Wednesday, April 8, 2009


By Russ Hardesty, PhD

…one day she said to me,
“I don’t want you to just take care of me, but care for me….

Pat and I married 26 years ago this past March. We were both broke financially, beat up emotionally due to failed marriages and responsible for a bunch of kids. In a little less than 3 years, laboring together we were able to purchase a home, build a business and re-purchase a farm. In the process of getting out of ‘the hole’, my efforts had been focused on taking care of everyone’s physical needs. One day, with a lot of emotion, Pat said ““I don’t want you to just take care of me, but care for me…!.” Those words burned in my brain for days while I sought to understand their meaning.

Pat’s was asking for a deeper level of intimacy. Caring for her was different than taking care of her! I can really focus on taking care of things. I figure out how they work. I can fix things! I can modify things! But caring for someone is much different. For that I had been ‘not present’! I knew I loved Pat. Wasn’t that enough? Love, according to Sternberg (1988) is comprised of passion, commitment and intimacy. We had passion in our relationship! We were committed to each other! Now Pat was challenging me to a deeper level of intimacy. But what is intimacy? Is it sex? Hugging and kissing? Taking a shower together? Lying close together?

Intimacy...A way of "Being"

We were attached to each other, but I had failed to understand that intimacy was more than “Doing” certain things, like physical touching, sex, opening doors for her. The kind of intimacy she was asking for was more... a way of “Being.” Intimacy, coming from Latin, means “most within”. Intimate partners have their “most within” part connected. Their attachment or connection with each other has meaning, direction and purpose.

“Giving is receiving”

The idea that “Giving is receiving” helps describe intimacy. Intimacy is mysterious, powerful and sometimes frightening as two souls or hearts connect. The mutuality of intimacy is profound. There are no “takers” in the intimate relationship. One cannot get to know the “most within” of their partner without learning more about their own “most within” or the “being” aspect of their life. The cultural archetype of intimacy is sexual relation. This performance based archetype of intimacy is limited and limiting. If you Google “intimacy” you will find over 18M references. Most all are associated with “doing”, rather than “being.”

Intimacy is more than an adolescent notion

Couples that create quality relationship move beyond this adolescent notion of intimacy to the mystery of themselves and their partner. They bring to life those hidden and undeveloped treasures that reside deep within themselves as they encourage and nurture each other. Our journey in relationship is rarely without ups and downs. The challenges result from venturing into the grottos of our unconscious to discover our buried treasures. Like Indiana Jones enduring the feared serpents that infested the treasure chamber, we find ourselves faced with unknowns as we seek to deepen our connection.. Two individuals building a quality relationship understand that the ‘trolls’, ‘goblins’, and ‘uglies’ are a part of their personalities and they come with the package. The intimate couple acknowledges the existence of those imperfections as a challenge for growth and opportunity. They can lead to each partner having a richer life experience.

..a spiritual experience

Intimacy is a state of being. Actions that are based in intimacy bring fulfillment and purpose to a loving relationship. Intimacy is the spiritual aspect of relationship. It isn’t as concerned about the material things in a relationship as with the soul or spirit. Intimacy is mysterious and paradoxical. Intimacy operates as unconsciously as a three year old running through the house in his “birthday suit”, squealing with delight; or consciously created by two intentional adults seeking to deepen their connection to each other.

Action Step:

Spend some quiet time reflecting on your intimate relationship(s)

What are the joys?

What are the challenges for growth?

Journal your thoughts

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The secret to staying in love, forever!

By Russ Hardesty, PhD

“I don’t love you any more!” These words have been the cause of cold chills and wrenching gut pain for many reading this. The words often come as a complete surprise. In an instant the “unloved” becomes focused on the sick feeling in the pit of their stomach and the whirling of their mind.

Things were O.K. until they wasn't
Over the years I have counseled many individuals seeking help to cope with the pain of a relationship that was coming to an end. For many, it was the first time in their life they had sought professional help for their relationship. They had believed things were okay until it wasn’t. And then they believed that everything would work out in the long run if they loved their partner “enough”.

Did you expect love to be free?
Love may be the only thing that we expect to be free! We fall in love without any apparent effort, so why wouldn’t it continue in the same way? There is a physical law called conservation of energy that applies to relationships. This law reminds us that we don’t get something without putting forth some effort. Simply, this law means that if you put a little in, you get a little back. On the other hand if you put a lot in you get a lot in return.

Five Dimensions of commitment!
Passion and love are measures of a meaningful and fulfilled relationship. With commitment there is assurance that both love and passion will remain and grow over the years. In research conducted by social psychologists* over the years five (5) dimensions of a sustainable and prospering commitment have been identified. These dimensions include: an assurance of future rewards; personal identification with the relationship; effort; investments in the relationship; and personal responsibility. Alternatives to commitment to the relationship erode quality and fulfillment in the relationship.

• Future Rewards
It is important to have a clear picture of what’s in the relationship for you! This is “Why” of the relationship. Too often, relationship seems to happen and expectations are based on experience from previous relationships or our family of origin. Future rewards motivate people to commit to a relationship. Fantasies or fairy tale versions of relationship are the framework for some relationships.

• Moving from “I” to “We”
A quality commitment allows both partners to take on the additional identity of “we”. This kind of identity shift indicates the evolvement of a third entity – a team. Neither partner loses their individual identity, but each “I” has a rich and nurturing partner that promotes their growth.

