Stuart: Hi there, and welcome to The Couples Expert Podcast. This is Stuart Fensterheim, The Couples Expert.
Last weekend, we had the Hold Me Tight weekend. I just get so jazzed every time that I do those because couples come in very disconnected, and then when learning about Emotionally Focused Therapy, they find really specific tools and that there clearly is a map to having them feel connected. And these four couples that I worked with this weekend, all day Saturday and Sunday, left feeling like they really understand how important they are to one another. So, any time that anyone out there has an opportunity to do a Hold Me Tight or my Two Days, Seven Conversations weekend, please consider it. It really can make a difference.
Well, today I have on the show someone that I have known only a brief time, but what I’ve learned about Julie is that she is someone who cares a great deal about the couples in her practice and works very hard on being a very real advocate for people that come to see her to really help them feel more in touch with how strongly they feel about one another. Julie is a therapist out of Irvine, California.
One of the things Julie and I have been talking a lot about has to do with couples and date nights, and really doing some rituals, but one of the things that both of us have realized is that couples tend to wait for the weekend to do things because they feel like over the weekends they have more time and more opportunity. But, what we both know and understand is that you don’t have to wait for the weekend in order to have a relationship in which both of you do some fun things together. Because what’s more important than feeling like you and your partner have fun together and that that person in your life is the one that both knows you the best and you have a blast with? Any time the two of you do something together, it’s fun, it is something to look forward to.
So, I wanted to bring Julie on because she is an expert at helping couples really understand the fun that they can create together.
A Little Bit about Julie
But, let me tell you a little bit more about Julie. Julie is a licensed marriage and family therapist, and she really understands relationship distress. She’s an Emotionally Focused Therapist, she uses a structured research-based approach (EFT), and also has some training in another model called Prepare-Enrich, which is really about premarital counseling. She’s always had a commitment, though, and that’s what I know about Julie, to community service.
And she works different than I do. She works much more with a youth population, or an adolescent population, while I focus almost exclusively with couples. She gives workshops for young adults who are transitioning to independent living from foster homes and institutions. That is a really challenging job. I know that from my work on the Gila River Indian Reservation a number of years ago. I worked almost exclusively with adolescents and endangered youth for drop-outs and substance abuse, etc., and that population in foster homes and group homes is a really difficult one.
She’s also, and this is the part that I like in talking about Julie, she’s also a trained cook, and if we could virtually eat some of her food, that would be good on this very sunny day here in Scottsdale. But, I guess we can’t. The other thing is that she’s done Hold Me Tight programs both in California, Hawaii and South Africa, which is pretty cool. When not working, she is with her husband of 35 years and their two adult sons.
And, I want to welcome you, Julie, to The Couples Expert Podcast. Welcome to the show.
Julie: Thank you.
Stuart: So, tell me a little bit about your background and your experience, and a little bit about why you decided to go into counseling in general, and more importantly, working with couples, and whether or not there’s any personal relationship issues that had prompted you to want to work in helping couples to really feel close and connected.
Julie: Great question, because the personal aspect is absolutely why I ended up going into couples’ counseling. This is actually a second career for me. My first degree was in public relations and marketing, and I worked in that field for quite a while. And then, I loved public speaking, I ended up being a corporate trainer because I love having fun and I was all about how to incorporate fun into learning.
Stuart: Oh, that sounds really interesting.
From Corporate to Counseling
Julie: Yeah, it was great, but something happened, and maybe we call it a mid-life crisis, but there was a point when my youngest son was graduating from high school and I felt like I was enjoying all of my volunteer activities more than my real job. And so, I thought, “I need to find something that’s really going to feed my soul, something that I’m passionate about and that I really feel like I’m giving back because I’ve received so much in my life.”
And it took me about two years to figure out what that was, but I thought a lot about my family growing up. It was such a wonderful, tight-knit family. I had seven brothers and sisters, and we’re all very close today. And then, I had a great marriage for, at that point in time it had been 29 years of a wonderful marriage, and I always thought to myself, “I wish more people could experience the joy in their marriage, in their relationship, that I do, and maybe that’s the reason I’ve been given this gift of such an amazing marriage, is to help other people be able to find that too.”
Stuart: What do you think is the thing that gets in the way for people to be able to experience relationships as enjoyable in that way?
