Thank you all for being here! We are here with our 2023, or some of our 2023 Expert Panelists. HER Health Collective hosts four roundtables each year. This is our second roundtable of 2023. When we put together these roundtables, it is our effort to bring together our experts and dive deep into topics that matter to moms the most.
We love our round tables. And our community has said that they also love them. So they’re very well listened to podcast episodes. We also share them on our website.
Each of the experts that are represented in our Roundtables have different professional backgrounds and specialties. That’s what makes this so unique. When they come together and discuss women’s health, you can expect to get different perspectives based on their area of focus. This is also a time for the experts to collaborate with professionals from other industries in order to create a more holistic model of care for women.
Our goal at HER Health Collective, is to expand not only the experts referral network, but to emphasize the importance of collaborative health care.
So we’re really excited to welcome all of the individuals that are here today. We’re going to let them introduce themselves in just a moment. Our roundtable today is a discussion on how to keep a marriage or long term relationship intimate and strong when the current statistics are stacked against us.
We’re going to take a few moments now to go ahead and have our experts that are represented here at this roundtable, introduce themselves. This is an opportunity for them to share what their expertise is, and for our listeners to have a better idea of who’s speaking during the upcoming conversation.
I’m just gonna go ahead across my screen, so stay on your toes, because you probably won’t know when I’m going to ask you to speak. The first person on my screen is Jessica. And for Jessica, it’s very early. She’s from California. So I’m going to have her snap awake. Hey, Jessica!
Hi, good morning, everybody. I’m so glad to be here. I am Jessica Shields. I am a licensed educational psychologist here in California, also a school psychologist. And I love working with parents, educating them on how to navigate those, the school system, to better support their child, especially if your child has a learning disability, or even is struggling with with self esteem or self confidence.
So that’s my area of expertise with my experience of 20 plus years and education. So I’m happy to be here. And also I just want to say I am happily married for 21 and a half years. Can you believe that?
Yay. That’s so great. I love hearing that. That’s wonderful. And your background will be very important to this conversation, especially because raising neurodiverse children can impact a marriage. So we’d love to hear from that perspective. So thanks, Jessica.
Veronica, can you jump on?
Yes. Good morning, everyone. This is Veronica Kemeny. I’m a licensed clinical social worker here in North Carolina. I am one of the founders of Anchor Perinatal Wellness, which is based in Raleigh.
We are a mental health facility that has free walk-in screenings for moms who are struggling with mood symptoms. We have outpatient therapy, and we have what is called an intensive outpatient therapy program. For folks who are needing more stabilization of their mental health symptoms.
We are really excited to be a part of this panel and to be a part of solving and creating systems of care for moms who are struggling with mood symptoms, which are really common during this period of time. So that is a little bit about me. And I’m looking forward to bringing my experience personal and professional into this conversation. So thank you for having me.
Thanks, Veronica. And might we add Veronica is newly married, but she has worked with tons of different clients and she understands how mental health can impact relationships.
I’ve gone through a divorce, single parenthood and now newly married, so I sort of have lots of different perspectives on this topic.
Thanks Veronica. We’re excited to have you here. Thank you!
Erin, I’m gonna pop down to you.
Hi, I’m Erin Baute. I am a behavior and business strategist. And I use the power of personality to help folks make lasting behavior change. But I am really excited about this conversation because I started out my career within the context of community behavior change under the guise of women’s sexual health.
So I spent the first 10 years of my career as a certified health educator and women’s sexual health educator. So it was really fun preparing for this talk to dig into some of my what felt like old passions that are very, very still alive.
And Erin just endured an enormous move across the country. So that’s hard on a relationship.
We actually moved from the US to Canada. So we’ve got, you know, the challenges there and then we moved to Quebec. So we are now in a French speaking Province, which adds a whole other layer.
We have two kiddos, one is neurodivergent, and one is neurotypical. So there’s a plethora of things that have stretched my own marriage. Jessica, congratulations on 21 years, we’re hitting 10, our 10 year anniversary so I might be hitting you up for some advice.
Thanks, Erin, so much.
My name is Kirsten Spurrier, and I’m the owner of the Perinatal Pelvis in Hillsborough, North Carolina, where I provide pelvic floor and maternal wellness services, and really working with new moms mostly with trying to get them strong, competent and functional in their bodies, and having the motherhood that they desire.
So, so important. We need to have that confidence to have strong relationships with others. We really appreciate your input.
Yes, thank you! Maris.
Hi. Hello. Thanks so much for having me this morning. I’m Maris Feeley. I am a full spectrum doula co owner and director of Carolina Birth and Wellness, which is a holistic Resource Center supporting families that every step of their reproductive health journey so it’s wonderful to witness and hold space for families, whether they are having a fertility journey, expecting a little one, immediately postpartum or just looking at growing their family more into the future.
I myself am only a dog mom at the time that I’ve been with my now husband for 12 years, some total five years married. And we met at summer camp at 16. So it’s definitely been an evolution and a journey.
