Friday, January 29, 2016

Super-Charge Your Intimacy

"I can always count on him being my soft place to land."

"She accepts me fully and completely."

We love the idea of entwining ourselves in a forever welcoming relationship that is nothing-but-soothing.

That's how true love--deep intimacy--works, right? We get to know each other more and more deeply, and what we discover every step of the way we find so adorable that we can't help endorsing and validating each other non-stop.

Actually, no. It doesn't go that way.

Instead, we inevitably discover, again and again, that instead of a cuddly kitten or the human version of a Jacuzzi, we married an actual person with their own personality and preferences, temperament and tastes. They have their own hang-ups and hiccups, just like we do.

And it's a good thing that in the very relationship where our dreams are the wildest and the stakes are the highest, we're with someone who will disappoint and challenge us. It gives us the opportunity to grow in ways that we never would, never could, were we left to our own devices as a single individual.

Coming from a broken home with endless conflict, Jamie had always prioritized finding a man with whom she felt safe and supported. Cory seemed to fit the bill perfectly. He came from a large family and his parents were still together after 45 years. When she spent that first Christmas with them, she knew deep down that everything was going to be okay.

The feelings were mutual. Dating Jamie felt like a dream to Cory. He'd never been with a more gorgeous, exciting, spiritually strong girl.

They were both anticipating sex, and their honeymoon started out as the trip of their dreams.

Until it was clear to Jamie that Cory couldn't seem to fully relax and enjoy it. "Twelve bucks for bagels and hot cocoa? Well, okay, but let's pass on the fruit cup." "Are you kidding me? Ninety bucks? For a dress? I love the dresses you already have. And you do have a lot of dresses!"

Why couldn't he ease up and remember that this would be their only honeymoon, something they'd look back on their entire lives? The final straw was when he hassled her about buying the stuffed moose, the one she'd decided on as her only keepsake from Jackson Hole.

Jamie had emancipated at 17 and had worked her tail off to become independent in every way, including financially. She'd been going along so far with Cory's anxiety about costs, but to have him complain about her buying a stuffed animal pushed her too far.

"Who the hell do you think you are? We're paying for this entire trip with my money? You don't get to decide everything I spend. Why do you have to be so uptight about everything?"

Cory's retort came quick as lightning. "We're using your money on the trip because we emptied my bank account to get your ring! As I've looked ahead at what it will take to pay rent and tuition and all our other expenses, I don't know if we'll even be able to make it on our incomes. We are going to have to live so frugally, so carefully. I know this is a special time, but it doesn't mean we can ignore reality!"

Cory and Jamie were now in the thick of it, the process of "people making." And it can only occur at its highest level in the fertile soil of a relationship. The challenge for them--and the rest of us--is to do a healthy share of advocating for ourselves and a healthy share of accommodating our spouse. But don't confuse that with compromising. Conflicts that recur and recur, they refuse to go away precisely because our compromising capacity reaches its limit. To stay married even after that requires much more than compromising. It requires the courage, vulnerability, and work ethic to do what it takes to grow beyond our old capacities.

That's my attempt to sum up, in a paragraph, the radical philosophy of David Schnarch, and it's a perspective I've found to fit very well with just about all of the individuals and couples with whom I work. Don't stop advocating for yourself just because it creates discomfort for your spouse. Don't try to manipulate them into not advocating for themselves because it challenges you. Keep coming together and letting the sparks of your strong personalities fly. This is not to be confused with being selfish or giving yourself permission to be mean with each other. It means simply refusing to pretend you're not who you are, refusing to pretend that you don't want what you really want.

Being real with each other in these ways is bound to lead to difficulties and emotional struggles and painful moments of revelation and realization. But the alternative is stagnation, the death of growth, and ultimately the suffocation of a vibrant and alive relationship.

For Cory and Jamie, it may have seemed that their honeymoon was doomed to be over at that point. But the opportunity to develop as individuals and ultimately as a couple was just beginning. Conflicts like these are the labor pains that can give birth to a deeper, more exciting love.