Fight or Flight
Julie: Okay, the way that I look at it is, when an issue comes up, they get stuck. They don’t know how to resolve that issue. They don’t know how to be able to turn to each other and be able to work that out. And I think the main reason that that’s so difficult is that our brain is wired for danger, and when we feel danger in the relationship, we have instinctive things that we do, like fight or flight. And so, those instincts get in the way when our brain codes, “My husband’s mad at me,” as danger.
Stuart: So, that danger then has people becoming defensive and not wanting to be around even.
Julie: Right, and people will usually do one of two things. Just like we see in nature, they’ll stand up and fight, or they’ll freeze and flee and just get away from the situation. And about 80% of couples have this dynamic going where one person stands up and fights, and the other sees the situation as dangerous and they withdraw, and that’s part of why they get stuck.
Stuart: And then along with that, as I know we’ve talked about before in this podcast, being that we’ve talked about Emotionally Focused Therapy, is the whole concept of the interpretations that we make about our partners is part of what gets in the way.
Julie: So true. That’s so true.
Stuart: Now how does your background as a corporate trainer, because it sounds like you enjoyed that, but it wasn’t something that you really were passionate about. Is that correct?
Let the Games Begin!
Julie: Exactly. Yeah, exactly, because the content of my training was focused around customer service, and sales and marketing, and when I took my experience and turned it towards couples’ therapy, I decided, “You know what I’m going to do? I’m going to have retreats for couples. I can use all the games and the fun exercises and skills that I used as a corporate trainer to help people learn about how to have a good relationship in a new and different way as a supplement to therapy.”
Stuart: So when you say a new and different way, explain that a little bit because that’s an interesting sort of… When you say “new and different”, what’s different about it?
Julie: What’s different about it is everybody has a different learning style. Well, when you’re sitting in a room in couples’ therapy, that’s for people that have one particular learning style and they’re able to kind of listen, incorporate what they’re hearing, but then there’s the other piece of actually doing it. And we try to do that in couples’ therapy where we have them turn to each other and to be able to talk to each other in a new and different way, but we’re not able to actually give them the educational background because therapy is different than psycho-education. So, in the couples’ retreat, they actually get to be educated on what the latest new research says about the science of love, and then, I have exercises and activities that they actually get to have fun together while reinforcing a certain concept.
Stuart: You know, and that’s interesting because that’s really about what our topic today is about, which is, and I want to sort of get into that, which is, one of the things that, and the reason that I was so excited to do this podcast with you, is because one of the things that I’ve been hearing over and over again in my practice are couples who are coming in, and we talk a lot about rituals and we talk a lot about doing things as a couple, intentionally working on the relationship, and the one overshadowing thing that I hear time and time again is, “This sounds great, Stuart, however, we can’t find a babysitter. Our kids are too young. I have kids that are colicky.” And that, “Being around the house just doesn’t do it for us.” So, they give up on it.
So, when you and I were talking about you coming on the podcast, what you were saying to me was, “You know, I do some things that’s a little bit different. I say, ‘Let’s do it at home and stay at home.’” So I’m really thrilled to hear a little bit about what kinds of things do you recommend to couples, and how does that fit for what you work on in the sessions.
Julie: Great, great question, and you’re absolutely right, the thing that I hear from my couples with kids is that by the time they get the kids in bed, they’re just exhausted. And so, he gets on his iPad and plays electronic poker, and she watches The Real Housewives. Absolutely no…
Stuart: Of Beverly Hills, or what?
Julie: Whichever one, there’s so many versions now.
Stuart: I know.
Julie: Pick a city.
Stuart: New Jersey, New York, Florida…
Julie: That’s right. Pick a city and you’ll find a Real Housewives, right?
Stuart: And I would wonder if they really are real housewives.
Stuart: Anyway, go ahead.
Put It in Your Calendar
Julie: And then, for couples that don’t have children, what I hear from them is, “We both work so hard and there’s so much stress that by the end of the day, we don’t have the mental bandwidth to be able to do anything together as far as going out, going to a restaurant. You know, we just want to sit on our couch and relax.” So, I thought, “We need to be able to find ways that these couples can still connect. Couples with kids, this can happen after the kids go to bed. If you don’t have kids, then these are things that you guys can do at home.” These days, everyone is so busy, if it’s not on the calendar, it’s not going to happen, right?
