Mindful Intimacy for Couples
Mindfulness and Presence are ways of being that are bringing a wave of self compassion and personal insights - how then do we bring this together with our equally aware beloved partners? There is a shift that needs to occur, where we co-create a new present way of being together. Cultural norms about beauty, sex and pornography are extraordinarily available in our dynamic internet world. The world of our minds is unlimited in potential - where is your mind when you are being physical, having sex with your mate?
In a time of changing values and the development of new behavioural customs, there are many choices for the individual to make. Some of these choices arise out of reviewing the past, embracing what is useful and relinquishing what is not. Other options might entail embracing entirely new ways of being. In this environment many opinions exist about how men and women should relate and what to expect from an intimate relationship. Such changing energies also provide unique opportunities for you to take time out, to stop, review and build a 21st-century way to be in relationship.
Confusion abounds as people are finding that the current relationship paradigm is not working (as evidenced by the many marriages ending in divorce). Failure to communicate lies at the root of many relationship breakdowns. It is difficult, however, to be an effective listener or to speak your truth when uncertainty about role boundaries blurs communication channels. Dismissing parts of the way you or your partner are as being 'typically male' or 'typically female' unnecessarily limits both of you. Not to mention the limitation of only describing typical relationships that are heterosexual, we need to embrace all loving couples - encompass same gender, transgender, bisexuality, non-binary, for gender identities that are not exclusively masculine or feminine.
The way forward lies in the realisation that while we are diverse in culture and preferences we fundamentally come from the same place, which is the place of human experience.
Development lies in acknowledgment of the similar human experience that we share, rather than sheltering in the safe but spurious comfort of gender-based differences. Thinking that 'he/she is only a man/woman, so he/she can't be any different' is not an attitude that will cope with the demands of the present or the future.
'Gender' does not equal 'difference'
it is more productive to acknowledge that held within our psyche are both masculine and feminine qualities, archetypes, images, emotions and rationalities. Men and women have a multitude of experiences and qualities, not a simple dichotomy of 'provider or nurturer', 'hunter or gatherer', 'persecutor or protector'. Everyone has all of these qualities to some degree. Rationalising a thought or feeling as 'typically male/female' is at best superfluous and at worst harmful to your growth.
In order to go beyond sex-based differences you will have to be prepared for a journey into your Self. Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung (1875-1961) generated the psychological concept of the 'shadow' in his theory of the development of the Self. 'Persona' refers to the aspect of the Self that you show to others, what you would like to be and how you wish to be seen. The persona mediates between your inner Self and your environment; it is your social face. The shadow Self refers to those aspects of yourself that are denied, unwanted and possibly forbidden; such aspects can manifest as rage, depression, guilt, grief, fear, sexual taboos,. There can also be the lighter side to the shadow Self, which is that part of you that you haven't recognised yet as brilliant. This is where your hidden talents might reside. Relating from this area of Self is how to nourish the soul. Accessing the true shadow Self will provide great richness of experience, however it is not easily done.
Shadows of intimacy
It is possible to take off your social masks and show the beauty and vulnerability of your naked face.? The genuine Self, variable and contradictory, revealed at last, does evoke strong feelings of love and acceptance. The biggest inhibitor to self-revelation, however, is the fear of loss of love and acceptance: most people believe that if you show people who you really are, you will be rejected and abandoned and will lose love - this is untrue.
Princess Diana (1961-1997) showed the world some of her genuine Self: her struggles, her shadow side. For this she received boundless signs of admiration, thankfulness, love and acceptance. People were able to identify with Diana's shadow. Her death and funeral gave people an opportunity to grieve not only for her but also for their own emotional pain.
To step into the shadow and into intimacy is not easy but it can be done using the tools outlined here. Ultimately, your ability to know and be intimate with another depends not on your willingness to accept sex differences, but on your willingness to know yourself.
Knowing yourself - self awareness
The following techniques can allow you to know yourself better and learn about the shadow side of your psyche:
Journal keeping is an important tool for personal inquiry. Begin to write down your dreams, experiences, emotional reactions, stories that you tell yourself and stories that you tell others.
Take some quiet time for yourself (even five minutes is beneficial): meditation, contemplation, yoga, breath work - any activity that allows you quiet time for self-reflection.
