Emotional Gridlock

The underlying issue in couples*

Couples fight and it's always going to be that way, it's inevitable. It's not the funnest thing to do with the love of our life. We would all prefer that we all get along and we live happily ever after. Unfortunately and fortunately that is not how it works. People can't agree on everything especially when it's truly important to who we are and how we act. Our sense of self or commonly know as our identity plays a huge role in our romantic relationships. We can't always agree to disagree with our partner, because sometimes you only have one choice, you have to choose and you need to put aside the other choice. Sacrifices are needed in relationships and these tend to create lots of arguments in relationships.

Couples have conflicts on a regular basis and that is totally fine. What really matters is how you deal with them. It's not rare to find partners in a battle on a specific subject which neither of them wants to be wrong about or wants to let go of their point of view of the situation. They are both emotionally attached to their perception of the situation and each contradicts the other one's. This is called emotional gridlock! The symptoms of this are the following:

  • Repetitive arguments
  • quickly get frustrated about a topic or argument
  • Feelings of being misunderstood
  • Thinking that we are entirely right and their entirely wrong
  • Not reflecting on what the other is saying, but of our next argument
  • Our only goal is to prove our point and be right
  • Ignoring the other person to hurt feelings
  • and the list goes on!

    What emotional gridlock can feel like sometimes

Most will say that their is missing or lacking communication, which is false. Partners understand each other very well in theses situations, as they've been repeating each other over and over again. Each of them could repeat by heart what their partner's arguments word for word. They just don't agree with them. This is where the emotional gridlock plays a huge role. If one of them had to agree with the other, they would have to change who they are as a person or their perspective of themselves, which affects their sense of self. In other words, it's a battle of their integrity.

They are also avoiding at the same time making a decision about their situation. They are facing what we call a 2 choice dilemma: Having to choose between two opposing circumstances which obliges the loss of the advantages of the one that isn't chosen. So we can understand why each partner is holding on to their end of the blanket.

How Do We Get Out of The Emotional Gridlock

This is where things get really hard for the couple and when at least one partner needs to have a strong 4 points of balance to get pass the dilemma that the couple is facing. It requires a lot of maturity, a capacity to self-confront, to accept half-truths, to avoid holding a grudge, to grow and change as a person. It's important not to mistake this for a compromise or a lack of integrity, but a complete change in the dynamic of the couple. It only takes one partner to do it and that is why it's actually so hard. It leaves the one that does change completely vulnerable, as they are openly admitting they didn't have the entire truth and they are losing their choice in the dilemma. They went beyond their emotions and saw further than there own needs. They took a chance to grow as a person and they grasp it, even though it could have backfired on them.

Emotional gridlock is the battle of the wills of a couple, of each individuals integrity and sense of self (identity). It takes a lot of courage for a person to come out of that in a way that they are not losing who they are, but becoming someone better.

Productive Conflicts

Romantic relationships have the capacity to bring the worse in people, but it also allows to bring the best in each partner as well. It's undeniable that staying with the same person for a long time is going to bring challenges. Each individual has choices that they can make. One of them is showing the best of themselves and growing in the process or they can stay stuck in their emotional gridlock and remain unsatisfied in their relationship. The choice seems obvious, but actually growing and redefining who you are is one of the hardest thing a person can achieve in their lives.

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The 4 Points of Balance Part 4

* Inspired by the book Intimacy and Desire from David Schnarch

Sexual Intimacy & Sexual Desire Part 4

The 4 Points of Balance*

Tolerating self-validated intimacy is hard for everyone. It obliges us to maintain a strong sense of self, to self-sooth, have grounded responses and a meaningful endurance. Each of these 4 points allow a person to maintain balance in the relationship so they grow as an individual and as a partner. When one of these fail, other validated intimacy takes place and conflicts eventually ensue.

Solid flexible self

Our sense of self has a huge impact on our ability to self-disclose personal and intimate information to our partner. It is the way we perceive ourselves in our identity. Who am I? What am I like? What are my values and beliefs? How do I want to be treated? What am I looking for in a partner and in sex?

Some people have overly flexible selves which means they constantly change who they are depending on the context they are faced with. This is where other validated intimacy comes into play. These types of people will adapt to others so they don't feel rejected. They won't express what they really think or feel not to bother, upset or start a conflict with others. They are centered towards pleasing other people. Hence, they don't have an identity of their own.

When it comes to sexuality, they won't discuss their sexual preferences, talk about sexual fantasies, show who they are sexually, because they don't really know or don't want other people to know. Quickly enough, sex becomes a routine and they won't open up on their possible sexual dissatisfaction.