Julie: So, we have to be intentional about scheduling our night together, where we’re going to do something to connect at least once a week, and it should be done mid-week because we do have that time over the weekend to connect, but you don’t want to have to go another five days before you feel close to your partner again. And you can put it on your calendar, you can call it Chill Night, Romance Night, Hump Day if it’s on a Wednesday, anything you want. Right?
Stuart: Right. So, when you say “scheduling”, I want to be clear about this, are you talking literally scheduling it?
Julie: Yes, I am.
Stuart: Like, putting it, writing it down somewhere?
Julie: I’m saying you block that time out on your calendar.
Stuart: And I think that’s, for a lot of people, part of the roadblock with this, is that they say, “I shouldn’t have to do that.” So, how do you talk to people and really get them to recognize that we are talking about, if we have iPhones or if we have other kinds of, you know, Outlook calendars, we’re talking about actually scheduling by sending an appointment, putting it on your calendar, putting it on your phone, so it shows up with your other appointments? That is what you’re saying, correct?
Julie: That’s exactly, exactly what I’m saying because I feel like anyone who has a crazy schedule knows, if it’s not on the calendar, you’re not going to make time for it. Okay?
Be Prepared For Fun
The other reason that it’s really important to actually put it on the calendar is that you want to plan in advance what you’re going to be doing that night. Otherwise, you know how when it’s really hard to think, you need something that’s already laid out for you? Like, for example, dinner, I usually try to, since I work late three nights a week, I make a couple of casseroles or things that I want for dinner during the weekend, so I get home and it’s there. Right?
Same thing with this date night at home. You want to be able to plan it out in advance, maybe even talk about it over the weekend, “What are we going to be doing this time?” so that now it’s date night, anticipation builds because you know that you’re going to be doing something fun and you know what that is, and then you’re just ready to go.
Stuart: You know, I love that because I know, for me at least, if I’m having a rough day and I look at my week and I see appointment after appointment, and I go, “God, all I have is work!” But, if I had on the calendar where I’m going to go, let’s say, play a round of golf with my wife, I can go, “Wow, I’ve just got to get through these couple of days, and then I get to do this fun thing.”
Stuart: So it makes so much sense to do it that way.
Julie: It does, and I feel like as the pressure is building, Monday, Tuesday, you’re going to tell yourself, “Oh, at least we’ve got this Wednesday night to look forward to. I know that that’s going to be fun.”
Stuart: So, you’re saying to really set time aside during the week, and I know you were saying that earlier.
Julie: On a regular basis. So you pick one time frame, let’s say it’s Wednesday nights from 7:00 to 9:00, and then you put that regular appointment in your calendar.
Stuart: You know, one of the things that I’m hearing, also more frequently, that goes to this is people who are complaining about phones and how they get in the way.
Julie: You’re talking about “phubbing”.
Stuart: Yes, actually. Did you know, I am talking about phubbing, and I haven’t met anyone other than me that’s used this, so this is exciting for me, Julie, that you actually…
Julie: Oh, I found an article on it and I posted it on my Facebook page.
Stuart: Oh, did you?
Julie: Do you want to explain what that is?
Stuart: I think it’s now in the dictionary, they’re saying. Phubbing is snubbing someone with your phone. So, if you’re talking to someone and they’re going on their phone while you’re having a conversation, texting someone else, you’re actually snubbing them, so we call it “phubbing” because it’s a phone.
Julie: Yeah, “p-h”.
Stuart: “p-h”, that’s right. I actually love that word.
Julie: I do, too.
Stuart: I think I’m going to put it in my office somewhere, too.
Julie: I love that word, and again, this is a complaint I also hear when I’m working with couples in my office. And so, what I tell them is, “I would love for the two of you to sit down and create some rules surrounding electronic devices. So let’s talk about, what’s our rule going to be at the dinner table? Okay?”
Well, think about it. If your kids are small and you’re using electronic devices at the dinner table, what about the time now when they’re teenagers and you’re just dying to connect with them because they don’t talk much, and here’s you opportunity at dinner, well, they’re going to use their electronic devices because it’s been okay for years. So, we always had a rule, no electronic devices at the dinner table. They get turned off and they get set off to the side.
