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Bedwork 5: Side-by-Side Communication

Here is my radio interview with Susan Knight of Calgary’s up!97.7 FM this week:

One of my favourite researchers is Dr. Helen Fisher, a renowned anthropologist with Rutgers University who specializes in romantic love. (She gets to stick people in fMRI machines and see what happens to their brains when they see pictures of their loved ones. How cool is that?!)  Back in 2008, she did a TED Talk on the different ways men and women communicate and bond. During this presentation, she said something profound that we all need to understand in our relationships:

Women tend to get intimacy differently than men do. Women get intimacy from face-to-face talking. We swivel towards each other; we do what we call the anchoring gaze, and we talk. This is intimacy to women. I think it comes from millions of years of holding that baby in front of your face and cajoling it, reprimanding it, educating it with words.

Men tend to get intimacy from side-by-side doing. As soon as one guy looks up, the other guy will look away. I think it comes from millions of years of standing behind that bush, sitting behind that bush, looking straight ahead trying to hit that buffalo in the head with a rock. I think for millions of years, men faced their enemies as they sat side by side with friends.

Many of the women I meet are desperate for, in fact sometimes they outright demand that their husbands look them in the eye when they are having a conversation. What they do not understand is that eye-to-eye contact is intuitively very aggressive for a guy. That is not where he functions best. He genuinely wants to have intimacy with his wife, but if eye-to-eye contact is the only acceptable path in her mind, she is setting him up to fail.

As your Bedwork this week, I want you to leverage this information and use it to build greater intimacy in your relationship. Have a conversation while you are side by side. You might want to go for a walk, a drive or even get on the phone together. Regardless of what you choose, limit your eye contact. Now here is your topic of conversation: Top Five Intimate Moments. Take a walk down memory lane and share – in as much detail as possible – your favourite times together.

Want more Bedwork? Check out my book The Essential Elements of Sex: 9 Secrets to a Lifetime of Intimacy.

The Petraeus Affair: The Attractiveness of Holly Petraeus & Paula Broadwell

Once again, the extramarital affair of a beloved public figure has come to light. Since the resignation of General David Petraeus, the talking heads have been blathering up a storm. Their conversation has been further fueled by emerging details that make the unfolding story seem nothing short of a soap opera. (Jimmy Kimmel did a good job of breaking it down here.)

I have clients who are recovering from affairs, so I kept my eye on the story and listened to other people about their perspectives. At a coffee shop recently, I overheard three women having a conversation about the affair. (When I heard what they were talking about, yes, I eavesdropped.) After discussing the newest, juiciest details of the story, one woman said, “But have you seen his wife?” Pictures of Holly Petraeus have been splashed all over the world, and while commentators have been deliberate to speak in only glowingly terms about her, the side-by-side comparison with Paula Broadwell has been blatant. In one photo, for example, the wife and mistress are even captured in the same frame with red circles drawn around their heads.

Then yesterday, Pat Robertson weighed in on the subject on his TV show. After saying “I don’t think [Petraeus] is a devious human being,” Robertson listed Petraeus’ brilliant accomplishments. He then turned his attention to Broadwell and itemized why he thought she was so attractive. Robertson completed his analysis of the situation by saying “The man’s off in a foreign land and he’s lonely and here’s a good-looking lady throwing herself at him. I mean, he’s a man.”

While you might be tempted to go on a rant about Robertson (for the moment, I am going to side-step the “he’s a man” comment), he did what normal, every-day people have been doing privately. Without knowing the details of the situation, he painted a picture of a hot seductress chasing after a brilliant man. The women at the coffee shop underscored the stereotype that a “frumpy” wife cannot compete with a hot seductress. On the airwaves and over coffee conversations, people from different backgrounds and genders reduced the affair to one factor: how the women looked.

I am deeply disturbed by this type of oversimplification. It devalues women – not just these two women, but all women. Robertson’s reflections made no mention of Broadwell’s accomplishments or what the strain of working overseas might have done to her marriage. The women sipping their lattes made no mention of the years Holly Petraeus spent raising the kids on her own or fighting on behalf of other military families in financial trouble. But when we support and participate in a culture that focuses exclusively on how women appear, we all lose. It creates an impossible standard: in order to stay unmarred by the pain of an affair, you have to be attractive, but not too attractive.

