Celeste & Danielle Offer Sex and Relationship Coaching for a Passionate, Connected and Fulfilling Life

Connection across differences is a huge topic with many facets, we want to start with something that we see creates a lot of misunderstanding and suffering in interpersonal relationships – philosophical debates. So often, with your partner, you begin a conversation innocently enough. Then, without even meaning to, you hit on some kind of controversial topic and suddenly you are in a debate.

So often, these debates end in confusion, anger and even crying. Since relationship happiness is really made up of the day-to-day, having these kinds of challenging interactions, and especially if you have them a lot, can be really damaging to your relationship. We want you to take them seriously and learn how to have them well. We don’t think it is realistic to say, “We’ll just never debate again” because, as we said, you usually end up falling into these conversations. Instead, we want to help you do something different with them – we call it Connected Debating.

Before we offer you the steps to connected debating, we want to start with a little bit of background so you can have a better understanding of what usually goes wrong. Firstly, there is a pretty strong gender divergence in how men and women approach differences of opinion. So, if you are in a heterosexual couple, this can be the root of the problem.

Usually, when men approach a potential debate topic with other men, they are more likely to disconnect emotionally from it and think of it more as a game they are trying to win. Like chess or a video game, they are simply trying to take down their opponents ideas any way they can and, if their opponent’s ideas stand up to the challenge, they may then take them seriously. So, a man might hear the other person’s point and say, “That’s ridiculous, have you even looked at the statics on that?”

Usually, when women approach a debating topic with other women, they are generally more relationally oriented, and attempt to find common ground first and then make their point. Even if they don’t agree they might say something like, “Yes, that makes some sense, but have you heard about the recent study on…?”

When we try to explain this to men and women, men usually think women are being ridiculous and overly-sensitive, while women often feel like men are being disconnected assholes. In other words, there is a huge lack of empathy to the other person’s needs and experiences and a lot of judgement. To be empathetic with men, it truly can be fun to debate about something if you can keep your emotions separate or if you don’t feel like having a very heated argument will lead to unfixable disconnection. It can be exciting to bring up really good points and even change someone’s mind by winning.

Unfortunately, it often isn’t possible since it is actually quite rare for both people in a debate to be able to do this. We are emotional creatures, and, even if we are not particularly emotional about a topic, we might begin to get emotional if we notice our partners are getting upset, tense, sad, or angry. Second, debate touches on some very deep emotional needs which can be triggered.

For example, many people have wounds around their intelligence, their need to be listened to, or their feelings of abandonment. Any of these can be triggered – you might feel like your partner is talking down to you or treating you like you are stupid, you might feel like you are not being heard, or you might feel like your partner cares more about the topic at hand then about being in connection with you so you feel abandoned. It can be extremely unbearable to feel stupid, unheard, and disconnected from the person that you love at the same time, which is why debates can become an intimacy killer.

In order to have more unity, use the following tools and make sure that you have an agreed upon framework to use them. For example, you might check on them immediately and then, every 2-3 minutes, revisit and make sure you are still using them.

    1. Acknowledge You Are In It: If you start to get into a debate by accident, acknowledge that you are in one and reassure that you still want to stay connected: “Oooops, it looks like we are having a difference of opinion about public vs. private schools here, I really want to stay connected with you in this conversation.” If your partner’s love language is touch, see if you can keep some kind of contact or at least make sure you are looking in each other’s eyes some of the time.”
    2. See If It’s Personal: Check if there are underlying personal feelings that this topic is touching on, that might be skipped over if you just stay in debate mode. This requires you to be honest with yourself and vulnerable with your partner. “I realize that when we talk about whether or not porn promotes violence against women, it is really hard for me to separate the feelings of insecurity that come up when I think about you watching porn.”
    3. Listen to Your Partner: Make sure you take the time to really listen and take seriously what the other person is saying, even repeating it back to them, if you are not sure you are getting what they mean. Even if you don’t agree, see if you can have empathy for their point of view and how and why they might have come to it. Check in on your own personal histories and how they relate to your current opinions on the topic.
    4. Focus on Both Similarities and Differences: If there is something that the other person says that you really agree with, share that with them. Debates often turn into an emphasis on the differences and, it is possible that there are also places of overlap and agreement.
    5. Be Willing to Change Your Mind: If you go into a debate without being open to new ideas and ways of seeing then it is unlikely your partner will ever be willing to hear you either. Let got to being attached to being “right” or making the other person “wrong” and instead go with an attitude of collaboration and curiosity. Try thinking “what might I be able to learn from this person that I don’t already know?” Being open to learning, growing and changing is what keeps us all young and vital!