You’ve grown together! That’s amazing! You must have so many different perspectives, lots of different advice. So I’m excited to hear what you have to say getting together at 16. That’s awesome.
I’m looking forward to today’s conversation.
Katherine. Good to see you!
Hi. Good to see you. I’m Katherine Andrew. I’m a registered dietitian out of Raleigh, North Carolina, although I see clients all over the country. And I focus in digestion and hormone health, which obviously both affect marriage and relationships.
I have been very happily married for 18 years now and have three kids.
You’re one more than me. We just had our seventh. So yeah, oh gosh! 2006. I’m not doing the math right, right now.
Admittedly, I had to think about it. I’m 2005. So you’re right.
I do adore my husband. Just don’t tell him that I didn’t remember how long we were married.
Alright, I’m going to turn it over to Crissy now.
Thank you, Cindi. We’re gonna just go ahead and dive right in. According to the American Psychological Association, approximately 40 to 50% of first marriages end in divorce, the divorce rate for second marriages is actually even higher, with approximately 60 to 67% of second marriages ending in divorce.
Yet as I was diving through these numbers, I realized that they don’t really do it. Justice. They don’t do this question justice, for example, statistics from 2023. And obviously COVID. And the pandemic kind of played a role in all of this. But we see that the rate of divorce is actually going down, which is wonderful. However, we also note that the rate of marriage is declining even more rapidly. So some people are just deciding not to get married, which obviously would impact the number of divorces that we are seeing.
According to the US Census Bureau, the average time a couple is married before getting divorced is eight years. And at first I was like that’s much longer than I thought. But then I remember hearing about the seven year itch or something along those lines. And it made me think, oh, maybe that doesn’t make sense.
Without question. Being with the same person for a long time is filled with a host of very unique challenges. We would love to dive in and hear from our expert panelists, what are the most common relationship struggles you see with clients, patients, or even just among your own circle of friends?
And as we’re diving into that, I’d love to kind of think about what are some of the contributing factors that make not just divorce, but also dissatisfaction in long term relationships so prevalent because not every dissatisfied relationship ends in divorce. Sometimes people just sit and marinate in that dissatisfaction and kind of stay there. So we would love to hear from our panelists on that topic.
I would say what I see as a pelvic floor therapist is painful sex and how that impacts one’s confidence in themselves, and then their relationship with their partner. And how it’s such a big role of our humanity of being able to have sex and have that feel comfortable for them.
And so, really after childbirth, I see a lot of moms that become not so okay with that part of their life and working with them to really have more ownership of their sexual life, but also getting it to feel more comfortable for them.
Hi, this is Veronica Kemeny, I’ll chime in and piggyback. I’m trying to think of how far back I’ve heard this. But I had heard that the major conflicts in marriage tend to be sex, money and kids. So definitely just like Kyrsten was bringing up. And so I think that is really the big three that I see a lot, you know, financial challenges with the economy over the last couple of years, COVID, Parenting challenges, sex and intimacy as Kyrsten brought up and then if there are children in the family and co-parenting challenges, that’s my specialty, as a mental health practitioners working with folks who are pregnant postpartum, attempting to conceive, grappling with loss, and I would say, nuances in their marriage and how things shift and evolve in terms of the why.
I also think there’s a lot less social support around families. Lots of folks are very transient and following, you know, better quality of life, including a better job. And so there’s a lot of pressure, emotionally, financially, and socially on the marriage. And so having more isolation, I think, in marriages, where folks have less friendships, less family support, where they are getting their emotional needs met from a variety of people, that’s putting a lot of pressure on marriages. So that’s one thing I definitely notice.
And I’m constantly supporting families as they navigate those, you know, pretty normal and difficult challenges of being a family and maintaining a marriage.
I just wanted to chime in a little bit on what you just said, Veronica, in terms of adding to that, the pressures of social media and the perfection and the pictures of perfection that we get.
I obviously see it with food and eating. And this idea that we should have perfect meals and be able to cook them from scratch at all times, and the right macronutrients and all of these things that we’re all led to believe.
But I do feel like there’s just so many layers on a marriage on top of a marriage, and that we have too many things on our plate. So I see a lot of women that are just exhausted, trying to keep up with, you know, that idea of perfection and have no time quite frankly, to have sex with their husband or enjoy time alone. And don’t prioritize that time because they’ve they’ve got to get a kid to six different practices or you name it, what else is going on in their lives tends to take priority over the value of just time with a spouse or a partner in a relationship that seems to get sort of pushed down in a lot of those lists for people that I work with.
I like exactly what you said, Katherine, as I think about some of the actual counseling, we’ve done. Marriage, couples or premarital couples counseling through our church. But one thing that we always say, and it goes right in line with what you just mentioned, is it’s important to be intentional in spending time like you have to be intentional, you have to set aside time for just you and your spouse to date, constantly dating each other.