The Lost Art of Conversation
Stuart: You know, it’s interesting about that. I was out to dinner with my wife at, I think we were at Flo’s, which is a Chinese place near us, and there was this family, there were about five people. There was Mom, Dad, and three kids. And as my wife and I are talking about some things, I glanced over at this table and every single one, including Mom and Dad, were on their phone texting or doing, and I don’t think, in about the neighborhood of about 10 or 15 minutes, there was one word that got spoken. It was so sad because people really have lost the ability to interact. So, as we’re sitting here talking about having an in-home date night, I think some people struggle with that because they’re so unaccustomed to that interaction.
Julie: I agree. I agree. It’s like, remember that Harry Chapin song, the “Cat’s in the Cradle”, and it was about a guy who used to be gone all the time. “When are you going to play ball with me, Dad?” You know, “Some day, I just don’t have the time.” And then his kid grows up and he’s got kids of his own, and now he wants to connect and the son is just following the same lines. “Not now, Dad, I don’t have time.” That’s going to be the cellphone problem as these children grow up in these homes where the parents are phubbing them, and they’re going to be doing it back. And it’s just, to me, it’s so tragic, that loss of family connection.
Stuart: Yeah, and I’m glad you mentioned that song, although I think it ages us a bit because I don’t know how many people listening may know that. I hope you do. But, one of the things, as you all know, I always include show notes, and that’s why, by the way, you don’t have to worry about taking notes because we’re also going to transcribe this podcast and it’ll be in the show notes. And, in the show notes, I’m going to put a link to that “Cat’s in the Cradle” song because I think it’s a wonderful example of intergenerational issues and, actually, when that song came about, I don’t even know if we had cellphones.
Julie: No, we didn’t.
Stuart: I know, so this is nothing to do with technology, and there is a lot out there now about this, so I’m glad you mentioned it.
So, let’s get back to the couple who finally have made the decision to schedule the time. They find the time, they set up the technology rules, now what do they do?
Find Your Partner and Choose an Activity
Julie: Okay, so I’m going to give you a list of suggestions, and I’m going to start from the strictly platonic fun all the way to the super-sexy fun.
Stuart: Ooh, I like that.
Julie: Okay, because we have a wide range of things that we can do. But, the word playfulness is…
Stuart: And by the way, everyone, just so… I’m sorry for interrupting, Julie.
Stuart: But I want to let everyone know that Julie’s going to give me this list, and you’re going to be able to get this free with some suggestions from her on how to really apply this to your relationship. So, go ahead, Julie.
Julie: Yeah, absolutely. And this conversation is going to be G-rated, too.
Julie: Okay, so think back, what were your favorite games as a kid? Did you love to play Scrabble, Monopoly, Risk, Battleship, Backgammon? Why not sit down and play a game with each other? My husband and I have always done that. We have a running game of Backgammon going, and he’ll be up and then I’ll be up, and then we’ll take turns. And it’s really fun to interact with each other playing a game. Now, a lot of people these days, they don’t even have board games, but you know what the cool thing is? You can find almost every board game in an electronic version.
Julie: For example, I have a Wii, and on the Wii, there’s three different sets of Family Game Night, and they have Yahtzee, Boggle…
Stuart: Oh, really?
Julie: Connect 4. They have Scrabble. Oh, Battleship is a really fun one. So, if you feel like you’re even too tired to sit at the dining room table and play a game, you can still be a lazy couch potato and play a fun game.
Stuart: The game we used to play, and I haven’t heard about it, and truthfully I’m not even sure I can remember how to do it, is Parcheesi.
Julie: Oh, I remember Parcheesi too.
Stuart: Yeah. I mean, all of these, the old games are fun, but there also are a lot of new ones, including video games. And what I mean by that is like watching a little movie and then… I can’t remember the game that was out for a while where you watch clips of movies. Do you remember what that was called?
Julie: I don’t remember that one.
Stuart: Yeah, I’ll have to look that up. I’ll have to look that up and put it in the show notes. But, things like that. So, it doesn’t have to be your normal classic games, is what you’re saying.
Let’s Just Watch the Tube
Julie: Exactly, exactly. And then, speaking of sitting on the couch, just relaxing and watching TV, what about turning on the YouTube on your TV and watching funny videos together, or watching a TED Talk?