There is also the opposite of the continuum where people are rigid in the way they present themselves. They can't tolerate differences in their partners. They impose their way of thinking, acting and being. They perceive differences as a threat to their sense of self because it obliges them to reflect on themselves and possibly change their perceptions. This in itself is a huge difficulty to people who are rigid in their sense of self.

Someone who is balanced in this aspect has a good sense of who they are as individuals and are proud of who they are. At the same time they are capable of letting others in their world without feeling threatened. They have the capacity of self-reflection and confrontation and open up to differences and possibly change their perception of things. They are willing to explore new things and change and grow as a person.

Calm heart and calm mind

Faced with an intimate context it is not always easy to deal with all the emotions that we are feeling. Our bodies react in all different kinds of ways and our feelings can be hurt in the process. This brings people to have all kinds of thoughts in their mind, which aren't always the nicest things to say.

For example, when someone isn't entirely satisfied with the sex they've being having and tell their partner. For one, it can be hard to say those things to the person they love and cherish, because they know that it will hurt them. Secondly the other has to deal with the fact that their sexual competencies aren't as good as they thought. This has an impact on their sense of self which might bring the person to become rigid or flexible towards the other partner.

A person's capacity to self-sooth and calm themselves down allows them to tolerate the anxiety provoked during intense intimate moments with their partner. People who don't have that capacity either avoid intimacy all together so there won't be any conflicts or they become explosive when interacting with their partner, because they've been hurt.

Grounded responses

In therapy, we hear many couples saying that their arguments turn in circles and never get resolved. It's not because there is missing or lacking communication; its that the persons are not willing to agree with their partner. This leads to an emotional gridlock and the couple have unproductive arguments because they're avoiding the real issue. The more we become intimate with each other the more we realize that we have differences, which can be quite fundamental to someones sense of self.

When couples fight about sexuality, for instance the frequency of sex; they are faced with 2 choices:
Having sex or not having sex. One partner wants it the other one doesn't. This is where a decision needs to be made, which most couple stall or avoid making entirely. You cannot have sex and not have it at the same time. It's one or the other! This is where most people lose their grounded response, because they want so badly what THEY want, they say almost anything to get it, even though it makes no sense, they scream and shout at each other or completely ignore their partners to send them the message that they don't care.

A grounded response is when a person takes the time to reflect on the situation before saying whatever goes through their minds. They were able to comfort themselves and are thinking of a mature response to give so that the conflict becomes a productive one. The person that has mastered this point of balance takes the time to listen to what the other has to say and gives a well reflected and grounded response to their partner. They are not seeking to be right, but to grow as a person in this dilemma and understand their partner better, while still maintaining there sense of self (Integrity).

Meaningful Endurance

When faced with a conflict, partners have to decide if they are going to work it through or terminate the relationship because they are incompatible. Differences create strain between lovers, because it requires that we tolerate certain aspects that are not always pleasing to live with.

Depending on the type of dynamic that a couple has, some will avoid taboo subjects not to get into fights so not to threaten the relationship. There is a status quo that is established and nobody is willing to touch it, even though one or both partners are unhappy with how things are developing between them. For example, not telling a partner that sex is dull and needs a boost and enduring the lack of sexual satisfaction rather than dealing with the issue which entails getting out of our sexual comfort zone and become more intimate.

The other possible reaction is that when faced with differences it immediately puts an end to the couple so that they don't have to face the uncomfortable interactions that would ensue if they were to deal with the sexually intimate issues.

Tolerating the anxiety that stems from self-validated intimacy is hard for women and men alike. There are times in long term relationships that are though and you just want to give up, pack your bags and go home. These times are when we test our limits, can learn to mature and grow as a person and as a couple. The anxiety of not knowing if you are going to get through this and that you may be wasting your time and part of your life trying to work things out can break many couples up.

People who have meaningful endurance give it there best shot. They self-confront, self-sooth and act in mature way, all the while tolerating the anxiety, uncomfortable and difficult times that every long term couple needs to face one day or the other.

READ MORE ON: Sexual Intimacy & Sexual Desire

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Couple’s Communication Issues or Unable to Tolerate Intimacy?

* Inspired by the book Intimacy and Desire from David Schnarch

Sexual Intimacy & Sexual Desire Part 3

How Intimacy Effects Our Sexual Desire*

When our relationship is based on other validated intimacy, we inevitably hit an obstacle in our sexual maturity. If we are only willing to self-disclose a part of ourselves to our partner we're limiting the level of intimacy the couple can share.