• Effort –
The importance of a relationship is measured in the time and effort that each partner gives to the relationship. This effort is demonstrated in a variety of ways such as helping each other to succeed in their personal growth; listening to increase understanding; working together on a mutual concern or shared project; and most importantly – spending time together.

• Investment –
Some partners treat their relationships like they do their finances. Their withdrawals exceed their deposits. Eventually, the overdrafts decrease trust and value. Wise investors always increase their net worth through investment and saving for emergencies and dream fulfillment. When the investments are minimal in relationships, the investment becomes a “have to” commitment, which takes away the passion and intimacy of a quality relationship.

• Responsibility –
A growing relationship is marked by increased personal involvement with your partner. Making and keeping agreements generates deeper commitment. A parent understands this concept in every cell of their body, freely giving to their child during the first years to ensure a life long of involvement and concern for their well-being. “Free Choice” love is full of personal responsibility for the health and prosperity of our loved one and the relationship.

Alternatives to commitment –
Commitment is often limited because of alternatives we choose in our lives. Sometimes, just like the “Pause” or “Hold” feature of a DVD, one partner seems to put the relationship on “Hold” while they give their attention to a hobby, sport, work, religious endeavor, or another person. Unlike the electronic devices we are accustomed to manipulating, our partner’s life continues to evolve and change. When we activate the “Play” feature, it doesn’t start where we left off; nor does it have a “Rewind” button.

Action Steps:

The secret to staying in love! (Make frequent and significant deposits)

Remind yourself each day of all the amazing things that your partner does and is! Not how they forgot to take out the trash or put their socks in the laundry

• Share with your partner the “Why” for your relationship at least once a week.

• Spend time regularly with your partner on a shared activity or interest.

Close Relationships ed. Ann L. Weber and John H Harvey

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

“Happy to be Stuck With You” ?

A Commitment Check

by Russ Hardesty, PhD

. . Pleasure requires high and loving spirits and energy, but living in the world-being battered by it-having your heart pierced, sharpens everything. I had grown up without knowing it, and now I knew. I knew that you might believe in rapture, but you had to earn the right to feel it. You had to pay for it with grief and loss, and it was worth it. I knew what it was like to be ultimately close to your best friend on earth, to some one you had waited to know, had watched and calculated, some one well loved and intelligible to you. . . . It was relief, and it was terrifying. -Laurie Colwin, Shine On Bright & Dangerous Object


Never Again!

My ignorance and immaturity were major downfalls in my relationship history. I concluded that I wasn’t capable of being in relationship. I had quietly avowed that I would never marry again. In August of 1982, I met beautiful, elegant Pat at a conference center at the Lake of the Ozarks. Arriving late, I was ushered to one of the small groups that had already been in session for an hour. My immediate attraction to Pat’s beauty and elegance was intensified when she had something to say when she spoke. My vow to singleness was immediately dismissed. Although we both were well into adulthood, the extent of the commitment we made later that year was yet to be revealed.

It Just Happened!

I had fallen in love in an instant; it just happened! My commitment to Pat began because I wanted her to be a part of my life. As we have journeyed together these past 27 years, there have been times that our “want to” has been “have to” or “ought to”. Commitment doesn’t just happen but is built through interactions with our partner. According to Robert Sternberg, “Loving relationships almost inevitably have their ‘ups’ and ‘downs’ and there may be times in such relationships when commitment is all or almost all that keeps the relationship going.

Ebb and Flow of Commitment

A study of married couples who have been together for over 15 years indicates that each relationship “ebbed and flowed” between “want to”, “have to” and “ought to” types of commitment. These changes, although not always comfortable, are very functional and can create resilience and strengthened commitment. Neither Pat nor I could have understood the full strength of our commitment until events and circumstances created tests of our resolve to one another. Given the challenges that life presents, the “want to” commitment often becomes “ought or have to”. Couples are challenged by a cultural belief of that a relationship has failed when the “want to” commitment fades. Huey Lewis’ song “Happy to be Stuck with You” is a great description of the ups and downs of commitment.

Growing Commitment

Interestingly, the process of committing oneself to a relationship increases the positive future of a growing commitment. The widely held belief that you must be madly in love for the relationship to work often prevents couples from remaining engaged through the challenges presented by life. Remaining committed even in the “ought or have to” state can yield tremendous rewards. I do want to caution that remaining in a relationship that is physically or emotionally abusive is an entirely different matter.

Action Steps to Strengthen and Affirm your Relationship

· Share personally written notes, letter and cards with your partner

· Sharing commitment related stories to friends and family

(I enjoy telling of my meeting Pat – my kids have heard many times)

· Spend time looking at and talking about photos of the great times in the relationship.

Tell us your story of the “Ups and Downs”

Enjoy the music video “Happy to be Stuck With You”

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Fear of Commitment

By Russ Hardesty, PhD

Afraid of the water
A young woman conducting interviews with friends and family asked me about my fears. I quickly responded to the written questions indicating “no” each time until one item stopped me. “Please list any other major fears” the questionnaire stated and I listed the fear of being trapped and confined without options. In a moment I had remembered the great fear that had prevented me from learning to swim until 7th grade. When I was very young, supposedly well intentioned adults and ornery boys had thrown me into deep water thinking it would help me learn to swim. The question had awakened a rush of emotion. The fear generated by those events might well have kept me from ever wanting to swim again.