After driving around in silence for half an hour, they'd both cooled down enough to try to talk through it again. They had a long talk on a long walk along the shore of Jenny's Lake at the base of the Teton mountains. Jamie became intimately familiar--as never before--with Cory's fears about being man enough to step up and do what it would take for them to make it financially as a couple--and then as a family once they had kids. Jamie talked intimately with Cory about her fears of being controlled and ultimately consumed by someone else who was more forceful and pushy than she is. When she finally got away from her parents at 17 she'd vowed she would never let herself be controlled again. And now she had trusted Cory enough to enter into marriage with all of its obligations and weighty responsibilities. And it was terrifying for her at times, no more so than when he got worried about money and it led him to be more uptight and bossy than usual.

The real Jamie and Cory were now face to face. They'd each managed to stay both authentic and tender with each other, which can be a real challenge on the heals of an argument.

Their hard talk had a strange effect: when they stopped walking and looked into each other's eyes, all sense of separateness was gone. They hadn't "solve the problems" they talked through or guaranteed that those very issues wouldn't arise again. But it left each of them feeling like they'd been allowed "in", closer than ever to the other's heart of hearts. There's no more privileged status as a spouse, and they both felt the electricity of it. When you're allowed right up against quivering membrane of your spouse's very soul, you become lovers at a whole new level. The honeymoon wasn't over after all.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Better Ways to Kill Time than Porn

Sunday night I got this email from Jeff about his weekend:

Feeling satisfied tonight. It hit me, "It's all because you dodged the lust bullet on Friday night!" Highlights from my weekend came to mind: 
  • Great time joking with Sunday School class--they're 14, so uninhibited. 
  • Shoveling snow with Kylie (12), chatting as we did. Not a chore at all! 
  • Sucked that Gavin lost basketball game. Still fun to cheer them on--great team, together 3 years now, they're buddies.
  • Everyone I met on the errands I ran Saturday afternoon seemed so nice. Even lady who wouldn't take my shoes--"over 30 days" (grrr). 
  • Friday night (working in reverse here): Good time at concert with Sandy. Usually not too big on jazz, but have to admit sax player (saxist? ;-)) really good. 

I thought, "So that's what it's like to have a nice weekend, clear of the crap porn used to spill into my head and life."

When we talked during our therapy session yesterday I learned Jeff really had dodged a bullet Friday night. Sandy rode the train into the city to meet him so he had a couple of hours to kill before the concert. It had been a rough week with one deal falling through and trying to nurse a couple other precarious ones along. He was glad to have work wrapped up by twenty after five. Nonetheless, sitting there at his desk, instead of a rush of relaxation he felt blah and out of sorts. 

In addition to porn, Jeff's also been a workaholic. It's been hard for him to accept that he can't trade his addiction for more productivity. He's had to start thinking differently about what to do with discretionary time. Initially it was quite a foreign idea that down time might not be wasted time. I encouraged him to read The Power of Full Engagement, about becoming more productive by spacing out our exertions. The idea is to rejuvenate regularly and release our muscles and mind in between periods of flexing them. 

Jeff took all that to heart Friday night. Instead of staying at the office and making a token effort to get more done (and risk getting drawn into useless--or downright pornographic--content on the internet), he decided to leave and go for a drive. Nice sunset. Pleasant evening. Too bad it was too cold to take a walk. Then he realized it wouldn't be too cold if he strolled through downtown and ducked into a store to browse a bit every time he got chilly. 

"I was having fun out in the brisk air, then checking out some shirts on a clearance rack. My mind was completely off of work, really starting to unwind. Then I looked up and saw a stunning, nine-foot-tall woman in racy underwear. And in the middle of winter! Maybe it because I was in a good place that night; maybe it that there were people were all around; maybe some of both." Whatever the reason, Jeff didn't stop and stare at that Victoria's Secret window poster like a patron at the Louvre admiring a Rembrandt. "I moved on, kept letting other stuff in. The Chinese dragon display in the bookstore window, the smell of coffee wafting out of the cafe. Pretty soon my jonesin' mind and pounding heart caught up with me." 