Engaging in this depiction does not stem the tide of infidelity because it does not accurately reflect the reasons why people have affairs. Many men have affairs with women who are less attractive than their wives…because how these women look is not the temptation. Noel Biderman, owner of the cheating service Ashley Madison, has been quoted as saying, “If you sat down with 20 people who’d had an affair and said, rate the person you had an affair with ‘better looking’ or ‘worse looking’ than your partner, almost 90 percent will say worse. You can build a profile right now of an unattractive woman, overweight, whatever, she’ll still have a dozen men interested in meeting her.”

As long as we reduce an affair to the way the women involved looked, we will remain vulnerable of having one ourselves. Men, if you think that only a marathon runner with great arms will tempt you away from your wife, then you are going to get blindsided by the plain looking woman who works in accounting and can listen with empathy to your stories. Women, if you think your husband is only in danger from a woman who has a DD chest, you will be stunned with it turns out the “frumpy” woman knows how to love him better than you.

Let’s stop the oversimplification and take a long look at our own relationships. Let’s start having candid conversations with our spouses about what we, as individuals, find tempting. Let’s find out what draws our eyes, bodies and hearts away from our spouses. Rather than making assumptions about the causes of infidelity, the information we glean through these conversations will actually reduce the risk of us straying.

Saying “I Love You” Without the Words

Here is my radio interview today with Susan Knight of Calgary’s up!97.7 FM:

Several years ago, I attended Michele Weiner Davis’ course, Divorce Busting® Intensive for Professionals. We buckled down for days, and from 8:30-5:00 every day, we talked about techniques to help couples on the brink of divorce resolve their differences.

One of the stories that she shared was of herself as a young wife. She got married in the 70′s when the modern woman was emerging and this culture was the filter through which she viewed her marriage. She didn’t need to cook for her husband – she was too busy building her career! As the kids arrived, she realized that she had to do something to get some nutrition in them, so she began to ensure that there was actually food on the table when they got home. What she was quite shocked by was her husband’s reaction to her new-found culinary skills. He would smell the food wafting through the house when he arrived home and gave her the most enthusiastic of responses! As she thought about this reaction, she began to realize that his mother was a superb cook. In fact, at family gatherings, the table was covered with all sorts of dishes to enjoy. Because of the way he was raised, Michele’s husband felt loved when she put an effort into cooking!

Inadvertently, Michele had stumbled upon a concept which she now shares with all the couples that she meets – Real Giving. Real giving occurs when we give to our spouses something that we know they will like. It might be a hug when they are being particularly ornery. It might be tidying the house even though you are exhausted and want to go to bed. It might be starting up the car on a cold winter day so it can warm up before your spouse gets in it. It might mean filling up the gas tank in your spouse’s car. It might mean sitting eye to eye and having a conversation. Or it might mean letting them go for a night out with their friends.

It might not seem natural, come easily, or even feel like it is a big deal to us, but we must learn to recognize what our spouse sees as important loving acts and do them. It’s not about sacrificing for our spouse; it’s about showing them love.

In his groundbreaking book, The Five Love Languages, Gary Chapman wrote of this important concept. In this book, he theorized that people have one of five “languages” in which they speak love to their partners. They are:

  • Words of Affirmation (telling your spouse through verbal or written language how much they mean to you, how good they look, what you love about them, etc.)
  • Physical Touch (reaching out to have physical contact with your spouse)
  • Acts of Service (pitching in to help your spouse doing things such as running errands or household chores)
  • Quality Time (having undivided attention and spending alone time with each other)
  • Gift Giving (giving gifts of other tangible expressions of love to your spouse)

Frequently, spouses speak different languages. An Acts of Service husband might take care of all the household chores, but his Quality Time wife just wants to spend time with him. A Words of Affirmation wife might be telling her spouse what a great husband he is, but her Physical Touch husband wants to be able to cuddle more often.