Throughout your marriage, we have 21 and a half years under us. And we’re looking forward to 20 more, right? Me, my husband and I, but putting aside time to be intentional, and carve out that time because we have four kids, there’s no excuse, and we have one child with a disability.
So when you start to be more intentional about those things, then that’s where you can put your focus. And then I will also add good communication, and being open, being able and ready to listen, and keeping those communication lines open.
I think that that advice is so important, Jessica around dating your spouse and being communicative. Because I think one of the most common struggles is that at the end of the day, you’re not the same person. We change and we grow and evolve.
And like the fact that a lot of couples are married for eight years before getting divorced doesn’t surprise me because if you think about it, it’s about you know, four to eight years is this timeline in which we’re evolving and changing and we step into new roles, or we take on new jobs or you know, children grow up or change phases or you grow a family.
And so, I think when you’re getting married, a big difference in my mind between even just dating married to is that you’re making a commitment to not just love your spouse’s current self and for them to love you but you’re also kind of signing up for all their future selves, right and to dating them into figuring who out Who you all are in five years, 10 years, 20 years, and to try and love each other and choose each other through that.
And so I think a big thing we see, and I think why Parenthood in particular is so prevalent to this or can exacerbate a lot of those issues. If you’re not really intentional, but it’s this huge change, right of who you are now as a parent, and with a whole other person or people in your home to take care of, and how that recommends your own individual identity and your identity as couples.
And I think that’s something that we see a lot with families, wherever they’re at in their journey, like Who are we going through a fertility journey? Who are we, you know, welcoming a little one into the world who are we six months postpartum, a year postpartum, five years postpartum, and needing to figure that out, over and over and over again, not only for yourself, but together. So I think that’s a really big part of this, too.
I echo lots of what folks are saying, and this is an area I’m really passionate about in my work, because we recognize in our sort of basic human neurobiology that we are communal people. We look to relationships, to heal and grow and find security and safety, right, like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, like, you know, I’m looking for that, that sort of safety, my physiological needs are met. So you know, belonging, all of that. And yet, it’s with people that we learn to sort of polish our rough edges.
And I love Gottman and his research around relationships, because he points out that 69% of the problems that we face in relationships with other people are unsolvable. Right? Like who I am, is inherent. And it is nature, nurture, it is nervous system related, it’s emotional regulation, it’s my level of self awareness and consciousness, you know, not to mention the societal context that are put over top of it.
And so in a lot of ways, we as individuals are incredibly underdeveloped in our skills to navigate the complexity of rubbing off our rough edges with other people. And so like, in my world, it’s nervous system work, its somatic, its emotional regulation, therapy, its self awareness, and consciousness and mindset work. It requires all of that to have language to be even able to set boundaries and say our needs, right. And so it’s really complex, to do life well with people. And I think we sort of enter into these institutions by marriage or partnership, or whatever you decide with lacking skills. And then the sort of heaviness of society puts the pressure back on us of Oh, it must be me.
And so I love that we’re having conversations with such a diverse group of people, because this bleeds into everything.
Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for that. Erin. I’m really glad you shared that statistic, too. We had talked about that the other day. I love what Veronica brought up about sex, money, kids being the top reasons for dissatisfaction and divorce. In these long term relationships, obviously we know, sex and money.
I would love to dive into the kids, though. Because Mama Needs a Moment. It’s mostly parents that are listening to this. And kids are wonderful, beautiful beings, a blessing in our lives. But dang, they’re hard. I’m thinking of the new mom phase, the new dad phase, the new parent phase, where we’re bringing a newborn home, I’m thinking about the toddler phase, I’m thinking about the teen tween phase, thinking about when they move out of the house, and you’re still anxious about everything. I haven’t experienced that. But I know it’s coming. So we know that this is just a constant, it’s a constant source of pressure in our lives. How do we navigate that? How do we make this relationship that we’ve chosen, we picked this partner to spend our life with, and we’ve made this conscious decision to be a team. And yet when we throw these other people into our equation, it changes us and it changes our relationship.
How do we still, I know we mentioned a date night, but beyond that, how do we continue to like one another, as people when we’re both sleep deprived, barely eating in the muck of everything.
Going through a journey together, should bring you closer and I’ll just speak from my experience with four kids. It was always important. First of all, my husband understood his role.
When we first brought that first child home. He was very supportive. So having the mindset that you’re already you know, you’re going to be experiencing something new together, and that you’re there to support one another and being of the same mindset that’s so important.
Also, I think it’s important that, you know, as you are parenting, one thing that we do that has worked well is when the kids are having their struggles, we’ll say their struggles, right? We talk to each other first, before we do a discipline plan, or before we bring the child in with a particular issue. But we talk first about, okay, this is what’s upsetting me, this is how I want to handle it. But I need your input.
Sometimes in the moment, we have a son who is six years old, he has a communication delay and some behavioral difficulties. So it’s hard because he can’t communicate his needs. So he might have a tantrum. And so when my husband feels overwhelmed, he’ll just say, I need your help. And I know what that means.