Limiting our sexual maturity

Sexual desire in a long term relationship can be affected by a number of elements in the dynamic of a couple. First and foremost sexual desire stays alive in couples who are capable of reinventing themselves, trying new things, experimenting sexual fantasies and introducing a different dynamic in their sex lives. It's also people who are not afraid to look silly, laugh and can tolerate sexual awkwardness. When our couple uses other validated intimacy, we're afraid to do any of those things because they might bring rejection or judgment on the part of the partner, which other validated couples avoid at all cost because that hurts.

Avoid stagnation

Consequently, we find couples who have stagnated in their capacity to mature sexually and a routine is instated. Nothing kills sexual desire more than being able to predict every aspect of how we are going to have sex with someone. Sexual desire exudes when there is adventure, newness, surprise and strong emotions. Routine sex is good to make you feel comfortable and loved, but it lacks the capacity to excite and bring desire towards our partners.

Admire to desire

Another aspect that impacts sexual desire is our capacity to tolerate vulnerabilities in ourselves and in our partner. A component of sexual desire is admiration towards the other. If there is a lack there of, then little desire can exist between two people. How can couples be vulnerable in front of each other by admitting their mistakes, showing their issues and faults without killing the admiration they have for each other.

Admitting our limits takes a lot of personal strength which is admirable in itself, but there is still a step further people need to go through. After putting ourselves in that vulnerable state, it's important to learn from it and grow as a human being and a partner. When we witness our lover struggling at becoming a better person, we can take pride and admire being with such a man or woman.

Get your sex appeal on!

Seduction is also an element that impacts sexual desire in couples. Most long term couples tend to take for granted their partner after a while and they don't feel the need to seduce and flirt anymore. Seducing our partner is required if we want to keep the flames of passion between each other. Flirting allows the couple to have fun, laugh, play and sexualize their encounters, which grants the promise of sex in the near future. If we don't play the game, we can't expect to win the prize!

The downside of seducing our partner is that they may end up not wanting sex at the end, which can leave one partner frustrated or rejected at having put so much effort. People who cultivate other validated intimacy will withdraw from flirting to avoid getting hurt again. Couples who are capable of validating themselves will try again and see it as a challenge to woo their partner next time.

Hence, intimacy is intricately related to the level of sexual desire that will be shared between partners. We need to heighten our intimacy by cultivating our sexual development, seducing our partner and growing as a person!

READ MORE  ON: Sexual Intimacy & Sexual Desire

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Couple’s Communication Issues or Unable to Tolerate Intimacy?

* Inspired by the book Intimacy and Desire from David Schnarch

Sexual Intimacy Part 2

Two Very Different Types of Intimacy*

Intimacy and couple's dynamic

Every couple is unique in the way they are intimate with each other. It is determined by each partner's individual experience and need for intimacy with their lover and also the dynamic that develops during the relationship. As we get to know each other better, we either appreciate the parts they are self-disclosing or find out things that we would have preferred not to know. This is where the couple dynamic with intimacy starts to form itself. When someone is self-disclosing to their partner, there is an inevitable reaction on both ends. The first reaction comes from the partner receiving the self-disclosure, which can be either acceptance or rejection of the new element that is being introduced. The second counter-reaction comes from the person that self-discloses, who then evaluates if it was a good or bad idea to share this intimate information with their lover.

Reciprocal Intimacy

This type of intimacy is what our society tends to promote in the media and amongst friends and family. It is the safe form of intimacy where we only self-disclose personal information that we know our partner will accept and not reject us (sexual fantasies, seducing in a different manner, proposing a new sexual style, etc.). We also expect the other to reciprocate immediately after wards, so we don't put ourselves in too much of a vulnerable position with them.
Sounds great at first glance. No one gets hurt, we don't have to be too vulnerable and it feels like an equal relationship; in other words SAFE. We also call this type of intimacy “other validated intimacy”, which means you are searching for validation from the other when you self-disclose. We can't BE who we truly are unless our partner accepts us that way. Hence, we hide behind this false image of who we are so that we don't feel rejected.

On the other hand we can easily see how in the long run this can become problematic. If we are only willing to divulge as much information as your partner is willing to accept with open arms, it comes to a point where the couple stagnates in their growth as individuals. If we are only willing to talk about issues that won't make us potentially feel rejection or hurt our partner, it leads to major conflicts in the couple never being addressed.