Furthermore, all of these languages have “dialects.” A Words of Affirmation spouse might be embarrassed to hear you speak the words aloud, but is delighted to find little notes around the house which express your affirmation. A Physical Touch spouse might crave back rubs and massages. A Quality Time person might love spending time together on the golf course and go out for beer afterward. A spouse who delights in Gift Giving might like fresh cut flowers to put on her table each Friday night. An Acts of Service person might like to have the car washed each week.

If spouses are speaking different love languages to each other, and they don’t recognize that their partner doesn’t speak the same language, they will overlook the acts of love that their spouse is giving them. Even when they find out there is such a thing as different “languages” of love, some people ask – Why should I learn his language if he won’t learn mine?! Or worse, these people will get judgmental and think to themselves, “Her way of showing love is stupid; mine is better.” These attitudes are toxic to the relationship. They create a deadly standoff in the marriage wherein neither party is willing to budge first.

If we are not able to learn to recognize and then speak the language of our partner and if we refuse to practice real giving, then we are channeling the actor from Cool Hand Luke who said, “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate!” Neither party is going to feel loved and both parties are going to feel resentful! Welcome to the fast-track to divorce!

However, when couples are practicing real giving (even if just one party starts the process), then they are putting aside the notion of a tit-for-tat relationship and seeking ways to show love to their partners in manners in which the partner recognizes,  accepts and cherishes. And it is quite amazing what usually happens – once the first domino is tipped over, it creates a chain reaction throughout the relationship which is incredibly positive! Both parties are going out of their way to show love to each other.

What to do some real giving practice this week? Here are some ways to get started:

  • Which language do you speak?
  • Does it have a particular dialect?
  • What language does your spouse speak?
  • Does that language have a dialect?
  • Practice real giving this week by picking two things that you want to do in your spouse’s love language, and give it to your spouse as a gift.

#dayofthegirl

In 1998, I lived in a children’s home with Durga in Kathmandu, Nepal. I was 25 years old, a newlywed, and on a 6-month adventure with my husband volunteering overseas. She was a teenager who had been rescued from a rock quarry, where she had made a living as a rock-chipper to support her younger brother. I was optimistic about my abilities to save children at risk because I had been blessed with so much. She was optimistic she would be able to get a job because she had been given the opportunity for an education. We were both orphans. We both grew up as girl children. And yet, simply due to the part of the world in which we were each born, we were on radically different trajectories in life.

The United Nations has proclaimed today to be the International Day of the Girl Child. What is so special about girls?

  • Girls are 3 times more likely to be malnourished than boys.
  • Each year roughly 2 million girls between the ages of 5-7 are trafficked in human slavery.
  • Only 30% of girls in the world are enrolled secondary school.
  • Each year, more than 10 million girls are forced to marry as children.
  • In many countries women are more likely to be raped than taught to read.
  • One-quarter to one-half of girls in developing countries become mothers before age 18; 14 million girls aged 15 to 19 give birth in developing countries each year.
  • Medical complications from pregnancy are the leading cause of death among girls ages 15 to 19 worldwide.
  • When women and girls earn income, they reinvest 90% of it into their families, as compared to only 30 to 40% for a man.

Throughout the day today, I will be tweeting about the issues that girls face. I will be linking to articles that discuss the importance of drawing awareness to their stories. I will be highlighting organizations that care for the girl child. Please feel free to tweet about the subject yourselves, follow me on @erynfaye and make comments below. As a woman, as the mother of a daughter and as a friend of Durga, I believe that taking a moment to look at the issues surrounding #dayofthegirl is important.

4 Tips for Meeting the Parents This Thanksgiving

Here is my radio interview with Susan Knight of Calgary’s up!97.7 FM today:

So, you are spending Thanksgiving with your partner’s parents…and you have never met before. Talk about being thrown into the deep end of the pool! Meeting the parents is always a nerve-wracking occasion, but mixing it with a major holiday ups the ante even further.

Here are a few tips for you:

1)   Very often, things go awry when we have unspoken expectations, so talk to your partner before the visit. You can ask questions like, what does your family get-together usually look like? Do the women cook and then the men clean up? Do you want me to hang out with you, or can I ditch you to play Wii with the kids and gossip about the Kardashians with your sister? Does your mom make us say one thing we are grateful for around the dinner table? Getting answers to these questions will not only help you feel more prepared, but will also give your partner a chance to warn you about anything that you might want to know ahead of time. Like the fact that Aunt Gerta has a huge mole on her chin, and is super self-conscious about it.

