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