Question your attitudes, beliefs and values. Be open to new information and changing fixed beliefs, especially those issues you feel very strongly about.
Dealing with your shadow
One way to uncovering the hidden material in your shadow side, the unconscious side of yourself, is to notice your inner commentary guiding your reactions to others:
Make a list of those people in your life you dislike and those you like.
Write down all of the qualities you notice about those people.
Ask yourself lots of questions about your list: Do I have these qualities? Are these qualities that I like/dislike about myself? Does/did anyone in my family display these traits? Ask yourself lots of questions until you form a deeper understanding of what it is that causes your reactions.
Other methods of knowing yourself can come through psychotherapy, group work, voice dialogue, hypnotherapy, participating in personal and interpersonal creativity and meditation groups, dream care, journal keeping and the creative Arts. In fact, everyday life offers much to learn from. Try not to miss the many opportunities to uncover and know more of what motivates you.
Your relationship What is unconscious and what is hidden?
Relationship has the potential to provide a deep connection and intimacy with another person involving all levels, which include the intellectual, emotional, physical, sexual and spiritual. Commonly, when relationships are formed the participants become two parts meeting to make a whole, often opposites attracting at first and then later repelling. It is not until you integrate the unwanted aspects of your partner and 'own' them in yourself that you are on a path to wholeness. A spiritual quest is characterised by a desire for wholeness and completeness, and acceptance of the contradictions within and without.
The strange world of other people
The 'other person' in a relationship has their own unique history and experiences, having a unique shadow side and social face. How, then, can you develop intimacy with an 'other'? The first step is learning how to talk.
Establish a mutual agreement to practise truth-telling with your partner. Especially agree to listen to contradictory or angry feelings. Have the courage to speak your truth even if you believe the other person will get angry. When you hear your inner voice contradicting what you are telling your partner, stop and share this with them (for example, 'I'm glad you were able to tell me that, but a little voice inside me is also screaming out "How unfair, you big #@+?/^*!"'). Take the risk, step by step. It is not always easy to speak your truth if you fear you will be rejected, abandoned or attacked. Be patient - it takes practice.
'Truth' in communication is not about compromising or putting on a façade of acceptance. The inner truth will find its way out to the surface, probably during times of stress or an argument. Finding ways to access your inner truth before these damaging eruptions occur is a critical tool in a 'one planet' approach to relationships. You could write your feelings in a letter or e-mail, giving the other person time to consider and respond - or decide not to respond.
Sometimes it is not until the next day that you realise that you might have compromised your true feelings. Sometimes people wait for years before they share these things, and then it is really difficult to pick up the pieces. Once trust is built up you will find it easier to speak your truth at the time you feel it.
Keep asking your partner, 'How do you really feel?' Often the first answer is a socially conditioned response. Keep asking until you feel the genuine nature of their answer. Give up on mind-reading and try to listen and accept that your partner is also practising truth-telling. Through the process of truth-telling there is a shedding of the persona, which leads to further disclosure of the suppressed aspects of yourself.
Projections - the mask and the mirror
Through the function of projection the unconscious mind expels both positive and negative traits, attributing them to other people whereby they can become conscious. The unconscious, by definition, is hidden (like the dark side of the moon). You need to discover indirect ways to catch a glimpse of what is contained within your shadow side. On meeting your shadow side you find your strengths, weakness and gifts. Projection occurs when you impart to the other person qualities that are contained within your own shadow. Both your own strengths and weaknesses are seen in the other.
When you reject qualities in the other it means that you are rejecting these qualities in yourself at some level. That is why you are repelled by them in the other person. Talking with the other about these dislikes gives a clue into your own rejected parts. You can learn to transform these unacceptable or unknown qualities of yourself, owning them and becoming responsible for your reactions, and so forth. As a result, the other can feel more accepted for who he/she is, and not simply loved for some fantasy projection of him/her.
Shared meanings – co-creating
To truly begin understanding your partner, discuss with them what it means for them to be a woman or a man, as the case may be. What were the expectations from family and friends? What is the larger social context and influence coming from religious, educational, media and political sources as they experience it? Each person will experience all of these influences in a unique way, depending upon the make-up of their persona and shadow Self. Try to trivialise that experience into solely gender-based perceptions and you risk never truly knowing your partner or your Self. Acknowledge that there are a multitude of selves and needs within yourself and the other.
