thinking about the virus and human behaviour I’m now inclined to talk about a different kind of love—the kind of love that sees (people’s needs) and serves.

  • The hospital staff who are tirelessly serving the needs of their patients and their family members.
  • The security people working hard to guard the entry into office buildings and schools.
  • The teachers who while constantly worried that they may get exposed to the virus, choose to place the needs of their students ahead of themselves.
  • The mums and dads who try to secure groceries and other goods in a bid to ensure their families get fed. (Particularly those who refrain from going overboard and get just enough or a bit more.)
  • The common folk like you and I who are just trying in our own little ways to remain calm and spread calm.

Love in the time of coronavirus

They say that laughter is good medicine. But at such a time as this, love is an even stronger medicine.

And this love, it begins with our words and actions at home.

You may have heard of the famous passage on love in 1 Corinthians 13. Here’s a little twist on it in light of our times.

Love is patient (when you have to stop to take temperature). Love is kind. It does not envy others who have masks. It does not hoard food supplies it doesn’t need. It does not tell medical workers to not board the bus. It stays home if it has been given Leave of Absence or if feeling unwell. It brings food to those around who are in need.

It is not rude, not self-seeking, not easily angered.

Love does not delight in hearing there are patients in critical condition, but rejoices when even one of them recovers fully.

It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Don’t wait for big problems to arise to see a marriage counsellor

We recently went for marriage counselling.

Some friends raised their eyebrows when they heard the word “counselling” and I found I had to quickly explain that while we don’t have major problems in our marriage, we wanted to work on our weak areas and have a plan for our growth.

Our coach was Winifred Ling, who is based at Promises at Novena Medical Centre.

Overall, our experience was comfortable; nothing too intimidating or intrusive.

During our first session with her, we played a simple game. She gave us a stack of questions like “What do you admire in your partner” and “What is your biggest worry at present?”

We took turns answering some of the questions and tried not to laugh while doing so. It was actually quite an insightful exercise as we don’t often get the opportunity to think about such things, much less share with our partner about them.

Over the three sessions we had with her, we each discovered a couple of things.

One, my hubby realised that he wasn’t sure how to support me through my grieving (my godmother has a terminal illness). While he had been through loss of his own, the context was different and his way of dealing with difficult emotions was to park it somewhere and move on with life.

Two, I realised that there had been times when I would silently sweep my struggles under the carpet instead of opening up to him and asking for support. When times are hard, I am more inclined to stay silent than to cry out for help.

Perpetual problems vs temporary problems

We also learnt that there are perpetual problems (problems where there are no real solutions for) and temporary problems (problems that can be resolved). Many of us are not aware of this but it could well be the reason why we sometimes argue over the same thing.

Perpetual problems are usually linked to very fundamental values and aspects of our personality. For example, to him, money is something to be saved for a rainy day, while to me, we also need to enjoy money for the here and now. So disagreements linked to finances can sometimes boil down to this fundamental difference in the way we perceive money.

Or he may be neat and organised in the home, while I have a higher tolerance for mess. Rather than insist that the other person changes their ways, we need to find ways to cope with such differences, or come to a middle ground.

Winifred also guided us to practising healthier ways to communicate during conflicts and deal with our differences.

She also helped us see that we bring different strengths into the marriage, as well as different weaknesses.

The dream behind the conflict

The best part for me was when she made us re-do a conflict situation using a simple principle: Behind every conflict lies differing dreams.

Often the dream is linked to some of our own experiences growing up, or just something we value, like freedom, creativity, or stability. We don’t often express this dream but it silently drives our behaviour, and sometimes, it makes us hold fast to our position and it becomes a struggle to let go of whatever it is we want to achieve.

It can be very frustrating for both parties during such a stalemate, because we don’t articulate and understand each other’s dream and vision behind the conflict.

This was the biggest ah-ha moment for me. Not only did it help me in my own self-awareness, it also helped me understand his perspective and why he behaves the way he does.

Marriage is for a lifetime. It is worth investing in.

Conclusion

In conclusion, my thoughts are: Marriage counselling isn’t such a scary experience. It is actually very helpful to have a professional guide sit beside you and facilitate the digging deep and unveiling process (similar to peeling an onion, and yes some tears will flow too).

Many couples will think, “We don’t need it,” and place it on low priority…until something blows up in the marriage. Just like we go for regular health checks, it is totally worthwhile to invest in your marriage for the long haul by going for a marriage checkup.

Problems and issues will be unearthed, and new strategies and ideas will be learned and applied. Your marriage and family will thank you.

Special for readers

Winifred is offering a 10% discount for the first session to all my readers. (U.P. $300 for a 1.5 hour session). To make an appointment, call 6397-7309 or email wini@promises.com.sg.  You can check out her credentials here.