The way Jeff had handled it prevented that lust jolt from becoming a lust fest and it had eventually shrunk down to a little blip on the radar of his weekend. He'd done it by developing better ways to unwind and sticking with them even when lust kept inviting him back to play. 

Monday, January 25, 2016

Being Real with Each Other is Beautiful--Even When It's Ugly

In this earlier post I promised to tell the story of how Brittany and David keep maintain a fresh sense of connection, a sense of vitality to their relationship that makes them feel like they're still boyfriend/girlfriend after thirty years together. They do it by being authentic even when they know their genuine response will challenge or disappoint the other.

It took them a long time to get where they are now. Before they learned to get real and stay real with each other, Brittany recalled that she and David "Lived parallel lives." It would be easy to assume that the distance between them provided some sort of safety--a buffer that softened what went back and forth, making interactions easier to bear. Not so. In fact, Brittany recalls, there was an ache that saturated their lives and relationship. "We could never get out of trauma and get on with our lives."

Working for five different tech companies over the years, David has travelled a lot. They'd go days feeling disconnected, and then he'd come home and they'd fight. He couldn't figure out why Brittany was so guarded with him and why she never seemed to want sex. The truth was, David seemed to her like a stranger. Even though they'd been married for years and were raising two children together, Brittany felt utterly disconnected from David. 

Knowing their relationship was not working, Brittany kept trying to "work through things" with David. He dreaded those "grilling sessions." At first when she probed him, David insisted there was nothing to share. When Brittany persisted, her queries felt intrusive to him. When she still wouldn't let up, he joked that she wanted him to be like a girlfriend to her, always gossiping and sharing feelings with each other. 

The truth was, David dreaded talking more openly with Brittany about his porn use. He knew porn offended her sensibilities. For that matter, it also violated his own morals. But all hell seemed to break loose every time she saw something on the computer that worried her or he admitted that he had fallen back into viewing porn on a semi-regular basis. 

At Brittany's insistence, four years ago David came into counseling with her. He admitted right up front, "I do pull away, even when I'm in town and we're around the house together. It hurts to hear over and over again all the things I am that she doesn't like, all of the the things she want that I don't deliver. I try to tough it out, rise above it, remember that she loves me. But when being close means I get reminded of all the ways I don't measure up, I do want to pull away. She's a blamer, and when stuff isn't going her way, she comes on the warpath. So I find every excuse I can to run errands, go do things with my buddies, or retreat to the basement and hope she'll leave me alone so that we can live peacefully. Is that too much to ask, to have some peace and harmony in our lives?"

This was the beginning of things going differently: Instead of merely pulling away, David was talking about why he was tempted to pull away. It's very different to talk out what we feel like doing instead of acting on those feelings. I encouraged Brittany to do the same thing: talk out what happens inside her when she feels like she needs to pursue David, when it feels to him like she is hunting him down and trying to drag something out of him. 

"I feel like I've been pretending things are fine, pretending we're okay, when actually I have this gaping emotional wound from not really having a relationship with each other. He's away for a week at a time and when he comes back he wants me to hop in the sack with him and pretend to have a grand time even though he feels like a stranger to me. His porn habit hurts me and he knows it, but he won't talk about it. Ninety percent of the time I don't even know how that's going. I have to guess, do detective work to find out, or ignore it and pretend it doesn't matter. Sometimes I've tried to do that, pretend it doesn't matter. But then I feel detached not only from him, but from myself. That's the hell I've been living in."

Over a period of months, David and Brittany kept talking about how they felt and what they felt like doing about it. They got better and better at avoiding those actions--David withdrawing and going silent and Brittany blaming and attacking. But they weren't stuffing the familiar feelings that led them to do those things, they were talking those feelings out instead. 