Joy is contagious, unfortunately so are anxiety and insecurity. So many people start dates from one extreme or another instead of a place of grounded confidence where they are open to actually enjoying themselves. Romantics may be 20 steps ahead – already so in love with the idea of what could be, while self-described realists may already be bemoaning the fact that they are wasting their time when they could just have a surefire fun night with friends and a pint (of beer, ice-cream, or both). Many folks approach dating as if it is a job interview and are generally caught up on how they will perform. They worry about how the other candidate will measure up or they oscillate and between performance anxiety and competition. We are not saying dating is easy, but there are some ways that a change in approach can really impact the experience, even if the fit is not amazing. Dating with joy is an important skill for people who are in a relationship as well. Many couples have a date night but start to dial it in and make it as much like any other night as possible. This holiday season why don’t we all try these 5 ways to bring a little magic to this artform.

The Pre-Party: Getting ready for a date can be a great way to get grounded and start off with some joy of your own. Do something that is a bit indulgent – take a bubble bath, a longer shower, eat a little something that makes you feel your senses come alive. Listen to your anthem, the one that makes you feel like you can do anything. If you are coupled, think about getting ready on your own. It may feel contrived but it can allow you to look at your partner with fresh eyes if you didn’t just pass them the soap in your getting ready shower. Some people like to take their pre-party a little further, perhaps, all the way. For some a little self-love can be a great way to relieve nerves and get in touch with your desire. Others can get started but might enjoy a date more if they have held out on a big O. Only you can know you body. We encourage you to start dating yourself and remember how fun you are before you even meet up.

A Joyous Plan: Who doesn’t like dinner? For a foodie a surefire joyous plan may be a night at a new food truck park or a great new restaurant. But for those of us that have been on a lot of dates it can feel like a movie montage where the person across from you swaps out but your experience remains the same. As an alternative, try something a bit less stationary and more dynamic. This is a great season for it. Go ice-skating, caroling, go on a hunt for the best-decorated houses in your area. Do a car picnic and watch the sunset or go to indoor mini-golf. See a comedy show and just enjoy yourself (and have a window into their sense of humor without all the pressure). Make a plan that you are excited about.

Stories are Everything: If you are dating someone new take the time to really hear their stories and appreciate how unique they are. Also, when you are telling your own stories, try and be as honest about yourself as possible instead of editing. Be confident that you are fascinating because we all are when we share our unique perspectives. If you are in an LTR try asking your partner to tell you some stories you may not know. Perhaps about a childhood crush or an accomplishment they never got to brag about.

Having Fun Doesn’t Mean You’re Leading Anyone On: Some people feel like they need to be overly “realistic” and make the date an unpleasant one if they feel there will not be a follow-up. We want to give you permission to enjoy yourself without worrying about the future. You might end up surprising yourself, making a new friend, or just having a good story. You can always end by saying, “I had a great time with you, and am not totally feeling the chemistry, but I’m glad we met.”

Strong Finish: Now we don’t necessarily expect the date to end in a night of mind-blowing sex until the morning. If it does, great! You’re welcome ;). But there are many outcomes that can still feel great and leave you with a feeling of hope and joy. This season is a chance to be a little kinder, more open, and share your unique self with the world. Even if your after-party is solo, we are sure you can think of some ways to make it joyous! At the end of date night remember all of the wonderful things you enjoy – about yourself, your date, where you live, what you ate, etc. Gratitude is contagious as well.

As you move through the honeymoon period, you start to see the person for who they really are, which is never exactly the person you hoped or imagined they would be. This is the beauty and challenge of a relationship – the differences between your fantasy partner and the person sitting in front of you create an opportunity for interpersonal and personal growth.