2)   Everyone likes to talk about themselves, so find out what your partner’s family is passionate about. If his mom is crazy about gardening, then you might want to brush up on the basics of this hobby beforehand so you have some good questions to ask her. If her brother just had a baby, then be prepared to ask about the joys and trials of being a new parent. If his dad is a Toronto Bluejays fan? Well, that’s a tough one. Just be prepared to fake enthusiasm. In all seriousness though, ask questions. Be interested about their lives. Seize the opportunity to learn everything you can about your partner as a kid. This is all good information to have, and they will appreciate your effort.

3)   When the family asks questions about your relationship, be warm and respectful of your partner. Remember, your partner has been a part of their world a lot longer than he has been in yours. This is not the time to bring up the fact that he likes to cheat at board games or falls asleep during staff meetings at work. Emphasize the things that you appreciate about her and the reasons you enjoy spending time together. Not only will your partner appreciate the feedback, but you will be complimenting her family too. After all, they have played a role in how she has turned out.

4)   Get feedback after the holiday is over and you have returned to normal life. If you have long-term plans with your partner, you will run into his family again, so find out what his perspective was on the experience. If you royally screwed up, you can make adjustments (or apologies) when you see them again. If you knocked it out of the park, then you have a road-map for the next time you go for a visit.

Above all, relax, have fun and enjoy the turkey!

What My Vitamix Blender Has Taught Me About Love

I have a new addiction in my life. It’s a Vitamix blender. On our recent trip to Texas, we picked one up and since we returned, I have been using it 2-3 times a day. It is truly a glorious thing. You can even make soup in it. Blend for 10 minutes, and it is steaming hot!

My daughter is wholly on board with the new toy too. Every morning, she says to me, “Can I have a smoothie for lunch?” Of course I say yes, because it gives me another opportunity to indulge in my addiction. That, and the fact that she now – very happily – skips off to school to eat a staggering conglomeration of fruits and veggies without a whimper of protest. The amount of spinach that child has consumed is nothing short of a miracle.

But here is what my Vitamix has taught me. One of my passions, one of my “causes” in life is healthy living. This stems back to the fact that I became a cancer orphan at 21, my aunt is a breast-cancer survivor, my sister has had pre-cancerous cells and my daughter was diagnosed with Severe Chronic Neutropenia at 13 months. Pretty grim.

However, I have also realized that my cause stems from a deep desire to love my family. As Bell Hooks says, “To begin by always thinking of love as an action rather than a feeling is one way in which anyone using the word in this manner automatically assumes accountability and responsibility.”

I crazy love my family. I truly believe my husband to be the most amazing man and my daughter to be the most fascinating girl on the face of the planet. But loving them entails taking care of myself. When I choose to put down the candy bar and replace it with an apple, it is not because I am trying to look like Jennifer Garner (although she is gorgeous and there are days when I would really like to look like her), but it is because what I put in my body is my act of love for Eric and Riley. It extends far beyond speaking love and becomes doing love.

It says, “I choose to do all I can do to make it to your wedding and to the birth of your children.” It says, “I choose to sacrifice that candy bar so that I have more energy for you.” It says, “I choose to eat well so that my brain functions better…and I am thereby more patient, kind and compassionate with you.” It says, “Even though I would really like to go on a binge, I choose you instead.”

Some days, I do better than others. But that’s ok. Because it not about expecting perfection of myself, it is about choosing the journey.

Keys to Better Sex Revealed

A new study analyses what makes a great sex life. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Communication, self-esteem and understanding each other’s emotions make for great sex
  • Men want to engage in activities which bring pleasure to women.
  • When men are in tune with their partner’s emotions, women are more open to exploration.

You can read the entire article here.

What makes your sex life great?

Play time!

There is a story that is often told of Gregory Bateson, an anthropologist and the husband of the Margaret Mead. He was asked to come observe a group of otters that seemed depressed to their zookeepers. Otters, if you didn’t know, love to play. You can watch them for hours as they leap, swim, wrestle with each other and get up to all sorts of antics. These otters, however, seemed listless and lethargic.