There is a key roadblock David and Brittany had to work through that prevents most couples from engaging in this kind of communication. They had to get over the unrealistic expectation that if things were going well, if things were as they should be, they wouldn't find each other to be a disappointment. It's a hard truth, but it's liberating once we accept it: in the natural course of life we are bound to be disappointed in our spouse, and it's okay to talk about it. 

It turns out that it really is okay to be disappointed. It's not an indictment of our spouse as a human being, it's a part of life. And the same shoe fits the other foot: we are bound to be a disappointment to our spouse, and it's good for them to tell us about it. 

Sometimes we think we're protecting each other by hiding the truth, pretending we share their opinion, or acting like something doesn't matter to us when it really does. But the resulting lack of understanding and closeness takes a toll.

How about your relationship? Do you notice a difference in how close you feel and how alive the relationship seems when you're being open and truthful instead of careful and diplomatic? 

Friday, January 15, 2016

The More You Understand Him, the Better it Goes

Over the lat three weeks most of my posts have been directed toward helping him understand her in a much deeper way. For women who want to keep your relationship progressing and healing, there's no better way than returning the favor and digging deeper into what makes him tick. And no one I know gets men the way Ramona Zabriskie does. (Who gave her all the cheat codes?!) Check out these amazing videos she's done. Not only for the sake of you, your man, and your relationship... Do it also for your sons.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Your Treasure Map to Becoming Her Intimate

Monogamy can too easily become monotony. How do you keep a relationship vibrant and exciting when it will naturally tend to stagnate over time? 

We must keep growing individually and as a couple, and that takes a lot of courage. As I evolve and grow, instead of remaining stuck and static, I naturally become more interesting again. If my wife is willing to keep her finger on the pulse of my soul she will keep discovering and rediscovering who I am. Meanwhile, she's becoming a new person in various ways all the time. She continues to get in tune with herself and sharing with me what she discovers. Sort of like a website that keeps refreshing with new and potentially surprising content. If I keep my eyes open and maintain an appetite for freshness and a spirit of discovery, I won't get bored with her. 

As we stay in touch with our partner's palpitating, living soul--or perhaps more accurately, as we regularly get back in touch after naturally falling out of touch--our sense of awe and reverence keeps reawakening. Nothing can make our bond stronger or keep sexual interest alive in quite the same way. It was relatively easy to become her lover. What we're talking about here is becoming her intimate.

Although the trail we must take as a husband to go from being our wife's lover to being her intimate will never be an easy one, the difficulty of the trail is not the primary reason most men get stuck at various points along the way and never make it to that most magnificent of destinations. Rather, the biggest roadblock for most willing, yet unable men is this: the treasure map they're using as their guide is incomplete. Due to having an incomplete map, when they get to the key parts of the journey that feel disorienting and "all wrong", when it seems like, "being her intimate could surely never be just over that horizon, they assume they're in the wrong place and turn back! They miss the opportunity to deepen their relationship. With their efforts to make her happy and get closer confounded, they end up feeling frustrated, confused, disappointed. 

If these failures happen frequently enough or over a long enough period in the relationship, men can become disillusioned and hopeless. They may even end up giving up. Which is so sad, because it's completely avoidable! 

So we intend to show you how to do just that: avoid or overcome being repeatedly frustrated and discouraged and tempted to give up so that you can regularly get back on the journey of doing the things that will help the two of you feel connected and interested and interesting, the things will make your wife happy and your relationship thrive. We're going to give you the treasure map that better matches the terrain you need to traverse to become her intimate. And as you can imagine, this will also make you the happiest man on earth. With a treasure map more complete than the one you've been relying on, all you'll need to bring to complete the journey is your creativity to personalize what you learn to your unique wife and situation, the courage to keep doing what works to get closer even when it seems like the opposite of what you should do, and the endurance to keep going when inner and outer forces pull at you to quit or take an easier path. What we will lay out is certainly not an easy trail, but at least you can know when you hit the hard parts along the way that it's the right one, the one to the summit of being her intimate. 