Why men fear commitment
Fear of being trapped and confined without options can be described in other words…loss of freedom. Relationship commitment for some can be like loosing their freedom. Men in particular experience this fear. Loss of personal space and a perception that the partner is putting demands on them can make them feel as if they are losing more than they are gaining. Making a commitment to relationship may seem like having to ask permission to do those things they have always done without asking before. My fear of ‘drowning’ had some basis because of a scary encounter. Because of that encounter I had decided I would only go into water that waist deep. That way when swimming with others I could defend myself because I still had my footing. I had lost a sense of personal safety and was willing to commit myself only to what I could control and was “safe” for me.

Our level of commitment in a relationship can be limited by a need to control everything and everybody. This need to control may well be based on early life experience. For some men it can be associated with the adult women in their family of origin, childhood experiences or a failed “first love”. Adult men who have experienced divorce and loss of custody of their children can exercise only cautious commitment in subsequent relationships, just like staying safe in shallow water.

Why women fear relationship commitment
* (ladies see footnote)
Women generally are more comfortable in making and keeping commitments with their children than with a partner. They are likely to not fear commitment associated with being a mother as much as commitment with a life partner. One of the greatest fears for women is being “used” in relationships and feeling cheapened by an unfaithful partner. Another fear a woman may have is that her devotion to a relationship is not valued. When a woman’s life is uprooted it is difficult to begin anew with thoughts of another relationship. She may wish to avoid the painful emotions leftover from a failed relationship. She may never even venture into the wading pool again.

Married couples fear commitment

Fear of commitment isn’t limited to the unmarried. Being married doesn’t necessarily mean being fully committed. For some it is just a limited contract with expectations that are unspoken and even unconscious. An atmosphere of distrust, dishonesty, and censored communication often emerges in an effort to conform to the cultural expectations of being ‘fully committed’. Unfortunately, individuals in such a situation reach a plateau or comfort zone and the eventual demise of intimacy and passion.

Clinging to the rope
As a 12 year old boy I stood in the shallow end of the pool or clung to the rope dividing the deep and shallow ends. I longed to join in the play and adventure of the other kids and felt a great weight of loneliness. Loneliness is a consequence of limited commitment and the absence of meaningful connection to others. Whether a person is single or in a relationship loneliness can be a result of their fear of commitment. A relationship with limited commitment can be one of the loneliest places!

Understanding and how to deal with fear
The fear of commitment comes from different origins. It may begin in our childhood and often becomes a pattern that crosses every area of our lives, not just relationships. This strong emotion often takes up residence and affects our decision making. The fear of failing, of being rejected or of losing is often found at the seat of the disabling emotion. Emotional patterns that emerge from these deep seated fears permeate our responses to others and our feeling about ourselves.

Often we project our fears onto others rather than accepting ownership and responsibility for repairing the dysfunctional yet important survival response. When our fears are based on a life experience we can change our response. Simply, we can change the story we have been telling ourselves about that experience that keeps the fear alive. The first step is telling the truth. For example, not everyone will use you; not everyone wants your money; not everyone cheats; not everyone leaves. Another step is to change your point of view from seeing things as ‘right or wrong’ to ‘what works’ and ‘what doesn’t work.’ True change begins with self-honesty.

F.E.A.R - False Evidence Appearing Real

Even while clinging to the rope dividing the shallow from the deep end, my intellect told me that I could swim. However, my emotional self chose to feel the fear and remain paralyzed. Those times when I had been thrown into deep water against my will were the source or “false evidence” of my fear. However, I had failed to recognize the most important part, the most emotional part of my fear – “against my will”. When I chose to learn to swim it was in the presence and with the coaching of the men I trusted. The false evidence was couched in a compulsive belief that had before left me a victim. When I changed my thoughts from the compulsive F.E.A.R. to one of choice, I regained my personal power to swim. I was committed.

* Ladies, I have written this post from a male view point. Let me hear from you. What do think are the unique fears of commitment that women experience? Post a comment or email your contribution.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Still in the Wading Pool?

Russ Hardesty, PhD

The summer of

A hallmark event of my life occurred in the summer 1953 on a Kiamichi Mountain stream in southeast Oklahoma. Along with seven older boys and two WWII Army vets I lived among the ticks, mosquitoes and muggy heat for two weeks. The men taught us how to survive without modern conveniences – we ate dried or salted meats, dug holes in the gravel bed for drinking water, learned about latrines and I learned to swim! Earlier in my life the sink or swim approach had instilled in me a fear of water deeper than my waist. With the gentle encouragement and support of the vets, I learned to swim without fear. Before long I was jumping from a high bluff into water several times over my head. I felt the rush of achievement and gained confidence with my peers that I had long desired. I had learned to trust myself in water, and depth was no longer a barrier but an invitation. One of the great lessons the vets taught me was not to swim alone. I was to always have a buddy – one that can swim!

The Wading Pool

A fear of water can be related to the fear of commitment in relationships. Two people can spend their lives together and never leave the wading pool. They enjoy the water, but never experience trusting themselves to get into the deep. If one partner ventures into deeper water, the other may begin to move toward solid footing, projecting their fear of being in over their head. For some couples, commitment means not leaving each other, and is triggered when one of the partners launches into unfamiliar territory. This is commitment to sameness and familiarity rather than a commitment to a growing relationship and can actually be a prelude to disintegration of the relationship.