Different meanings or interpretations of experiences are the cause of many interpersonal conflicts. So, examine some of your meanings and ask yourself and your partner, 'Where did I learn this?' Challenge these and see if you and your partner can develop similar meanings, or simply accept the diversity of meanings between you.
What about sex?
Sexuality and sensuality are a major part of the language of communication. How you relate to each other sexually can also give you clues as to the other areas of your relationship that go beyond who is the 'man' and who is the 'woman'. This is especially so in terms of who holds the power in the relationship. Who does the initiating and withholding? Again, there is a shadow side to sexual expression.
Most important is to be 'present' during sex. This might seem obvious. However, if you drift off during intercourse by fantasising about other people, daydreaming or thinking about things you have to do, you are avoiding intimacy with your partner. Practise looking into your partner's eyes during lovemaking and taking your entire partner into your attention. Focus on each other.
With so much societal hype and expectation around sexuality it does not always come easily, despite its inherently instinctive nature. As with so much else in a fulfilling relationship, effort is required.
Create a special place with a warm, comfortable atmosphere in which you both feel at ease. Physical and emotional comfort will facilitate you both being 'present' during sex and will encourage disclosure and revelation of the Self. These hallmarks of intimacy are also the cornerstones of satisfying lovemaking.
Go an extra step and relax each other more fully by using techniques such as massage and aromatherapy. Involve all of your senses, using touch, taste, sight, smell and hearing to invite your complete being to be present.
The challenge for modern men and women is to speak their own truth and to find within themselves both feminine and masculine aspects. You have within yourself many qualities that can be labelled 'masculine' or 'feminine'. Your success in balancing these within yourself will then be reflected in the world through your relationships and your working environment. You have to start somewhere, so start with understanding yourself. Whether you are in a relationship or single, now is the time to become more of who you are, to stop the façade-building process and participate in healing the feminine and masculine within.
Ten small ways to nourishing your soul connection...
Take responsibility for your own feelings and own your own 'stuff'. Accept and work with it, then move out of the past into present time.
Acknowledge your strong reactions to people (either intense like or dislike) and give yourself permission to feel them. These reactions are felt in your body and indicate the areas to shadow wrestle, ultimately leading to shadow embrace.
Recognise that other people can be a 'mirror' of your feelings about yourself. As you work through the layers of projection with your partner you can start to connect with their shadow side, and deeper levels of intimacy can be formed.
Think about messages you have received (ie messages from society, family or friends) that have made you repress certain feelings. Use these messages to help question some of your fixed beliefs and definitions.
Remind yourself that no-one is right and no-one is wrong. Both of you have your own experience and point of view and are entitled to be heard and understood.
When you sense that conflict might erupt, it is best to take time out. In that space find your centre, focus on your breathing, and allow for some space to hear your inner voice. Ask yourself what aspect of your shadow Self is being triggered by your partner. Come back when you are both calmer and continue to discuss the issue, reassuring one another that you will work together until you both have a full understanding of the situation.
Your partner is your best mirror. As you communicate your own experience clearly and without blame (such as by using the first-person in your speech) you can see a reflection of how your shadow operates.
Remember, it takes practice. With a partner who shares the responsibility for shadow-work, you might discover the strength and gems contained in the hidden message of the shadow character. Over time, as you dance into greater knowledge of each other, your communication might lead to soul talk. This is when partners are no longer on guard for projections and blame, anticipating criticism or judgment. Instead, their words soothe and heal each other, penetrating right in to touch the soul of the beloved so that the partner feels known and heard.
Create symbolic representations of your relationship. Paint a mandala, plant a garden or write a story. Be creative together.
Practise being 'present' with your partner during sex and involve all of the senses to increase sensuality.
Recommended Listening -
: Simonette Vaja - insighttimer.co app
Gurian, Michael, Love's Journey.The Seasons and Stages of Relationship(Shambhala, London 1995). Moore, Thomas, Soul Mates (Harper Perennial,1994) and Care of the Soul (Harper Perennial, 1992). Schnarch, David, Passionate Marriage (Scribe Publications, Melbourne, 1997). Theobald, Robert, Visions and Pathways for the 21st Century (Southern Cross University Press, 1999). Zweg, Connie and Wolf, Steve, Romancing the Shadow (HarperCollins, 1997).