Rather than being mysterious or approaching this discussion in a roundabout, abstruse way, let's get right to revealing the gist of the treasure map. Here are the key markers and milestones you'll see on your way to becoming her intimate:

First Horizon: You become her acquaintance
Second Horizon: You become her friend
Third Horizon: You become her lover
Fourth Horizon: You become her best friend
Third Horizon: You become her disappointment, challenging her in some crucial way
Fourth Horizon: You be more deeply acquainted as a couple
Fifth Horizon: You have a deeper friendship as a couple
Sixth Horizon: You have deeper passion as lovers
Seventh Horizon: You share a deeper bond as best friends
Eighth Horizon: You disappoint her at an even deeper level
And so on...

As you stay close and real (honest and open) with her even when she's disappointed, you will continue to become acquainted with her (and she with you) at new and deeper levels over time. And then she'll become more and more profoundly happy and contented with you and the bond you share. And instead of being exasperated that you can't "keep" her happy or that she won't "stay" contented, you'll be well on your way to true intimacy. 

Of course, along the way she disappoints and challenges you in crucial, relationship-threatening ways as well. You both need the guts and maturity to deal with these threats in constructive ways.

To help you better recognize when you're at key points on the trail, in a future post we'll explore this process in action for a real couple. David and Brittany certainly meandered and backtracked and set up tents and lived for years at certain base camps when they couldn't see beyond particular horizons. But you'll see how they kept coming back to each other and being real with each other and tolerating hard realities and disappointments on their way to becoming truly, deeply connected. They would be the first to admit that they're not yet at the summit of consistent, solid intimacy. But they've seen enough grand vistas along the way that they are determined to do whatever it takes to keep climbing that trail. That's making all the difference for them, and it can for you, too.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Don't Relapse, Get Back in Touch with Yourself

Gene used to be mystified by his lapses. But he's been in recovery for almost a year now, and he's developed some fairly reliable ways to avoid trouble even when he's triggered. 

"I journal every day. It's the most helpful thing I've done in my recovery. I take walks most days, too."

Instead of letting feelings fester, Gene tries to get them out by writing them down. Or as he walks he will think aloud or pray aloud.

"When I'm tempted, I go write in my journal about what I'm feeling and why. I write about [the current status of] my self-esteem and what's effecting it. I write out my emotions and what's triggering them." 

It's not simply that Gene takes feelings he's aware of and puts them on paper. It's that the process of trying to put things on paper gets him back in touch with what's going on inside. 

"It usually turns out that I've been dwelling on things without realizing it. Feelings have been stewing. Like my reactions to strong opinions my in-laws have. We live near them so there are a lot of interactions. I feel judged by them sometimes, even though logically I know that's not the case."

Stuff starts to eat at Gene and it could keep building, unchecked if he didn't journal. By journaling he puts it into words and out in the open for him to look at more objectively. Rather than continuing to build up, the feelings seem to ease and sometimes even resolve.

"I make such an effort to be methodical, when people seem to be questioning what I do I, I get annoyed. My mother-in-law asked Carly, "How do you stand all of Gene's papers and books laying around in the front room like that?" I shrugged it off at the time but later when I wrote in my journal I realized that part of me wanted to say, "I'm working here! We tried the basement but it felt like a dungeon and I got too depressed! So this is my home office now! It's how I make a living to feed your daughter and grandchildren! Back off!"

Once I write it out then I can address it with Carly or blow it off and move on. Or I can go take a walk to let out the energy.