So we already have established a communication system. And we support each other in that discipline. Again, we talk about, okay, this is the problem, this is how I’m feeling about it. This is what I want to do, you know, and we have a conversation before we take some type of action in, you know, rearing our children. So we always talk, we’re constantly talking and communicating, so that we’re on the same page, and we’re not going to be pitted against each other by our kids. Because we already have established communication, and we already have a game plan.
And my kids will always say, Dad, why are you always taking mom’s side, you know. And that’s good, because they see that we’re on the same page, so that we can parent together, when we can have those conversations that ultimately let the kids know that look, we’re both going to have the same response to whatever’s happening.
It’s harder when you’re co parenting. But I know we have someone here on the line, who’s the expert in that. But that’s from our perspective, from what I’ve experienced. That works.
I wanted to jump in and add to what Maris said before about like, we change and and I think there’s this value of constantly reevaluating where we spend our time versus our priorities.
I think we decide that way early on in life. And then we don’t have enough margins in our days or time with our husbands back to that concept of like reevaluating, like are we spending too much time driving to soccer is this really more valuable to us than this other thing that we don’t get time for?
So I think it’s creating the space, not just having it but making the space and the time to communicate like you’re talking about Jessica and to have the conversations around like maybe we’re doing more than what really aligns with what matters to us, even though our neighbors are doing it. And they seem to be doing just fine with all of this is that going to work in our life right now.
I’ll go with something I see a lot with our client base and that studies back this up. In heterosexual relationships, women are often referred to as kind of the household managers.
So even if sometimes, you know, there’s a perception or they feel to like my husband is a very equal partner, women often carry the moms carry the mental load of caring for everyone in the household. And I think that can really put a strain over time on marriages. Because sometimes I think it’s just quite frankly, easier for mom to just do it herself rather than to like, show her husband like where this is, you know, this is the schedule, this is the time like it’s just easier to just do it. But over time, that gap of moms time being done on the lunches and the school pickup and the looking to summer camps. And like that creates this gap and space. I think within a partnership between parents.
There is a New York Times article at the height of COVID-19 that talked about how women were just dropping out of the workforce moms are dropping out of the workforce in droves because that juggling caring for their children in the home. And juggling their job while there has been also worked from home was just creating too much of a strain. And so what had to go was mom’s priorities. And I think setting expectations and having really frank conversations.
A good friend of mine, before they welcomed their second child, sat down and had a whole conversation with her husband of like, here’s how I need you to do this, this in this drawing first. Here’s how like, we’re going to set this dynamic, you know, sneaky, slippery slope.
I think to kind of just end up in and being really intentional with that communication that Jessica talked about, and like, how are we spending time? How am I spending my time, like Katherine talked about and like, really sitting down and looking at the emotional labor, the physical labor that goes into having a family and who’s bearing the weight of that and how is that creating space or strain on your part.
yeah, marriage, that’s a really important conversation because there’s this really large component of justice and equity in whether it’s heteronormative relationships. But we see it in research around same sex couples that there is somebody who takes on the emotional labor of a relationship, right, we fall into some of these norms. And that sort of unseen emotional labor carries into our roles and other places.
I definitely saw it in corporate settings where the female CEOs are still planning the anniversary celebrations and the birthdays and the luncheons, where their male counterparts aren’t even thinking or questioning that these are things that we do around employee engagement.
And so someone mentioned in the comments about fair play, there’s a resource that I will find, and I will link that even goes further than fairplay about some of the oppressive aspects of emotional labor that impact our communities even deeper, that I think is helpful to look at for parents.
But it is, I think, a really important conversation that’s broader than us as individuals.
I just wanted to add to that, I feel like as moms, we sometimes have a hard time letting go and giving responsibility to our partner. And so finding ways that we can still even off way some of that burden.
There’s sometimes the responsibility of kind of who runs the household to like, give up so that your children have some experience or have experiences with your partner and that you aren’t always doing everything.
We have this in my house, like my husband takes a full day of the week, and like, does all their care for the day. And it’s like, That’s Daddy Day. And so having our boys get used to Okay, daddy can do just the same things as Mommy can do. It has been a good transition for us because it was getting to the point that I had more responsibility in our daily lives, like you guys were saying, but then my boys were also getting used to that, and then demanding that I would do everything instead of my husband doing it.
So finding ways that you offset that as a mom and be like, No, that it can also do it or my partner can also do it. So just an idea that has worked for us to make our kids be okay with both parents doing both things.
Great suggestions! Everyone had really wonderful things to say for that. Thank you so much.
Something that, I think Maris said earlier was when you agree to marry somebody, you don’t only marry their current self, but who they’re going to be in the future. And I felt that was very poignant. It reminded me of a common vow that’s stated when individuals choose to enter the Union of marriage, which is, “for better or worse, in sickness and in health.” The vow has vastly changed in meaning over the past 100 years.
