How do you sustain attraction in your relationship over the long term? What can you do if you no longer feel “the spark” with your partner? And, what can you do if your partner no longer feels attracted to you? In today’s episode, we’re going to cover the mysterious force that brings us together when it’s there (and sometimes tears us apart when it’s not there): Attraction. And to celebrate the 100th episode of the Relationship Alive podcast, we are joined by two very special guests: John Gottman AND Sue Johnson. John Gottman and Sue Johnson have both been with us here on the podcast before, and our conversation today will reveal to you some surprising, well-researched truths about what fuels the spark in your relationship.
The good news: While most relationships go through difficult times in which one or both partners can feel disconnected, the good news is that desire and connection can be rebuilt. This is almost always the case, even after a major betrayal. That said, while most couples can go from disinterest and disengagement to passion, it is difficult to find desire from a place of disgust. When a person is repulsed by another’s appearance, taste or smell, there is no a lot you can do. If, however, it is just that the attraction has waned then there is much to rediscover and rekindle!
Not quite feeling it? Are you experiencing a lack of desire in your relationship? Does it seem like the spark is dim? Research shows that when desire is missing it is due to the fact that one is not being responsive to their partner. It is not, as many assume, caused by a deficiency in your partner but rather in yourself. In some ways it is like the old mother’s quip about “if you are bored it is because you are boring”. So much of what we experience in relationships is a reality of our own making. While this realization can feel daunting and humbling, it is also the key to feeling empowered and remembering we are agents of change.
Unpack low desire and understand where the shutdown is coming from: A decrease in attraction to your partner should be viewed as a symptom, rather than a cause. You have to unpack the symptom of not being a attracted and look at the anatomy of it. What is at the core root of this? What might be causing this reaction? Often it has to do with responsiveness and the following trio of relationship dimensions:
The Trio: Responsiveness is the key to rekindling passion and connection in a relationship. Responsiveness can be broken down into the following trio of key relationship dimensions:
Respond to your partner: This trio of attunement, commitment, and calm must be constantly tended to. Be sure you are noticing and responding to your partner’s needs and emotions. This tuning in will in fact increase your attraction and your sense of closeness. By actively cherishing your partner you actively build passion! So don’t wait for moments to emerge to notice each other- build these moments into your everyday.
Post-betrayal growth: Growth and reconnection are possible even after the most difficult of experiences. In the case, however, of trauma - which many affairs can create - trust will not be rekindled unless the symptoms and effects of PTSD are addressed. PTSD- which involves a constellation of symptoms and emotions, is a natural reaction that occurs when someone is faced with an experience that overwhelms their ability to manage in a regulated way. To address PTSD for partners who have been betrayed due to an affair there must be a supportive process that involves the following 3 phases:
Grass is greener/Down the Cascade- It is helpful to know that when you notice yourself making comparisons you are already a ways down the cascade towards disconnection, and even betrayal. This is true because you have likely been investing less in the relationship as you are protecting yourself by imagining the ‘other’. When we do so we are not open or willing to be vulnerable, and this leads to feeling unfulfilled and imagining the grass as greener elsewhere. You can do something about this! Tune back in. Truly listen. And turn towards your partner’s bids for connection. As you invest more attention and intention in the relationship you will begin to see your partner through fresher and more appreciative eyes, therefore making the grass over there less green and inviting.
Keep stoking the fire- That incredible sense of being in love does not have an expiration date or a shelf life! You can keep this spark going indefinitely. Research shows that couples who have vibrant and fulfilling sex lives continuously incorporate the following 13 behaviors/actions:
The Baker’s Dozen:
Not rocket science! Put this list on your fridge! Celebrate it and become an expert at it! Make it your own! Stay mindful that courtship does not end after you say “I do.” Vibrant and fulfilling shared lives requires that trust building and commitment building gestures occur daily. Choose your partner each day, and remind them time and time again that they are the one you choose, they are the love of your life.
And then...SUE JOHNSON!
Lost attraction? Attraction can be lost for many different reasons. One of the main reasons is that people have gotten caught in a negative emotional ‘dance’ and they are left feeling exhausted, abandoned and rejected. This can be so painful that people start to feel helpless and begin to grieve and give up. When people say they have fallen out of love or that they aren’t attracted to their partner, what they are really often trying to say, but do not know how, is more like “Our dynamics have left me feeling overwhelmed, and lonely and so I have detached more and more and am now not feeling the attraction”. If you are feeling less attracted to your partner, ask yourself if perhaps you are caught in a dance of disconnection.
Pull towards: Attraction is about much more than sexuality! Attraction is about being pulled towards someone. We are drawn in by their presence, their openness, and their responsiveness. Because attraction develops from how we engage with each other, it makes sense that when we begin to pull away from our partner whether due to frustration or protection, we don’t feel as drawn towards them sexually.