On his walks, too, Gene is often getting his feelings out--or perhaps more accurately, getting back in touch with himself, including his feelings. "Once I'm out in nature, especially walking by the canal, there's more clarity. I start praying. I can have a conversation with God. I feel closer to Him out under the sky by myself. If I've been feeling off, I can ground myself again by being out in nature. I step back from all the urgencies and don't feel so cooped up. I have to do it to keep my sanity."

Friday, January 1, 2016

Considerate Fantasizing: The Two Coke Approach to Winning Her Over

As men, we're bound to fantasize. We are innately driven seek out a goal and use our imagination to achieve it. Fantasy is our way of testing out different paths we might take to see which one might lead to the best outcome. We mentally try out scenarios until we arrive at the one we think is going to work best to retrieve the ripest and juiciest of the fruit we crave. And then, having practiced enough of it mentally, we act. Our theory is tested, and if it fails, we go back to drawing board--or back to our internal holodeck--where we do a few more test iterations of the scenario that is challenging us. 

Porn hijacks our capacity to fantasize and takes it in a crude, selfish direction. Research by Susan Fiske and her colleagues at Princeton University found that when men look at pictures of women in bikinis, it activates the same parts of the brain that are involved in considering how to use a tool or take action toward a goal. These findings have been widely interpreted as demonstrating that men have a biological tendency to view women in swimwear and provocative poses as objects.

When our minds engage in a pornographic fantasy, we are mentally trying out a sexual interaction of some kind with a certain person, in a certain way, and considering how much pleasure it would bring us. Masturbating makes that fantasy seem all the more real. As pleasurable as it might be, when the process is over nothing productive has come from it. We haven't done anything real for ourselves or another person. 

While it may come naturally to us as men to fantasize about using women's bodies for our pleasure, we don't have to simply leave the fantasizing brain to take the low road of objectification. We can harness our capacity to fantasize and use it in an entirely different way, in a generous, constructive way. We can use fantasy to get better at delighting others and enjoy the pride that comes from knowing that we did something for another person that really hit the sweet spot for them.

In the Movie Family Man, Jack Campbell, played by Nicolas Cage, is ripped from his life as a single, rich Wall Street power broker and dropped into a parallel universe where, 13 years ago, he decided to stay with his girlfriend Kate, played by Tea Leoni. Now they're married with two kids and living in a nondescript little home in a suburban New Jersey neighborhood. 

As he acclimatizes to his new life he realizes that Evelyn, a sexy friend of the family, has been trying to start an affair with the Jack whose life he has stepped into. He confides in his friend Arnie that he's considering it. 

Amidst the potent pull of this selfish fantasy, Jack is confronted with the opportunity to fantasize in a more generous direction. Kate presents him with an anniversary gift and is devastated that he didn't get anything for her. He didn't know it was their anniversary, he's brand new to this life! But he feels terrible seeing her high hopes dashed and wants to make it up to her. 

He takes the virtual version of Kate that's in his mind and uses his capacity for fantasy to try out different scenarios.

He brainstorms with his young daughter, Annie, who knows he isn't the dad she's used to. (She thinks aliens have replaced the real Jack with a convincing replica.) Jack wonders aloud, "Maybe there’s a jewelry store back at the mall. I could get her a pair of earrings or something."

Annie considers it. "That’s good but... you did forget the anniversary."

"Right.  That’s a major oversight," Jack admits. Then he really sets his fantasizing brain to work. "So if I’m Kate...I can’t really afford the finer things. My husband’s career is a crushing disappointment to me. I’m trapped in suburbia..."

He asks Annie, "Did he ever take her to the City?"

She grins and nods. "You’re really gettin’ the hang of this." 

After dinner in an upscale restaurant, Jack and Kate talk about what their lives could have been and he assures her, "Right now there's nowhere I'd rather be than here with you."

He carries her across the threshold of their classy hotel room. Then as she takes it all in, he hands her a glass of champagne and says "Happy Anniversary Sweetheart."

He pulled it off. Jack got out of the doghouse. "Way out" as Kate put it. And it was constructive fantasizing that enabled him do it. 