So I’d like to shift us a little bit and discuss how the institution of marriage and its meaning has shifted over the years. And what comes to mind for you, as noticeable differences. With the divorce rate being so high and the quote unquote, rise in cohabitation versus marriage increasing over the years, people can be quick to overlook the benefits of marriage. So what are the benefits? What are your top three daily practices for maintaining a strong union with your partner?
So we’re going to talk about the shift over the past 100 years benefits of marriage and what your daily practices are.
This is Veronica, I would say. And I would actually widen and I mean, I think there’s the institution of marriage from the legal standpoint, from a religious standpoint. You know, I think some of the questions might also be long term partnership, right, because I think we’ve been talking a lot about how a lot of these challenges are just as common within long term partnership and commitment.
So I think if it is aligned with your values, to have a long term partnership, whether that be within or outside of marriage, that is then aligned with satisfaction for you, as a person as a human, that connection. As Erin was bringing up in terms of our desire to feel connected, and whether that is a priority for you, then that will be fulfilling.
And I think one of the benefits of commitment is that it will help you navigate those ups and downs, right? Because if we just focus on the comfort or discomfort of the moment, it’s very easy to bow out. And so really thinking about that zooming out and being really intentional about what do I want out of my life what I want out of this relationship and really not just making these decisions based on the ups and downs, but really zooming out and saying overall, is this fulfilling what I want for my life and its relationship. So I think that’s very important to consider.
And again, I think, you know, commitment can happen, inside or outside of marriage. And if that is a priority for a person, I think living aligned with those values by making that commitment is going to create fulfillment. And obviously, some challenges but challenges in a good way in terms of growth.
I think piggybacking off of that, while what I’m about to say might sound upfront, a little bit depressing, hear me out. Marriage is so much more of a choice, now. 50 years ago, like a woman couldn’t hold a credit card in her own name.
With us, marriage used to be kind of a very logistical functional, I need to move out of my parents house, and I want to buy myself something and I need protection. And now with, you know, ever increasing equity between, you know, women with having more open, like queer relationships with having greater visibility, like economic equity, and just rights really, you know, I think we’re seeing that marriage is a choice to that commitment, like Veronica was saying, it’s that I love you and I want to be with you, I don’t have to be with you, because my bank account or my, like, individual rights will suffer without you.
And I think that we’re seeing more and more just like rights afforded to parents, even if they’re co parenting and not necessarily married. I mean, in Europe, in many European countries, it’s actually very much more common to create whole families and have whole lives together without ever getting legally married, or, you know, years on getting legally married. And a lot of that has to do with economic and like legal status and rights.
So I think in a way, it is a really positive news that people are much more intentional, and they’re taking their time, I think for sure to make that choice. But they are then going into it much more sure. And I think much more committed and working on themselves individually as well before hopping into, you know, marriage is no longer the default, check the box, it’s just what we do when you hit a certain age status. And I find that really beautiful, personally.
I like what everyone has already shared. And you know, when you ask the question, what are your top three daily practices for maintaining a strong union, for me, and for my husband, one thing that we do pretty consistently is every morning before we depart, we pray together. So that’s one, that’s the first thing we do.
At the end of the day, we always say, Okay, what was the highlight of your day, I know, some people like to do the roses and thorns, highlight, maybe something didn’t go right. But we just decided to focus on the good.
And then, throughout the day, we always communicate because, again, we have to communicate for our child who has a disability. And, and sometimes we get, we have a lot of therapists in our home sometimes. So it’s so important, it’s very critical for us to communicate, especially if I need to stay at work a little bit later, do something else, you know, just to support family, whatever, we always communicate, is this going to be okay, you know, are you going to be okay, picking up? Or, you know, do I need to pick up because we’re constantly communicating, so that we’re always on the same page.
So I would say those are our three daily practices. And that’s what keeps us strong.
Those are great, I’m gonna have to borrow some of those. That was a beautiful question. And I was surprised at what came up as the three practices for me.
And I think the first thing is maintaining a sense of awe around my partner. He’s an incredible human being, and I can lose sight of that in the daily grind of parenting and life. And so I think that sense of awe holds both of our humanity.
I think, being curious about what agitates me about him or with him, keeps me out of a judgment free zone and projecting my own stuff.
And then I think gratitude is really important. Something we practice as a family as well, every night at dinner, everybody shares their three things from the day. And I think that’s a really beautiful way to be sort of grounded in this specific daily joys.
But like, Jessica, I have a neuro diverse kiddo who makes life really challenging. And so it’s not sugar coated, or all sunshine and rainbows, but it’s those things that I think keep my feet on the ground when it feels like we’re sort of getting hit with a hurricane.
Yeah, to add to this, another thing I’m thinking about is, you know, going back to conversations around the mental load, and you know, just all of the demands. I mean, there’s so many structural things at play that I think both Erin and Maris have talked about. Really thinking about here in the US there’s very little financial and social support from a larger institution of government. So there’s a lot on families.