In the long-term love phase, you get to see your partner’s endearing and annoying day-to-day habits, as well as your own, and you also get to experience your partner’s and your own vulnerability and defenses. As you let someone in more deeply and they let you in, you begin to see and feel your strengths and challenges. Each of you starts to gain access to the other’s buttons that trigger the fears of the inner child, the fight/flight/flee response that comes in the face of these fears, as well as the accompanying defensive strategies.

We believe true and lasting love is about developing a solid, loving base supporting each other’s attachment needs and giving each other mutual care. It is also about personal growth, following your own dreams and desires, and celebrating and supporting your partner in growing and actualizing their dreams and desires as well. In our book Making Love Real we teach you all the steps to building a satisfying and fulfilling relationship that last.

Researchers, therapists, and the media generally refer to the first six to eighteen months of any relationship as the “honeymoon period.” In the beginning, you don’t know what will happen between the two of you and you don’t know much about the person with whom you are trying to connect. You look at this other person and imagine that they are everything you desire. In this phase, you and your partner are generally on your best behavior, marketing yourselves with everything you’ve got, downplaying your challenges and basking in the delight of someone seeing you as amazing and perfect.

This can set the stage for two kinds of falls. It can be exciting fodder for falling into a deeper kind of love, as we discuss in upcoming book Making Love Real. But, more often than not, the honeymoon period can set you or your partner up to plummet off of this pedestal. In order to avoid this and give yourselves a chance for lasting love it is important to understand the honeymoon period and how to move out of it.

In the honeymoon period your uncertainty about this person’s desire for you creates a constant longing for connection, which often takes the form of sexual desire. You may feel infatuated and have obsessive thoughts, as well as an inability to concentrate on your day-to-day life. Biological determinists explain this process of sex hormones spiking as an attempt to bond you together long enough for baby-making. In this period sex is generally inevitable, spontaneous, passionate, and full of uninhibited desire and arousal. You are probably filled with feelings of excitement as you imagine all of the possibilities for your future together.

Many people are so addicted to this phase that as soon as a relationship starts moving towards the stability and deeper certainty of long-term love, they would rather move on to their next one. They start a new honeymoon period, never making room for their partner’s flaws or getting comfortable with accepting and revealing their own. If you make it through the honeymoon period, you have a chance at fulfilling long-term love which we will describe in our next post.

It feels so good to say and to hear the words “I love you,” but what do they really mean? In order to talk about what makes a relationship successful, it is crucial to have a working definition of love. This is something you can remind yourself, and each other, of during the inevitable ebb and flow of any long term relationship. Defining love is not an easy task. Poets, philosophers, neuroscientists, therapists and just about everyone else have tirelessly tried to answer this question. Our working definition of love comes from what we have seen work for the couples in our practice as sex and intimacy therapists.

Of all of the couples we see in our practice, the couples who have the most successful relationships know, or learn, that intimacy grows and is sustained not just in moments of connection, but in moments of tension. Moments of connection, such as touching, looking at one another, having an enjoyable shared experience, talking or having sex are all part of the glue that keeps relationships together. Likewise, moments of tension including differing desires, disagreements, misunderstandings, hurt feelings and anger, if done well, can also be part of the glue that holds your relationship together. When you come to conflict with the intention of sharing difficult feelings and deepening empathy and understanding of one another, and you learn to repair breaks in connection, you begin to build a sense of trust for one another that you can make it through challenges. Since every relationship has tension, knowing that you can make it through challenging moments is also part of the glue that holds relationships together. Doing both connection and tension well are essential to sustainable love.

Most relationships start out with a feeling of attraction and then move into two somewhat distinct phases. The first is the experience of falling in love (the “honeymoon period”), and the second is the experience of long-term loving. Not every relationship moves from the first phase into the second, and the ones that do so successfully are able to experience a love that is not narrowly defined. In our upcoming book Making Love Real we explore what love means. Articulating what we mean by love helps us to understand why we choose the people we choose to love (even when it does not feel like a choice). In this blog series we will explore why we love who we love and how to sustain it. Stay tuned and subscribe to this blog to get email notifications!