Living in “Fantasy Land

If you only go into the wading pool, you eventually pretend you are swimming. You can put on the water wings, swim goggles, and flippers and pretend to engage sea monsters, sharks and all other sort of dangers. Those fearing commitment are fantasy-dependent. The partner fearful of commitment may engage their active imagination to avoid the reality of their own emotional insecurity. But they will discover that their fantasies cannot fill the void they are experiencing. This void cannot be filled by their partner, by possessions or activities. As a result of ‘unfilled expectations’, erratic behaviors and self-discounting occur. The active form of fear of commitment, according to writers Carter and Sokol, may be expressed by avoiding closeness. The passive form of this fear manifests itself as ‘longsuffering devotion’ accompanied by fantasy reconciliation with their partner.

Deep Water

Learning to swim opens a world of possibilities – opportunities to explore, play water sports (water polo), know the thrill of diving from the high board, and even gaining the skill to save someone from drowning. This latter skill made all the difference for two teenagers caught in the current of the Columbia River in 1967. That is when the lessons I had learned 14 years earlier were employed. I was reminded that day that trusting self is critical when swimming in the deep end.

Building Commitment in the relationship

The couple seeking to strengthen commitment can do so by focusing on the aspects of a maturing commitment - solidarity, flexibility, and mutuality.

Solidarity – Both partners agree that the preservation of the relationship is top priority – they establish a preservation agreement. Each learns to swim alone so that they can have energy and skill to contribute in building the relationship.

Flexibility – Swim with a buddy! Be prepared to take action! Change is inevitable in every area of life. Accepting and managing these changes strengthens the preservation agreement. Old ideas and assumptions may be exchanged for new and often contradictory ideas. This is the opportunity for a couple to experience co-creativity and the resulting connection.

Mutuality – Never swim away from your buddy. Always check to see if they need something. Honoring each other’s needs is essential to growing commitment. Each exchange, giving and receiving, is as if it were the last and only opportunity to meet that need or want. If your buddy gets in trouble, you have one opportunity to help out! Maturing relationship happens with equal partners.

Committed partners trust themselves to go into the deep end of relationship. And they trust that their partner has the strength to go through the ‘deep waters’ that life presents. At times, when one is tired or weakened they trust their partner to be available with their strength, skills and desire. Commitment doesn’t need to be frightening if you first learn to swim alone and then with a buddy.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Story of a Marriage ... A Love Poem

The Story of A Marriage a love poem, by my friend Jerry, tells of a quality relationship - a story of two fulfilled lives.

"She stood there smiling,
pincurls showing under her patterned scarf,
the belt of her camel's hair coat
tied loosely in the current style,
grey plaid wool slacks,
brown brouges with split tongues,
her sparkling eyes lighting the hallway
outside Mr. Arnolds freshman English class..."

The Story of a Marriage ... A Love Poem
Gerald T. Perkoff

Before we knew it a dozen years had gone by,
the spring of youth was going from our step,
especially when we had to carry everything upstairs from
a garage buried
against a hillside.
So we moved to a condominium with everything
Marion needed
on one floor,
room for art,
and room for my Steinway,
we had loved it through all the years,
now it had a place of its own to be seen and heard,
a home where friends came,
to eat and drink and talk in a setting some
described as a museum,
using that word in its best context,
it was the first house we had ever thought of as more
than a collection of
bricks and boards,
it had a screened porch that promptly captivated Marion,
who calls it the best room in the house.
It is the place in which we began to plan for "old age."
For many old age is loss,
no more cool mountain streams,
no more star-gazing from beds of pine needles,
no more blazing passion,
yet for us it became the quiet contemplation of art and nature,
soft night sounds that illuminate the skies with gentleness,
the confidence that love can heal,
the certainty a hand will be there to help the creaky
rise from a chair,
the melding of two into more than one and less than two.
Yes, it is a time of diminished capacities,
yet love fills the crevasses of age and brings comfort to
lives that have become
this long poem
without a final line,
the continuing story of a marriage now sixty years long . . .

You can order "The Story of a Marriage..A Love poem

Friday, February 13, 2009

Closeness – One measure of a Quality Relationship

Russ Hardesty, PhD

What are some clues that your relationship is less than you want it to be?
This was a question I read recently on one of many relationship websites. Some of the responses were:
"I no longer want him/her around"
"Decline in sexual attraction"
"Noticeable change in the pattern of sexual intimacy"
"One on one time diminishes"
"No longer spending time together alone"
"Not remembering the last time your partner said 'I love you!'"

Closeness is an Aspect of Intimacy
Three components of love, according to Robert Sternberg, are commitment, passion and intimacy. Closeness is definitely an aspect of intimacy, and a maturing relationship will have increased closeness between partners. Closeness is revealed in times of stress. When a couple is challenged with stress that life presents, the extent of the closeness of a couple becomes very clear. The changing economic enviornment we are experiencing has challenged the closeness in many relationships. Some relationships have grown closer while others have become more distant.

Arne Floh, a professor in Vienna, Austria, describes closeness as a measure of a successful relationship. He states that the idea or concept of closeness can be experienced in several ways:
  • frequent contact
  • impact when in contact
  • diverse kinds of activites
  • length or duration of contact
  • emotional content

Closeness requires frequent contact with your partner.
A couple who had sought out assistance in improving their relationship reported that their relationship was much better since beginning counseling. When asked to identify their evidence of improvement they both told of the increased number of phone calls to each other during the day, more text messages and love notes they had been leaving for each other. Contact doesn’t always mean face to face. During the courtship phase of relationship, frequency of contact is essential for the relationship to progress to commitment.