Stuart: Mm-hm, ooh.
Julie: If you don’t know about TED Talks, you have to check out TEDtalks.com. They have wonderful short talks. How long are those talks?
Stuart: The TED Talks, I think, tend to be 30 to 45 minutes.
Julie: Okay, and you can even get shorter versions of those, but what about, pick a subject that you guys both find is interesting or something that you wanted to know about, maybe an issue that you’re having within your family, within your kids, and you want to sit down and watch that together.
Stuart: Oh, that’s interesting. So, you’ve got games, and you’ve got sort of lectures that you can find online.
Julie: Yeah. And I have this one couple, they love watching funny animal videos together, and they just sit there and laugh and laugh and laugh.
Julie: And so, you know, what a great way to spend time with your partner, just sitting there laughing.
Stuart: Which then brings to me, when I’m starting to think about things that people can do, is playing with their animals.
Julie: Yeah, absolutely.
Stuart: I mean, I’m a real dog person, as most people know, and just throwing the ball, you know, and having him chase it, and wrestling with the dog, all those kinds of things work.
Julie: Yes, absolutely, because all of those feel-good activities actually release serotonin and dopamine in our brain. That’s the feel-good hormone, and it’s kind of like taking an anti-depressant or mood enhancer.
Stuart: Oh, that’s cool. So, what other kind of activities do you recommend for folks?
Coupons with a Twist
Julie: I would also recommend giving your partner a coupon book of love coupons. And if you go on your computer and Google “love coupons”, there’s five or six different websites where you can just go on there and you can print them out, and you cut them up and put them into, you know, you can tie them together with a ribbon, and everything on there is free. It doesn’t cost anything.
And that’s one thing I really kind of want to focus on today because I know that in this economy a lot of people are struggling too. You don’t have to go out and spend a lot of money in order to have fun with your partner, in order to connect. So, you make up this little booklet of love coupons, and then on Wednesday night, your partner gets to redeem a coupon, or maybe your partner will say, “Actually, I’m going to let you redeem this coupon.”
Stuart: Now, these love coupons, are they intimate love coupons?
Julie: There’s a variety. Some of them, yeah. There’s a variety. I mean, for example, it may be “One Back Rub” or “A Foot Rub”. Yeah, there’s a wide variety of them and you can choose whichever ones that you think would be good for you and your partner, or they also have some that are blank and you can write in whatever you would like.
Open Your Mouth and Close Your Eyes…
Julie: Okay, so now here’s another one that’s really fun, and it’s a tasting contest. And we talked about eating dinner together as a family, well, when our boys were still at home, (right now my sons are 26 and 28), every Sunday night was family game night. And so, we would all cook dinner together, everyone had to make one part of the meal, we would all do the dishes together, and then we would either play a game or a lot of times we would do a tasting contest. And you can do that just with the two of you. And you can taste different wines, cheeses, beers, chocolates, jelly beans. One time we even tasted different brands of drinking water to see which one we liked best.
And how you do the contest is, it’s going to be kind of a blind taste test for one person, and the other one sets it up, where they number the cups or number the different samples, and the other one tries to guess which one it is, but then both of you rank in priority, “What is our favorite? Which one do we like best?”
Stuart: So this is, you blindfold the person that’s tasting so they don’t get to see it, and then they’re supposed to tell you which is better, or is it that they’re supposed to guess what it is?
Julie: We don’t actually blindfold the person. What we do is when we give the samples, we take, like if it’s a beverage, you put all of them in paper cups and you just number the paper cups or you write whatever it is on the bottom of the paper cup so that they can’t see that.
Stuart: But what I like, actually, which is where I was going, I guess, as I’m thinking about this, is the blindfold because so many people say, “You know, I really like this better, this brand better, this…” whatever it is, and a lot of times I hear the partner say, “No, you couldn’t tell the difference if I put the two back to back,” and they just go, “Oh, yes I can!” So, if you blind them, you can test those things out.
Julie: Yeah, exactly.
Stuart: You know?
Julie: Exactly. My sister-in-law, speaking of that, is amazing. She told us that she could identify any brand of gin, and we didn’t believe her, of course. She’s from Seattle, and so she came down to visit with my brother, and so we bought five different types of gin, put them in paper cups and labelled them, and she was able to identify all five of them!