One of the things I’ve noticed with my clients who are feeling most connected in their partnerships is that it is not just their responsibility to get their needs met, but actually it is their partner’s monitoring of is my partner getting their needs met. So thinking about the things that make us us are really important as well, right?
We’ve talked about date nights, and we’ve talked about connection. And there’s so many things that need to be tended to, but things that just make us us individually, we are less likely to feel resentful towards our marriages, including even something like a date night when you’re like, I’m touched out and I haven’t done this thing that makes me feel alive. So really thinking about the clients who I feel like are really feeling connected are often saying, I love that my, you know, partner reminds me, hey, you haven’t, you know, go for that run today, you really need that, like, I’ve got it right, watching out for each other’s individual needs is also such a way to feel beautifully connected and supported, which then I think makes you feel more willing and more connected to your partner.
So that sort of really important piece that for a lot of my clients when they’ve figured that out and made a bit of a transition concretely for some of my client that looks like Okay, on a Saturday morning, you partner one, you’ve got a few hours and I’m holding down the floor and on a Sunday morning, you know, we swap. So even thinking about it’s a family value of that. Parents get their alone time and then they come back. And so I think for sure that is something that I’ve noticed has worked for a lot of the families I work with.
Speaking of alone time, we know that a key component of a strong intimate relationship is intimacy. As I was looking at this idea of intimacy, I came across this idea of there actually being four different types of intimacy that come into play in a relationship.
There’s emotional intimacy, physical intimacy, which is what I was originally thinking of mental intimacy and intellectual intimacy. According to Gloria Lopez Henriques, a doctor of Social Work and faculty member at the Ackerman Institute for the family in New York City. If a relationship has an equal power, dynamic intimacy becomes easier to cultivate. However, getting intimate with someone else on one level on one of those aspects doesn’t necessarily guarantee intimacy and other aspects.
So just a very quick summary of what we mean by each of these types of intimacy.
Not all relationships will involve all of those types of intimacy. But those are the most common types that we see people will share.
I’d love to hear your thoughts. How important is it for the success of a long term relationship to have multiple types of intimacy? Are there certain types that you think are more important than others? Do you see perhaps a lack of one of those types of intimacy causing more struggle than others? And if so, if there is a certain area that is very important, and a couple is struggling with that, what can they do? How can a couple increase intimacy in one of those key areas
Really fast, before the nitty gritty. I’m just so in love with this question, because as a sexual health educator, the idea that intimacy affects relationships, and how inaccessible sex may be to a disabled body or to somebody who’s not interested or asexual. And I just love the inclusivity of this question. And I’m super excited!
I was gonna say, with my patients, a lot of my patients come in with this idea of intimacy only being the physical intimacy, and I really do work with a lot of my patients have been like, let’s explore different ways to be intimate, and you might be able to then get that same satisfaction.
When your physical intimacy maybe is not where you want it to be right now, that doesn’t mean that we lose all connection with our partner. And so exploring that because I feel like society doesn’t do a really good job at showing the other types of intimacy. And I see that in my patients, they just haven’t even explored other ways to be intimate with their partner.
I also agree with what was said. I am glad that this was mentioned as well, because, again, like everyone said, intimacy isn’t just physical. Because if you think about it, if you’re not in the right mindset, you don’t want to be physical, your mindset, your emotional state needs to be in check. You have to have your emotional feelings and your being in that mood to want to be even physical.
So I think it’s so important to make sure that you’re connecting on that emotional level, especially on that spiritual level. So that your mindset can be ready for when you want to connect on a physical level.
You hear about people who aren’t intimate because they’re not getting along. And you know, they’re kind of having a fight or, you know, if I’m mad at you, I don’t want to have sex, right? So it’s important to just work on those things and continue to connect.
And I have to say that, for me, my husband is my absolute best friend, like he’s my number one best friend. And you don’t just get to that point, you work to that point by opening yourself up and having those conversations and, and understanding each other and your deepest feelings or passions or desires, and always just connecting and finding a way to connect, especially after you put the kids to bed. They need to really just be in those moments, wherever you are just being together and just talking. So again, for me that Number one and motional in the spiritual piece go hand in hand.
Yeah, I would add I think there is no type of intimacy that is more important than others. I think ultimately, it’s going to very much differ by person and by relationship.
And so I think going inwards and you know, I do a lot of values work facing like Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and my therapy with clients and understanding what is going to make you fulfilled and then what’s gonna make your partner fulfilled. And then where do those overlap? Where do they butt heads and understanding that, again, the priority of knowing that my priority is focusing on, I’m holding the awareness of what my partner needs, as well as they are holding mine. And that it isn’t, again, your responsibility to just be charging through for your needs, but that your partner is thinking of you as well.