Something meaningful happens.
Closeness builds when two people come together and value is created for both. Value is created when both have a need met. Sometimes this value is as simple as being heard or being able to express thoughts. Again, in the initial phase of relationship something meaningful happens with each encounter; otherwise the relationship would not continue.

Variety is essential to closeness.
One of the enemies of closeness is habituation. the same ol’ same ol’ is the marker of comfort zone living and the mask of relational demise. To build closeness a couple can experience discovery and wonder together. Growing and expanding thoughts, skills and relationship tools together tap into the creativity and imagination of people. When two individuals work together toward a common goal, closeness occurs. Beginning a new hobby or interest together is a great way to build closeness. Other ways might include sharing a book together, or attending a personal growth workshop together.

Uninterrupted and unstructured time together
Some of the most satisfying and fulfilling times I have spent with my partner were those in which there was no agenda. Just being in the presence of each other without external restraints or demands allow a couple to be in a safe and secure place and to be vulnerable with each other.

Heart to Heart
Many relationships are task-driven. Earning a living, raising children; caring for parents, social obligations and even religious activities can take the place of personal relationship. Closeness builds when there is an emotional connecting. It is possible to have a closeness that comes from working side by side, but closeness is enhanced and deepened when emotions of the heart are shared and demonstrated with each other. A major complaint I have heard in counseling sessions over the years is, „he/she doesn’t share their emotions with me! I just want to know how he/she feels!“ Closeness requires sharing our whole being – our physical presence, our thoughts and our emotions and feelings.

Actions Steps:
1. Rate your participation in each of these areas of closeness.
  • Frequent contact
  • Meaningful Time together
  • Variety of activities
  • Uninterrupted and Unstructured time
  • Heart to Heart
2. Describe two things you can do to improve or create more closeness in your relationship in the next week.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

A Key Value for a Rich and Vibrant Relationship – Personal Responsibility

by Russ Hardesty, PhD

Do you live with the belief that if you love enough or your partner loves enough you will be happy? This sentiment is expressed in many of songs of the day like Because You Loved Me by Celine Dion

For all those times you stood by me
For all the truth that you made me see
For all the joy you brought to my life
For all the wrong that you made right
For every dream you made come true
For all the love I found in you
I'll be forever thankful baby
You're the one who held me up
Never let me fall
You're the one who saw me through it all

These lyrics suggest that it is only because of someone else that truth, joy, rightness, dreams and love exist. This belief is the substance of fairy tales, novels and movies. However it is also the formula for empty and failed relationships. A rich and vibrant relationship is built by two partners choosing to take responsibility for their personal happiness. There is an agreement, spoken or unspoken, for what each partner is responsible.

Responsibility for one’s inner life cannot be given to another
In the song, “Because You Loved Me” the responsibility for joy, dreams, peace and love were placed on the lover. That’s a heavy and impossible burden. When one assumes that their partner is responsible for their happiness, relationship success becomes dependent on one partner’s strength and the other’s weaknesses. Equal partnership is not a possibility since it requires that each take responsibility for their inner life.

Often partners engage in a series of self-defeating games
such as “If it weren’t for you….” Or “If you hadn’t…” which are symptoms of a partner not being responsible for their own inner life. These games have elements of blame, faulting and discounting. Evidence of a man or woman being responsible for their inner life is an understanding and being accountable for their response to their partner’s actions or behaviors. The feelings associated with those actions that are displeasing are completely under your control. Likewise, your partner’s feelings toward you are under their control. This level of personal responsibility makes for freedom from guilt and blame. Because of this freedom a rich and vibrant relationship is possible.

When unhappiness occurs in a relationship, it is important to seek out the core beliefs that create this unhappiness. Your unhappiness, just as your joy is your responsibility.

Action Steps:

1) Identify those experiences in your relationship in which you felt (or thought) unhappy or disappointed. Write them down.
2) Reflect on each experience and with intellectual and spiritual honesty determine your part in each situation.
3) What thoughts and actions can you change?
4) Describe how each change can impact your relationship. (Actionable steps)

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Quality Relationships Welcome Change

by Russ Hardesty, PhD

A relationship that accepts change is a vital indicator of growth and maturity. The nature of life and of living systems is expansion. Change wrought by healthy growth that is balanced with a soulful honoring of created memories and rituals gives enduring substance and meaning to relationships.

Failure to Grow

Failure or reluctance to grow personally is the leading cause for relationship failure. If one partner grows and expands their horizons and the other insists on keeping things the same, the space within the relationship becomes filled with tension and resentment. The relationship becomes toxic for the partner committed to growth and expansion. This partner begins to create connections with others as a part of this growth. These new people can be experienced as intruders by the reluctant partner. The reluctant partner begins to create a shrinking world that may eventually have only enough room for one.

“Standing dead”
Clinging to status quo within a relationship is characteristic of the one who desires habituation as a life style. Although each healthy relationship requires some predictability, habituation without attraction and appreciation is the formula for a deteriorating relationship in which one or both of the parties are ‘standing dead’. ‘Standing dead’ could be described as hoping to reach death as safely as possible! The qualities that initially attracted the partners are now despised. In the habituation life style a partner notices only those qualities that are ‘negative’. The qualities that were once attractive seem to be no longer present. Statements and thoughts like, “you used to…”; “you don’t ….anymore”; or “why don’t you…?” become the focus in the relationship. An individual’s growth only threatens the relationship when their partner clings to the status quo.