Stuart: Really? By brand?
Julie: By brand, exactly!
Stuart: Oh, my gosh.
Julie: By brand.
Stuart: That’s interesting.
Julie: That’s pretty amazing, huh?
Julie: So, going back to some other ideas, another thing that you could do is, “Let’s take time and let’s each write out our fantasies of the perfect date night, from start to finish, and really get creative and really use your imagination, and then we give those to each other.” Because sometimes it’s really hard when you’re trying to plan and you’re not sure exactly what it is that your partner really would be excited about.
Stuart: You know, that’s interesting you say that because my wife and I met on eHarmony, and one of the things that drew me to her is because eHarmony had everyone filling out questionnaires, and one of the things that they asked was, “Describe your perfect date. Describe how you would make your partner feel really important on a date.” And her description is what had me contacting her, that description of that date.
Stuart: And now, you know, years later, we’ve been married and very happy, and if it wasn’t for that description, who knows?
Julie: I love it! That is great.
Stuart: Because that would be another fun one, maybe, is writing like a Want ad for, if you were sort of describing like your best vacation or what the two of you would feel like the best activity would be and what it would be, and just going through all different things.
Stuart: Not another person. Let’s be clear about that, I’m not talking about that.
Julie: Right, right, exactly. That brings up a really good point, is I have had couples where one person feels like they’re “the planner” and the other partner, “Aw, I’m not really good at planning things. I’m not really good at organizing things,” and that makes the planner person kind of feel like maybe they’re not cared about because it would mean a lot to them if they felt like this person would step out of their comfort zone and plan activities. So, what I advise couples, when they’re setting up this regular weekly ritual of connecting, is that you alternate for who’s in charge of the planning, who’s in charge of the organizing. So, he one week, she one week.
Stuart: So one person actually organizes the whole night.
Julie: Exactly. One person is responsible, because when we don’t know whose job it is, it’s nobody’s job, right?
Stuart: Right. Sometimes, though, couples really do have conflicts around that and if someone says, “Well, I have no ideas.” “Oh, it’s your job to do that. I’m not going to help you.” We’re not really talking about being rigid with this.
Julie: Yeah, not at all.
Stuart: We’re saying, helping people feel like they’re being nurtured.
Julie: Exactly, and that’s why sitting down and writing out some lists and then handing that to each other is really going to help that because the reason that he may not do it is because he doesn’t know. There’s too much pressure or there’s too much stress there to get this right and to do something that she’s really going to like, and so he gets overwhelmed. So, by exchanging these lists of things that you each enjoy, and again, as you go two, three months of doing this on a regular basis, you’re going to know what’s really fun and what the other person and what you both enjoy, and which ones were hits and which ones were misses.
Sometimes it’s Hard to Play Nice
Stuart: I guess one of the questions, though, that comes up for me, though, is, because I see sometimes people have good intentions, they do an activity in the house or even out of the house, and in the course of doing it, they get triggered. And how should couples handle that if they’re in the home and they’re doing a taste test or they’re doing an activity, playing a board game, and then all of a sudden, there’s all this emotion that comes.
Julie: Right, okay.
Stuart: What advice do you give to couples?
Julie: Yeah. What I would suggest is that you say, “You know what? I’m getting triggered, I need a time-out.” And then, whatever it is that you need to do when you get overwhelmed, some people go outside and get some fresh air and calm down, maybe listening to music, whatever that is, and then make sure then you come back and connect with your partner and say, “You know, this is what happened for me. I got triggered when this happened.” And, again, hopefully it’s the having this regular connection is going to create a sense of safety for you. The reason I feel like people get triggered is because they don’t feel safe.
Stuart: Right, and I think one of the things to keep in mind, also, as you and I who both do Hold Me Tight programs, one of the things to remind people that one of the best things to do when you get triggered is to think about your cycle and to begin to have some of those conversations that we learn in the Hold Me Tight program, of how to really begin to have the couple, as a couple, see it the same way of what occurred, and then work toward being vulnerable and interpreting the behavior in a very different kind of way.
Julie: Absolutely true. So, if you’re getting triggered and not knowing what to do about it, that’s when you need a program like Hold Me Tight because that’s exactly what we show you how to do and we help you understand why you’re getting triggered and how to get out of that negative cycle.