Again, he did it by considering various experiences that he could provide for Kate and then mentally ran his imaginary inner version of her through those experiences and then, marshaling his empathy, considered how she would feel about them. He knew this kind of getaway would be a real treat for her. Perhaps he considered staying at the Four Seasons, but that didn't quite seem like Kate's thing. So he landed on this quaint, classy older hotel. And we can tell by the look on her Kate's face as he carries her into the room that he hit the ball out of the park with that choice. 

After being utterly disappointed and completely closed off emotionally to him hours before, Kate's heart has softened and her love for him flows freely. Luxuriating on the king size poster bed she playfully says, "You may even get lucky tonight." 

Jack tells Kate how beautiful she is. And then, looking deep into her eyes, "All this time, I never stopped loving you." 

That was like the high striker puck ringing the bell for Kate. "That's all I wanted to hear." 

The replica of Kate that Jack held in his heart was no longer a crude caricature. It had been fully fleshed out and was close enough to the real Kate that she felt safe loving him with abandon. She freely opens herself to him. 

What a contrast from earlier in the movie when they'd been getting amorous and then had this exchange:

Kate: "Say it, Jack..."

Jack: "What...?"

Kate: "C’mon, you know what I like to hear..."

Jack, breathing heavily: "Yeah, baby, I know what you like to hear..."

Kate, kissing him: "Then say it, just say it to me!"

Jack: "Oh yeah, you’re a bad girl, baby. You make me so hot!"

Jack's inner replica of Kate was way off back then! So many miles that those words clanked in her ears and jarred her heart. The moment was ruined. She pulled away and left him alone on the stairs where they'd been kissing.

Failures like these don't have to be the end of the story--if we don't give up, that is. Jack was willing to dig deeper and do the work to discover what made the real Kate tick.

So, for us real guys to apply this principle, how high is the bar? Does it have to be lavish dinners at five star restaurants and getaways to luxury hotels? Are we going to be on months-long quests trying to ascertain the exact magic words that will unlock the door to her heart?

Actually, not at all! You'll be surprised by how readily she will respond to your efforts. Most women long to see you in the light of the caring guy and readily respond to most good faith efforts.

Emily, one of my clients who had been working to improve a struggling marriage for years came into a session and announced that it was now clear to her that things really were getting better. I asked what had happened that week to convince her. "We were driving to my son's Lacrosse game at another school and we stopped to fill up his truck. He came out of the gas station with two Cokes in his hand."

Emily had stopped talking, but I didn't get it. What had I missed?

Seeing my puzzled look she said, "Two Cokes. He'd bought one for me, too."

"And that let you know..."

"He's taking me into consideration." That, she said, meant the world to her.

Okay, so apparently this doesn't have to be heavy lifting. 

Another example came from Sheri, who has an allergy to shellfish. For their New Years Eve gathering her husband, Lyle, and their daughters love to have shrimp cocktail as one of the appetizers in their big spread. After they were done arranging the shrimp in a bowl of ice he said, "we need to scrub that cutting board now and spray it with this bleach solution." He opened the cupboard below the sink and took out the spray bottle. "We don't want your mom to get sick." As she talked about it later you could tell it had really touched her. In previous years, it has always been Sheri who had to notice what kitchen utensils touched the shrimp, assure that they didn't simply get dumped in the sink among all the other dishes, and scrub them down herself. Just as the two Cokes had for Emily, Lyle's actions that night showed Sheri that he was taking her into consideration. Sheri, not the cardboard cutout generic version but the fleshed-out version of her who had the distinguishing feature of suffering from a dangerous allergy, was on his mind and in his heart and remained relevant to Lyle in the midst of that kitchen chore.

During the time I worked with them Lyle wanted a better sexual relationship and Sheri wanted to feel closer emotionally. Events like Lyle cutting the scrubbing board were little steps that helped them get to the point where both of them were getting more of what they wanted.