Change in your partner calls out

Those changes that challenge the way things have been are invitations for growth. Rarely do two individuals mature and change at the same rate. This difference is such a challenge to those who are reluctant to change their thinking and behavior. This change is a sign “that not only are the lights on, there is someone alive in there too!” You are in a relationship with someone that is vibrant, alive and full of passion. Their growth is your call to get with it! Longing for the “good ole’ days” will only widen the gap between partners.

…to the last moment

A most often repeated statement by my father-in-law, who is in his 81st year, is this …“I plan on retiring three days before my burial!” This attitude sums up the nature of a passionate and fulfilled life. Change is constant. Each of us has the option of resisting and denying the changes that occur or embracing, welcoming and authoring much of the change that we experience in our relationship. You can expect change right up to the moment of your last breath. Change is the opportunity for each partner in a relationship to access and more fully express their devotion and love.

Actions Steps:
1) List those changes that have been opportunities for personal and relational maturity.
2) With each change, what did you discover in yourself? In your partner? In your relationship?
3) Share these with your partner in a quiet time – a soulful time of remembrance and celebration.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

“Let’s Rough House!” – An Enduring Passion and Growing Intimacy

by Russ Hardesty, PhD

“Let’s Rough House!”
was the cry soon after I arrived for a brief visit. My 2½ year old grandson runs through his house, our house, any house and invites “let’s rough house!” An hour later his dad, an uncle and grandpa are exhausted and it seems as if the 2½ year old is just warmed up! The energy expended by this young dynamo continues to build. There is a difference between work and play. Great energy is expended in play yet it seems to create more energy! On the other hand the thought of work makes many tired before putting forth the required energy. Relationships take energy. It is a choice each of us makes, to expend this energy in the form of play or work. The energy can be invigorating or draining – it’s up to each one of us to choose!

Risks are a part of play
While engaging in ‘rough housing’ it became apparent that the 2½ year old took many risks – as evidenced by the numerous admonishments and grimaces from mom and grandma. These risks were essential for his understanding of limits and possibilities imposed by gravity; the consequences of inertia (running into unforgiving solid walls) and things broken forever (flower vase). All in the name of play, life lessons are learned and integrated into experience for empowerment for even greater feats of daring and intrigue.

It would have been safer, quieter, calmer and more peaceful had the play not occurred. But in the safer and quieter space passion and excitement would only exist as thoughts of ‘what could have been’. With the magic of play my grandson gained knowledge by trying on new behaviors that succeeded and laughed at those that didn’t work. How often do couples approach their relationship as ‘work’ rather than play? How many people do you know that are laboring at their relationship? It is work when each attempt considered to change the status quo is weighted on the balance beam of ‘fear of failure’. Failed attempts are personalized. Faults are found and blame is dealt. Joy is lost.

Is your relationship work or play?

Imagine playing rather than working at relationship. What would it be like to practice a new behavior without the fear of being criticized, judged or ‘cut off’? When my grandson plays, he plays all out. His success isn’t measured by the amount or speed of his effort, but in the creation of something that didn’t exist until he imagined the possibility.

For many couples, relationship is like a ‘snake hunt’ every day. They live believing there is something dreadful likely to happen if they aren’t vigilant, watchful, cautious, wary or careful. The 2 ½ year old doesn’t consider himself to be a finished project. He is excited about what is to be in his future. He explores risks and tries new behavior as play. Each day is filled with anticipation, wonder and expectation born in his imagination.

Action Steps:
1) Identify those times that you and your partner have ‘played’ together– with freedom from judgment or criticism.
2) Write a brief description and note how you felt towards your partner.
3) Imagine, then share with your partner a ‘play’ fantasy.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Quality Relationships cultivates personal growth

by Russ Hardesty, PhD

Most of us enter a committed relationship for both known and unknown reasons. Those known or conscious reasons are most frequently associated with physical attraction and desire for a partner or companion. The unknown often presents itself in subtle ways that are disguised as challenges, misunderstandings or disappointment. When confronted with these unknown or unconscious situations our first response may be to seek to blame ourselves, our partner or both for the challenges. Consciously, we seek to understand the cause and effects of the situation. At times, this seeking takes us in a downward spiral into what I have called “stink’n think’n” and drains passion and intimacy from the relationship.

Interestingly, when the relationship began, each partner was living a life of direction. Attraction to each other often creates redirection and often a significant change of the former life pattern and focus. The demands and expectations of this new relationship begin to take on a direction never imagined and the new relationship has many surprises.

The Perfect Classmate!
Commitment to building a quality relationship will allow acceptance of each new and unexpected challenge as an invitation to both personal and relationship growth. Personal growth is essential to building and maintaining the relationship of your dream. The relationship can be your classroom for personal growth. Your partner is the ‘perfect’ classmate and teacher for the lessons that assures personal expansion and ‘unfoldment’ of your potential. Personal growth is the energy that propels the relationship to greater possibilities and realizations. Personal and relational growth is interdependent – each promoting the other. Growth causes both partners to learn more about themselves and each other. This greater awareness will manifest as a widening or expansion of awareness which is projected into every life area. As a result both individuals become increasingly engaged with each other and the world outside their relationship.