For example, sex hasn't been the best lately, but we don't tell our partner to avoid hurting their feelings. On the same front, we don't try to change the sexual dynamic because we are afraid we'll be judged by our partner of our sexual preferences. We are afraid they'll reject us, laugh at us, or even humiliate us. This path inevitably leads to sexual boredom and a decrease in sexual desire for one or both partners, because everyone wants to play SAFE in the couple. Safety is not what creates sexual desire and erotism.

Self-Validated Intimacy

This form of intimacy is hard and requires a lot of self-soothing. It only takes one partner to be this way for it to work. This type allows a person to be vulnerable in front of their partner, show who they actually are sexually; quirks, issues, weirdness and funkiness included, without looking for approval and validation from the other. People who are capable of self-validated intimacy know who they are and proud of themselves. In the face of rejection they are capable of self-soothing and accept the differences between them and their partner. When they have something difficult to say to their partner, they can deal with the reaction and the distance it causes.

Rejecting or being rejected is difficult for everyone, especially when it comes from a partner. It is a part of us or them that is not loved. It forces us to face the fact that we are not entirely lovable, sexy or competent lovers in all regards. People who validate themselves from others on most aspects have a really hard time with rejection. When they need to reject or feel rejected on one element of who they are, they generalize it to their whole person. They lack the capacity to self-sooth and confront themselves. They don't perceive it as an opportunity to grow as a person, but as a threat to their identity.

READ MORE  ON: Sexual Intimacy & Sexual Desire

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Couple’s Communication Issues or Unable to Tolerate Intimacy?

* Inspired by the book Intimacy and Desire from David Schnarch

Sexual Intimacy

Redefine Your Couple's Dynamic in Sexuality*

Intimacy and its Multiple Definitions

The concept has been defined in a multitude of different ways. Sometimes, it is used to describe two or more people having sexual activities together (e.g. «My husband and I were having an intimate moment last night»). It can also refer to someones nudity or private sexual activities such as masturbation (e.g. «I need my intimacy when I am changing in my room». «Masturbation is an intimate moment with ourselves»). It can even refer to genitalia (e.g. «Those are my intimate parts»).

What all of these have in common is self-disclosure or lack there of. When we share a part of ourselves with another person we are self-disclosing who we are. There are various types and degrees of intimacy such as emotional, sexual, professional, etc. We can show our naked body, divulge sexual fantasies\dreams\preferences and also share our feelings towards another person. For most people, sexual intimacy is the hardest subject to disclose to someone else. Our sexuality is at the core of our personality as it shows our deepest fears, our strengths and vulnerability to truly demonstrate who we are as a person.

What Intimacy is NOT!

There is a misconception in our society that intimacy is always fun, romantic and loving between partners. This is untrue! The more we get to know our partner, we start realizing that they do not only have good qualities and strengths, but also limits, quirks, vulnerabilities, emotional issues and sexual issues, etc. As much as we would want to believe that we love each and every part of our partner, we don't. Well, not in a long term relationship anyway. In fact, in short-term relationships we can't really know our partner because we haven't been with them long enough. We project and imagine who this person is, without knowing who they truly are in reality.

Over the course of a relationship, people will change as well. We are not static and immobile as people. We think, we evolve and change our minds. We change our minds as a matter of fact quite frequently. Therefore, intimacy is not only sharing a special moment where partners connect on a positive and profound level. It's also getting to know our partner on levels that we don't necessarily appreciate, agree with or that validate our own perception of sex. Intimacy is also telling our partner when sex wasn't that good or that we don't desire them sexually anymore or we don't appreciate the way they touch and seduce us.

Unavoidable Conflicts

It is inevitable that we will find differences in the long run between ourselves and our partner. Sometimes these differences are just annoying; we can also hate them, find them to be a nuisance which interferes with our happiness in the couple and even reconsider if we still want to be with this person. It's impossible to find a partner that we get along with on everything we share together. Our sexual preferences, the type of sex we want, our sexual fantasies, the way we flirt and initiate sex may not align perfectly with our partners sexuality.

This will inevitably bring conflicts in our relationships, which brings us to the choice to go through or avoid it entirely. This is where intimacy comes into play in couples. People who don't have a strong «4 points of balance» will perceive differences as threats to the stability of their couple. Partners will start avoiding self-disclosure to prevent feelings of rejection from the other partner or avoid hurting them.


Other related articles:

Couple’s Communication Issues or Unable to Tolerate Intimacy?

* Inspired by the book Intimacy and Desire from David Schnarch