So there is no right or wrong answer, I think it’s going to really look at some reflection of what makes me feel fulfilled. And then in terms of these types of intimacy, and let me have a conversation with my partner. And again, I think a lot of couples do not have that skill set. So take some assistance sometimes to really understand what does that vulnerability even look like of saying like, I think I need this or I need more of this or less of this.
I think from a sexual standpoint, but definitely the underlying foundation of emotions, the book Come As You Are, it’s fantastic to really talk about like, what are the things that are putting the brakes versus accelerator in terms of even wanting physical connection, if that is a part of your relationship. But ultimately, there is no right or wrong answer. What works for you, and what works for your partnership is most important.
I love that you said the word vulnerability Veronica because I think that’s the seed planted in all these types of intimacy is how vulnerable can I be and that is body based work.
We don’t talk about that. Right? We make it so heavy and so intellectual but it is the nervous system’s somatic work to be comfortable enough and safe enough to say what I need to say about God or faith or my emotional needs or my sexual needs. And so I think that is so powerful that you brought that up.
I’m going to take us into growth. A licensed and family therapist in Dallas, Texas, her name is Liz Higgins was interviewed and quoted as saying, “there’s a mentality in our world today that if something’s not working for you get rid of it. But conflicts and marriages and relationships are opportunities to grow.”
Please help us understand from your professional and your personal experiences, what she’s referring to as growing, in what ways have you seen your clients grow more into themselves and their partner as a result of committing to working through the conflicts?
So I think this is actually piggybacks really beautifully off of what Erin was just saying is that ultimately, as human beings there is a striving for connection from our nervous system and we need to feel attached right that starts with us as babies feeling attached to our caregiver, and is there a sense of safety that gets replicated in our relationships, whether it be close intimate relationships with friends, and definitely with our life partners if we choose to have one.
So really thinking about growth, we all have wounds in our history, and they’re held in our bodies or held in our nervous systems. It’s what impacts us, clamming up, opening up, shutting down. And so really thinking about vulnerability time and time again, and if that is important for you, physically or emotionally. If there is safety in that relationship, you will be able to grow.
And so ultimately, we all have different value systems of what we need in relationships. But it all is going to come from that place of feeling attached and feeling safe, which then makes our bodies feel calmer, which makes us feel more connected.
So that’s what I would definitely say is the most important thing is that sense of safety, which will allow there to be growth in growth looking like change and evolution and challenging myself and challenging my partner, you know, because I have their best interests at heart.
Yeah, I think this also ties back into something that was mentioned much earlier in this conversation, which is that I think within this world of social media, and like increasingly divisive dialogues. I think it’s very easy to just be like, well, this isn’t working. So I can go out and get just something new. Like there’s always someone else around the corner, I see a lot of my girlfriends who are dating, and it’s just like, you know, a guy says one wrong thing on a date. And it’s like, man, just move on to the next one. There’s no responsibility or accountability.
And I think, to try and just like, confront something that’s difficult. And I mean, I think we can see that on Twitter or on Facebook or Instagram, I can follow you, you can follow me, I can just block, I can just mute, like I don’t have to interact with something that makes me uncomfortable if I don’t want to. But obviously, when a long term partnership within a marriage, right, again, you’re making the commitment, I think, to do that work.
And I think growing is not just even growing within a partnership. But it is, as Veronica and Erin have said to like, look within yourself, doing the work to recognize what about this is activating me. How do I need to push myself to sit with this discomfort because I think in general, beyond individual relationships, that’s a skill that we’re kind of losing the nuance and the capacity to do is to sit with that discomfort and to confront it.
And so I do think that, again, the commitment to communication, the commitment to carving out the time, I think it’s easier than ever to to just check out I’m just going to binge Netflix, I’m just going to scroll on my phone, I’m just gonna like we can sit in the same room not ever really have to talk to each other if we don’t want to, there’s always something else to see or do or distract. And I think making that commitment to not look away from the conflict and to not get sucked into a tick tock but, share, whatever it is that makes just like wasting hours, hours of our time, so easy in the day to day is really a way of making sure that you’re able to work through these conflicts and not look away from it.
I love everything you just said. One thing I just thought of along those lines, just again, repeating again, everything you said about making a commitment to be willing to grow and in that hurts and that’s uncomfortable and like that back to the question earlier about sort of the commitment we make when we join into a marriage.
But I also see the value of having people around you and a community around you to support you in those conversations, right, because sometimes, we don’t hold each other accountable in a marriage. But it is always helpful to have a therapist or a voice or a mentor or even just a friend that doesn’t have to know all the intimacies of your marriage. But that can help either call you out or support you in areas where we tend to disengage and not connect or choose those easy outs, like you just talked about Maris.
And so I see a lot of value and like supportive communities to be able to encourage someone back into that uncomfortable, vulnerable, willingness to grow, that sometimes is hard to do with our spouse on our own, but might be easier if we had someone nudging us along the way as well.