Eager to explore...

Life always moves toward expansion and greater forms of expression. Couples in a committed relationship access the curiosity and wonder of their ‘inner child’ by asking why they behave in certain ways They explore the reasons for their feelings. This quest for knowing is fueled by the pleasure and power that comes with expanding knowledge and wisdom – not seeking to fault or blame. Faulting and blaming brings atrophy and decay to the vitality of the individual and the relationship. These life draining behaviors either focus on the past in the form of guilt/guilting and shame/ shaming, or the on the future as anxiety, dread and worry. As in any adventure, setbacks and obstacles occur when least expected. The couple actively engaged in expanding their relationship will discover what didn’t work and make changes that help move them toward a deeper and fulfilling connection.

Conflict …

Two autonomous adults will inevitably discover differences that create conflict. Conflict is the time for examining one’s own values, motivation and behaviors. In relationships that seek to maintain status quo, conflict is personalized and interpreted as some kind of rejection. For this reason many couples have prided themselves for never ‘fighting’ or ‘arguing’, but never grow beyond a limiting idea of relationship. In such situations one partner may experience a sense of being less or losing while it seems as if their partner wins. Winning and losing in a growing and expanding relationship doesn’t exist. In a growing relationship conflict is greeted as an opportunity for growth for one or both. The quality relationship constantly strives toward the ‘win – win’ and knows there isn’t a ‘win – loose’. In an equal relationship, if one partner loses both lose. There isn’t a place for a ‘loser’ in a loving and equal partnership.

Action Steps:

1) In a quiet place, spend some time reflecting on some of the great challenges you have had in your present or a past relationship.

Write the description of each challenge. Describe the outcome of the choices made regarding the challenge. Identify the key lesson you gained from the challenge – even if the outcome wasn’t pleasant. How is that lesson applied in your life today?

2) Share these reflections and lessons with your partner in such a way to create value for both.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Keeping the fire of Passion and Love alive – Openness and Patience

by Russ Hardesty, PhD

Keeping the fire of passion and love alive! (Three part series) Growing passion and intimacy thrives in an environment of creativity and playfulness. Passion and intimacy do not arise from a lone idea or from a concept from a ‘love manual’, but from creating the environment for sustainable innovation. This magic and juicy environment of sustainable innovation allows for shared attitudes, values and beliefs that lead to meaningful actions and events.

Keeping the fire of Passion and Love alive – Openness and Patience

“Leading researchers have concluded that long-term relationships can be just as passionate and romantic as new love.”* Growing passion is the result of a relationship that is open to possibility and change, and abounds with patience. Passion is fueled by innovation which taps our creative and imaginative faculties. Artists, athletes, and performers all know the value of openness and patience. Olympians spend a life time preparing for the few moments of a race or event. How much more can we prepare ourselves for a passionate relationship that lasts a life time?

Openness and Patience sustain growing passion

We can learn from the creative efforts of partnerships such as Pixar that questioning, risk, trust, openness and patience sustain innovation. Similarly, sustainable passion is a creation of two partners bringing into existence new dimensions of relationship that neither has experienced

Openness releases creativity

Balancing openness and patience is critical. Too much openness brings about a lot of activity without desired results. Over focusing will restrict the creative spirit. Openness to serendipity allows the discovery of untapped possibilities for passion and intimacy. Openness requires that both partners can grow more comfortable with ambiguity for short periods of time to allow the ripening of their ideas and solutions. Patience allows the time for this discovery. When a couple agrees on a specific path, it is time for action and not continual revising, rethinking or adding more things.

Patience creates safety

Being patient with one’s partner has its source in “active trust”. Active trust creates a safe place, that magical and juicy environment where passion is fueled. Obsession and urgency fuel love in the beginning of a romantic relationship. If these aspects are not transformed into calmness and attachment, the romance will fade. Calmness and attachment occur as partners face challenges with patience. With patience they can work through challenges, adjusting their previous beliefs about relationship and reality.

Active patience

Active patience can be likened to persistence. Active patience allows partners to be constantly aware and actively involved in creating their desired level of passion. Active patience is essential to overcoming obstacles and practicing new and bold thoughts and behaviors. Confronting disbelief is one of the greatest challenges to partners. Active patience allows new ideas and thoughts to ‘ripen’.

It is not unusual for a thought casually shared with your partner to reappear days or weeks later. Your partner may have adopted this thought as if it was originally their thought. Active patience may be required to achieve the desired outcome rather than the ownership of the idea. Demanding or expecting compliance or change can destroy the sense of safety which allows the rich and juicy environment that nurtures deepening passion and intimacy. When a partner senses impatience, they will be less likely to put forth effort to try something new. Or they may take the quickest path to avoid or minimize their own discomfort. Active patience involves an ongoing commitment to the goal of sustained passion.

Keeping the fire of passion and love alive

Keeping the fire of passion and love alive requires innovation. Innovation keeps the relationship vibrant and energized. This energy brings fulfillment and accomplishment for each partner and for the partnership. Curiosity, along with acceptance of input, honest feedback given and received, and readiness to adapt to change are essential for sustained passion in a love relationship.