 

After watching the animals for a number of days, Bateson dangled a piece of paper on string into their habitat. Before long, an otter came over to the string and began to bat at it. Very soon after, another otter joined in and then both otters started to play with each other. Even when Bateson removed the paper on the string, the otters continued to play.

How did two otters – creatures that are playful by nature – stop playing? Simply put, they got bored.

 

It is very easy for couples to get bored and, by extension, stop playing with each other when they have been married for years.

 

I was recently chatting with a client, and she mentioned that her husband liked to pull out a stuffed animal, put on an alter-ego voice, and make silly comments. She didn’t have a clue how to respond. Naturally a very serious person, this activity seemed very confusing to her. When I suggested that she make a silly comment in return – something fun and playful – it made her stop and think because it had been so long since she had been playful in their marriage.

 

Are you playful together? Believe it or not, this can be one of the most effective tools to making your relationship last. If you are having a lot of fun together, it makes it much harder to split up.

 

What are you doing to be playful with your spouse? Do you need to introduce something new into your environment to remind the two of you how to play again? What will that something new be? (as a suggestion: you might want to try something different than a just piece of paper on a string!) How can you make your spouse laugh this week? Can you surprise your spouse with something that will completely delight him or her?

 

As you think about those questions, let me leave you with a video of two otters, taking a nap at the Vancouver Aquarium. They are holding hands so that they will not float apart.

Remember: Playfulness not only combats boredom, but it also engenders intimacy.

Failure Doesn’t Equal Success…but it can get you there!

Last week, my daughter bombed a math test. Flunked. Failed. In a big and mighty way. So big, in fact, that the teacher called me into the classroom to show me the test.

Later, when Riley and I were talking about it, she began to tear up.

 

“Are you saying that I made a bad grade?” she asked as her lower lip quivered.

 

I hesitated for a beat and then said, “Yes, Baby Girl, you made a bad grade.”

 

A lot of parents would be horrified with me. I can hear them saying, “What?! You don’t use the term bad when talking to a child!” I could hear them complain that I was going to scar my child or permanently damage her self esteem.

 

In our society today, we have become so concerned with the emotions of our children that we will lie, cheat and steal to keep them from feeling badly. The theory goes that if we can organize a world where they feel safe and secure and loved and comfortable all the time, then surely they will become confident adults.

 

The problem with this approach is that it simply doesn’t work. An obese child who is told that she is fine just the way she is will still grow up with be an adult with chronic health problems. A child whose bullying behaviour is overlooked because he is having problems at home that are not his fault will not learn how to care for those around him. A child who thinks that a failed grade is actually good will never learn how to succeed.

 

And so I let my daughter feel the full weight of failure.

 

And then I gave her the tools to succeed.

“You see, Riley, a bad grade tells us two things: 1) You don’t understand the material and/or 2) You did not practice enough before the test. However, both of these things are fixable. We can make sure you learn the material and give you lots of practice so that when you will not make this grade again.”

 

The rest of the weekend, we worked hard. It was obvious that Riley was missing the foundational pieces to the concepts and so we made sure she got them. Then we built on the foundation until she was grasping math which was much more difficult than the concepts on the test.

 

She got it. She grew confident. She asked to practice so she could show us what she had learned. And she learned how to turn failure into success, a life lesson that is exponentially more important than a math grade.

 

Many of the couples I meet struggle even admitting that there is failure in their relationship. They dance around the subject, trying to project an image that is perfect. They hope that I don’t ask any questions that might poke that delicate exterior and expose it for what it truly is.

 

But, just like Riley, if we do not take an honest appraisal of our work and if we do not acknowledge places where we fail, we will never be able to move past failure to success. Admitting you have a problem, as they say in Alcoholics Anonymous, is the first step to a new life. The brilliance of taking this first step is that you can make changes, fix the problems and move to a place of health and true happiness.

 

What do you have in your relationship that is not working?   What is failing?

 

Once you have taken an inventory, begin to make changes. Need some help? You can book your coaching session with me today.