Stuart: So what about reading? Is reading together a helpful activity?
Julie: Yeah, I think that reading together, you’re sitting side by side, reading a book, is still companionship. You’re next to each other, and it’s that physical closeness that we don’t get during the day.
The Importance of Human Contact
And so, I also, I want to talk about physicality because this is something that I also hear from couples, is that they’re not holding hands on a regular basis, they don’t sit next to each other and snuggle on the couch and lean your head on each other’s shoulder, or even when they go to bed at night, they’re not holding each other for a couple of nights before they go to sleep. I mean, a couple of…
Stuart: Couple of minutes. I think you meant a couple of minutes.
Julie: Yeah, a couple of minutes before they go to sleep, so they’re not having that physical touch. And you have to remember, when you were upset as a child, you would go to your mom so that you could be held and your back could be stroked, and she could say, “It’s okay, everything’s going to be all right.” We still need that level of physical touch and that comfort and that soothing. And if your relationship, if you’ve drifted apart to the point that you’re not touching each other except for sex, that’s not good. That’s not good because that’s when I start to hear from one partner, “Well, he only touches me when he wants sex.” And then I hear from the other partner, “It’s hard for me to touch her because we haven’t had sex.” So, we get into all sorts of problems when we’re not touching each other on a regular basis.
Stuart: The other part that I’ve been seeing a little bit of lately is couples who do a great job with touching, a great job with affection, but haven’t had intimate touch in a very long time because, perhaps, in their relationship they were struggling for a while, now it’s better, but returning to being sexual with one another just is something that they’ve shut that down, they’ve numbed themselves out. And sometimes, speaking of scheduling and being intentional, sometimes you have to be intentional to have an intimate experience, and it sounds like with your love coupons and things like that, this could also be a time that you’re not calling it, “We’re scheduling our sexual relations,” but, “We’re scheduling a time where it’s conducive for it.”
Julie: Yeah, exactly.
Stuart: And books that could help people with that might be something that they have to do, or Masters and Johnson’s kind of programs with a sensate focus, this would be a really good time, when we talk about massage and touching, and just really allowing yourself to just open up to one another in all ways.
Julie: I agree. One complaint that I hear is when couples that have a baby and getting back into sex after having the baby. I had one lady that said that she felt like she was ready and she was wanting it, but he was not making any advances and she wasn’t used to being the initiating partner, so she didn’t say anything. In the meantime, she felt that he was no longer interested in her body.
Julie: And so, this is where I have to say, in the Hold Me Tight program, we actually have a conversation about sex. We talk about, what are my bridges to desire. Like, if I get my back scratched, that’s my bridge to desire. Having these talks about each other and one of the questions in that conversation is, “If you could describe the ideal sexual partner for you, what would that person do and be and look like?” So, opening up that topic of our sex life is something that’s very intimidating for people.
Stuart: Well, I want to just thank you very much for coming on The Couples Expert Podcast, Julie, because I think this is something that people talk a lot about, but I don’t think they get specific on. They say, you know, “You should do things, you should go have a date night, you could stay in the house and do a lot of things,” but they don’t break it down the way that you just did, and I think this is going to help so many couples because not only do they have permission to do these things at home, they also now know what to do.
And before we end, though, one of the questions I’d like to ask you is, as you’ve been doing this work and learning both about your clients and, obviously, as counselors we also learn about ourselves, what have you learned about you and play that might have surprised you?
Julie: About play?
Stuart: About play or about just you, being a marriage counselor, where you found that you learned something about yourself.
Julie: Well, I’ll use the play thing. I feel like I’m very attracted to my husband when he’s playful. And so, I get to see another side of him. He’s not the businessman, he’s not the father, he’s not the community leader, he is just being a kid, and when he’s a kid and I get to be a kid too, that’s magical.
Stuart: You know, that’s wonderful because it really is when the connection isn’t just about talking emotionally, like a lot of people think, it’s really about experiencing each other as really there. And what’s more wonderful than having a partner that you feel like you could just play with?
Stuart: So, thank you again, Julie, for coming on and I really appreciate it. And we’ll see you all next time, guys.
Julie: Okay, thanks, Stuart.
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