*Helen Fisher – Rutgers University and Arthur Aron – State Univerisity of New York-Stoneybrook

Action Steps

  1. Make an honest evaluation of the 5 key traits for sustained passion
    1. Questioning
    2. Trust and Trusting
    3. Risk taking
    4. Openness
    5. Patience
  2. What action steps can you take to achieve positive movement in each of these traits?
  3. Describe your relationship as you grow and gain competence with each trait.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Keeping the fire of Passion and Love alive – Risk and Trust

by Russ Hardesty, PhD

Take a breath; hold it and allow your lungs full opportunity to extract life’s essential oxygen. Imagine, becoming so attached to that breath that you refuse to let it go. In a similar way, we often hold on to the passion and experiences of our early romance thinking that it will sustain the relationship for ever – like in ‘happily ever after’.

Sleepwalking through life

Taking your relationship for granted, like holding your breath, can be one of the greatest challenges to keeping passion and love alive. When creativity and questioning diminish, it’s as if there is nothing more to discover about self or partner. Accepting the status quo is like failing to make deposits in the checking account while continuing to make withdrawals. Risks to explore new dimensions of a relationship are often frightening. ‘Status quo’ seekers live life with little risk-taking. They are living unconsciously or sleepwalking through life.

“Build your wings on the way down”

Pulitzer Prize winner, Anne Dillard remarked, “If we listened to our intellect, we’d never have a love affair. We’d never have a friendship. We’d never go into business, because we’d be too cynical. Well, that’s nonsense. You’ve got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down.”

Building your wings on the way down is creating your relationship as you go. Rather than sleepwalking through life, you acknowledge to your partner that you want more in the relationship. You want change. You want a chance for it to be different and great! You jump off the cliff. The danger is losing your attachment to your idea that love is static and always remains the same, a euphoric fairy tale sort of love. The danger is losing your attachment to this person altogether.

When you and your partner jump off the cliff there is risk but there is also new opportunity to realize your capacities for love and attachment. If you are going to have a passionate relationship you need to be prepared to take risks. In the beginning of your former relationship you risked attachment to your partner without knowing the outcome. When you jump off the cliff and are free falling through space, you are saying goodbye to your old ways of attaching to your partner.

Saying goodbye is like letting go and may be accompanied by feelings of grief and loss. One cannot know what life or relationship can be without your old attachments until you let go of them. The goodbyes are a way of acknowledging change in the relationship. In letting go you are saying hello to new ways of relating to one another. Hellos invite new energy and passion into the relationship by acknowledging the undiscovered. On your free fall downwards you can begin to build the wings of a renewed and more satisfying relationship.

Failure is inherent in risk.

Our lives are filled with risk taking opportunities. The place we seem most unwilling to take risk is in that relationship with our life partner. Asking for something different or making a declaration of change often dies in the mortal fear of ending the relationship. Yet failure to take the risk and ask for something to change can quench the fire of passion. Willingness to risk failure requires trust, most importantly trusting oneself. Too often relationships are built on trusting one’s partner in place of trusting self. This pattern is a sure formula for ‘status quo’ and the demise of passion.

Trusting partners hold each other accountable for their potential and their agreements. Only lack of effort or half-hearted attempts should be up for scrutiny. Finger pointing and blame will destroy passion and desire in a relationship quickly. Partners that trust themselves as well as each other do not personalize failed attempts. Their reward is open communication and vital, passionate relationships.

Action Steps:

Goal: Identify things that you have wanted in your relationship but never asked!

(Use good judgment and don’t begin with areas that are known areas of conflict)

Note: if you aren’t currently in a relationship or have a partner not willing to participate – complete your part of the action step to assist your vision and intentions.

  1. Identify 5 pleasing things you have wanted in your relationship that you have never asked for and rank in importance from 1 to 5 (1 most important).
  2. Encourage your partner to do the same.
  3. Exchange the list and put an “x” by those items on the list that you or your partner are not ready to do at this time.
  4. Act on one unchecked item each day, regardless of how you feel about it.

Reader Comments

"...My spouse and I have been married for 32 years and I've experienced our relationship from giggly in bed, to passionate in bed, to mad in bed to "sleeping" in bed...As we grow older the intimacy definition changes for me. Intimacy also for me is just sitting quietly, or driving for miles quietly or walking just hearing our footsteps crunch the leaves, holding hands. My usual struggle in intimacy is in my head - I have to intentionally stop my daily to do list, my past and future stuff and live in the present moment..." Pam

it's ... smaller things to celebrate that create the real passion

“We have found that passion ebbs and flows but we set a goal for our relationship a number of years ago that is working for us. At least every six months we do something that will create a lifetime memory. For us, we love to travel, so it's been pretty easy to find something big to do that will create that lifetime memory, but sometimes it's the finding of smaller things to celebrate that create the real passion.” Steve Rae

What'll arouse passion more than the feeling of being forgiven?

“The "typical beliefs that people have when the “fire” seems to have gone out of a relationship" I believe are a) that you feel your partner should have changed or should not have changed and b) that you feel you should change or that you should not have changed.

Acceptance of yourself and your partner leads to forgiveness. What'll arouse passion more than the feeling of being forgiven?” Brian Massey

A word from Russ Hardesty

The realm of relationship is mysterious; filled with magic, surprise, excitement, passion, intimacy, loss, disappointment and creativity. I am fortunate to have a life partner who is at once a mirror, teacher, lover, nurturer, student and companion. In this place of mystery, I continue to grow into a mature, loving and free man. I welcome feedback, suggestions, and comments – which is a gift to me! Thanks for joining the expedition! Russ