As far as growth, I think it’s also important that we work through those conflicts, and not in front of your kids, number one, like working through that in the privacy of your own space without them having to be involved. And then also helping your children learn those skills of working through conflicts because that’s going to transfer later as they’re adults to be able to face conflict and to learn from conflict.
And then one thing that I really want to say is never go to your friends talking trash about your spouse and what they did. Because when you reconcile that now your friends are still mad at your spouse then that causes even more conflict drama and who wants that?
Great point. And I think what’s important to mention here is that every relationship regardless of how much you care and love each other, you’re going to go through difficult periods of conflict and dissatisfaction.
Sometimes, though, the differences and the conflict can feel overwhelming. So, surrounding this, how can couples tell when the conflict is repairable? And it’s time to let go?
I don’t know that this is an inclusive answer to everything. But I think one of the core components happens in terms of, Am I safe? You know, and that feels like a given but I think it’s not said enough, culturally.
And then I think it has to do with Gottman research. Around 69% of the relationship problems are unsolvable. And it becomes around management and is this out of alignment with my value system, my integrity, and I love what Veronica was talking about doing values work with relationships, because I think that’s where rift comes.
In my work, what I see is rift comes or decision to end or quit comes, because I don’t have the tools within me to navigate how this discomfort makes me feel. Versus this is out of alignment with who I am as a human. Yeah, I would agree.
I think it’s you know, safety, emotional safety and physical safety is I can be open and vulnerable with my body, with my heart, with my mind with my thoughts is crucial. And that is the most important. So thank you for saying that, Erin, in terms of, you know, couples, they loop, right, they loop in patterns. And so it’s really important at a certain point, to bring somebody else in a trained professional who’s trained as a couple’s counselor who can help you observe these patterns.
And again, that zoom out where we’re not just in this looping, and we’re just, you know, replicating these patterns that are taking us nowhere, but having more awareness of oh, there we go again. So I think it’s really important at a certain point to bring a trained couples therapy professional, whether it be Gottman trained, like Erin was referencing Emotionally Focused Therapy. EFT is another really wonderful approach that a lot of couples therapists are trained in.
I think at a certain point, you just know, we don’t have the skill set to navigate this, will that mean, we will save this marriage to be determined, but let’s not rely on just our skill set here. So I think it is really important to eventually bring that in if there’s willingness.
And I do ultimately think in terms of staying in or out to me it does come back to values, what do I want out of my life and for each of us listening, that’s going to be very, very different. And thinking really zooming out and thinking is this aligned with where I want to head is this person part of that for me, maybe it still is and you have to find each other again, which can happen and with some hard work, or I’ve changed and I’m seeing something different that I didn’t pick up on early on or they’ve changed and it’s not worth the effort or, you’re seeing something glaringly at that point.
But ultimately, I think couples need to bring somebody in because you’re just so in the dance that emotional dance it you’ve got to be able to step out and see it and odds are we just don’t have the training even us as therapists, we need our own therapists, we need our own couples therapists, right, we get pulled into it as well, even though we quote unquote, know about it. So it is really important to sort of bring in reinforcements there.
This is something that has just been so powerful in my life that I want to share. Because when you look at your question about conflict, or even your last question about like a piece of wisdom that you would offer to somebody, I think our ability to be in relationship with other people is directly proportional to our ability to love ourselves. And we have that self worth crisis in our society, right? We don’t speek worthiness, it is not accessible, it is not modeled.
And so I love this analogy about learning to drive a car, our kiddos from birth are exposed to the rules of the road, right? Why do I Why do I drive at the green light? Why do I stop at the red light, you know, and they have 15 years of absorption of backseat driving before they even get into a classroom and learn about the rules of the road. And then they practice for months and months and hours and hours and hours. And then they’re given a temporary permit, right? And then we give them they have to take a test and then they can have the ability to drive a car.
But yet we throw people into intimate relationships, long term partnerships with no exposure to the tools and the abilities that I need to do this well, right. Whether that’s structurally in society, or its left to whatever my home environment looks like and the skills that I learned there. And so I just think this perspective of Oh, yeah, as parents, what am I letting my children observe from me? And how am I getting them exposed to the rules of the road that is rooted in love that will give them a head start when they enter in intimate relationships?
I was like, Well, that seems so straightforward. So I just have to share it because it changed my life. And hopefully it does others as well. Yeah,
Absolutely! Thank you so much for sharing that. On behalf of Cindi and myself, we want to thank each of our expert panelists so much for joining us today.
Marriage and intimacy are an important topic in today’s increasingly conflict ridden world. And we appreciate each of you taking the time to come together, discuss this issue, and share your own unique thoughts and perspectives.
Be sure to check out HERhealthcollective.com For more great content from each of our expert panelists throughout the rest of the year.
Thank you so much.
HER Health Collective hosts four roundtables each year, in an effort to bring together our experts and dive deep into the topics that matter to moms the most. We have found that these roundtables are often our most well-liked episodes.
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