PS. Winifred was kind enough to offer us pro-bono counselling sessions as she wanted to raise more awareness in the community of such marriage coaching services. I utterly enjoyed the sessions and was thankful my husband was brave enough to join me! Thanks Winifred!

great marriage quote

 

Building rituals of connection in your marriage

rituals of connectionI’ve noticed that my husband and I have established some rituals of connection. This is a term I picked up from the Gottman Institute.

Rituals, as the name suggests, are regular habits of interactions with our spouse.

For us, it’s the morning kiss as he bids me goodbye and leaves for work.

It’s the bedtime hug or “love you” that we give each other before turning in.

It’s the coffee that we make for each other during weekends.

It’s the bi-weekly date nights that we aim for, even if it’s just to check out a new coffee/food joint. (We now have to plan this in stealth mode as the kids are quite possessive of us these days).

It’s the weekly tennis sessions we try to have. (Not so romantic, but at least we keep each other healthy, right?)

It’s the 10 minutes of him listening to me rant, I mean share, about my day, after the kids have gone to bed. (He talks a lot at work, so he usually maxes out his quota by the end of the day, but he knows I need to talk so he graciously lets me do it.)

For this last one, he’s been making an effort for quite some time, but I hardly noticed it until last night. After “downloading” my thoughts to him, I turned to him and said, “Thank you for listening.”

He smiled, albeit in a half sleepy state. I have no idea how much he really receives from me every night, but I know that I feel loved and cherished at the end of it.

I guess that’s what really matters.

I hope to say “thank you” to him more. Maybe that could be a new ritual – a ritual of gratitude.

I hope to surprise him more (a breakfast in bed morning perhaps, or sweet text messages) – a ritual of giving delight.

Even when I feel cranky or overwhelmed with the kids or with the day’s troubles, I hope I still find the strength to smile and ask for a hug. A ritual of turning towards.

With kids in the picture, it’s easy to lavish all our affections on them and neglect our spouse. These small everyday rituals remind us that we still have each other at top of mind.

What rituals of connection do you enjoy in your marriage? 

38 habits of love that can change the atmosphere of your home

We’ll be celebrating our 10th year anniversary this year and I’m feeling thankful for the journey that we’ve made thus far.

Still, there is room for us to grow and become better life partners to each other. And we’re constantly trying to think of ways to keep the flame burning.

Sometimes we tend to overlook the small daily habits, but apparently…we shouldn’t. As the Gottman Institute says, “It’s the seemingly meaningless little moments of connection that are the most meaningful of all.”

How to love your spouse (1)

Here are some daily habits that we can cultivate at home (listed according to the 5 love languages):

Words of affirmation

1. Say “thank you” when she cooks a nice meal

2. Say “thank you” when the other takes over the kids

3. Say “thank you” when the other has done something for you

4. Express words of affection, e.g., that she’s beautiful, gentle, or understanding. (Likewise for him, tell him he’s   loving, kind, or hardworking.)

5. Listen with curiosity and seek to understand first before responding

6. Express support when you know she’s been having a rough time at work. (Likewise for the ladies too.)

7. Sneak a love note into her handbag (or use the note to wrap a chocolate bar and hide it in her handbag.)

8. Compliment her on a new dress or hairstyle

9. Make a gratitude list for each other, and take turns to read it out one date night.

10. Send her a sweet WhatsApp message out of the blue

 

Acts of service

11. Do the laundry, sometimes

12. Wipe the dishes she’s washed

13. Play chef for the night

14. Wash the car without her asking

15. Throw the trash at night

16. Top up the fuel when it’s low

17. Offer to ferry the kids to enrichment classes and let her sleep in on the weekends

18. Carry her heavy bags

19. Inform her early if you’re not having dinner at home

20. Check with each other before making a major decision

21. Make an effort to protect family time and prioritise it above other commitments

22. Ask her how you can help out more at home

 

Gifts

23. Surprise her with flowers for no reason

24. Pick out a handbag/jewellery for an occasion

25. Plan a romantic getaway/staycation just for the both of you.

 

Touch

26. Hug often, before you leave for work/after you return

27. Hold her hand when you’re out on dates/shopping

28. Give her a kiss the moment you step in the door (John Gottman even suggests doing a 6-second kiss every single day!)

29. Lead her across the road or at crowded places

30. Diffuse some essential oils, turn down the lights, and give him a massage.

 

Quality time

31. Spend time exercising together

32. Go for a walk in the park

33. Learn something new together

34. Check out a new cafe or restaurant together

35. Catch up (even if just for a few minutes) at the end of a long day

36. Pray for each other often

37. Plan a surprise date and pick her up after work.

38. Put your phone on airplane mode during your weekly or monthly date night

 

As part of my focus to be faithful in the small things, I hope to cultivate more of these little habits of love at home. 

What would you add to this list? What are your favourite ways to show and receive love?

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