Disconnection happens in all relationships. Feeling disconnected and then losing a sense of attraction happens often- the key is not to avoid this, but rather to know how to turn it back on. It’s not that happy couples don’t fight or get disconnected, of course not, it is that they know how to turn towards each other and feel safe enough together to risk reaching and re-engaging with each other.
Pull your partner in. What do you do to help pull your partner towards you? How do you help make them feel safe and connected? Openness and receptiveness are part of the basis of building secure bonds and can help put your partner at ease. Risk being vulnerable by sharing how you feel with transparency and responsibility. For example, instead of saying “why don’t you talk to me more?” (which turns off their attraction neurons because it is threatening) try “you know, I was realizing today that I have this longing for us to talk the way we used to. I have this longing just to feel you close to me and to know that I have your attention. It is scary for me when I feel this distance between us.”
Allowing yourself to admit your feelings vulnerably (using I statements) will draw your partner in as they will be curious and compassionate, rather than defended. You can even allow yourself to share with them that you are feeling confused and don’t know what to do about the fact that you feel less attracted to them. Sharing in this way can allow the two of you to heal each other and learn from each other so you can reconnect and this alone usually solves the problems.
NOTE: If this open dialogue is a new way of communicating then be patient and don’t expect your partner to respond in new ways immediately. Even if they don’t get it the first time, with repetition their nervous systems will pick up on the fact that you are coming from a loving place, rather than a blaming one.
Love CAN be a safe adventure- Think of the way babies pull us towards them- their wide eyes, outstretched hands, cooing… and then think about how you can’t NOT respond and engage. This emotional dance of responsiveness and synchronicity is intoxicating, and leads to the most rewarding moments in human life. Finding these moments with your partner will re-engage them out of shutdown.
We are wired to feel thrill when we are reached for. Reaching can look like many different things- everything from asking your partner to engage in a project/adventure/task/moment, sharing bravely and openly in a way they feel trusted, or even asking your partner to help with something and letting them feel needed. Relationships that cultivate connection thrive because they have the safety needed for play and new possibilities of intimacy.
Present not perfect: Thankfully you don’t have to be perfect in love! In fact, you can mess up often as long as you are dedicated to creating repairs after ruptures. In order to work through the fears we are so often present with in our relationships when it comes to conflict and disconnection, fears of not being good enough or not knowing how, try taking on the mantra “I don’t have to be perfect, I just have to be present”
Give attention to grow attraction: Attraction fades when there is not enough attention and attuning being given in the relationship. Do not let your relationship run on empty- find ways, daily, to fill up your tank by giving each other time and attention. Do things together! Be together! Love each other up!
Learn more about Gottman’s work and find extensive resources on his website
Interested in a workshop or a training? Check out what is happening now!
Read John Gottman’s books
Check out Sue Johnson’s website for videos, resources, and upcoming events
www.neilsattin.com/attraction Visit to download the show guide, or text “PASSION” to 33444 and follow the instructions to download the show guide to this episode with John Gottman and Sue Johnson
Our Relationship Alive Community on Facebook
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Are you too busy for sex and connection? What if sex just isn't happening, or isn't happening enough in your relationship? While there are many reasons that this could be happening (or not happening, as the case may be) - sometimes all you have to do is to get it on the calendar. That being said, simply scheduling sex on your calendar isn't always enough to turn things around. In this week's episode, we're going to cover how to schedule sex, why to schedule sex, and...most importantly...how to successfully navigate any pressure, or awkwardness, that comes from putting something so precious...on the calendar.
Along with the secrets of how to schedule sex successfully, you'll also learn a bit more about how to create intimacy with and without sex, why connection is so important for having an amazing sex life, and the benefits of nurturing your sexual and sensual life with your partner.
Also, get ready for next week, which will be the 100th episode of the Relationship Alive podcast! Joining us next week will two amazing guests - John Gottman AND Sue Johnson - to talk about Attraction. What do you do when attraction vanishes in your relationship? How do you sustain the attraction and spark that you have? The answers to these questions (and more) about attraction might surprise you, so be sure to tune in next week as well to hear what emerges in my conversations with John Gottman and Sue Johnson.
When it comes to the success of your relationship, how much are you standing in your own way? How do you get really clear on your part in the dynamic? And how do you work some magic in the way that you communicate, to connect no matter how challenging the moment? Joining us this week is Dr. David Burns, a Stanford emeritus professor who is also the author of Feeling Good - one of the most popular self-help books (dealing with depression) of all time. He is one of the chief popularizers of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and has recently been developing TEAM therapy, which addresses some of CBT’s shortcomings. David Burns is also the author of Feeling Good Together, which applies his practical approach to relationships: how to thrive, as well as how to turn a troubled relationship around.
Changing the question: When it comes to relationship difficulty and challenges, many of us are quick to point fingers at THEM. We believe it is the fault of the other person, and we spend a lot of energy blaming them. The question that will lead to hope and growth is not “will the other person ever change?” but rather, “am I willing to change?”. By looking at our own behaviors and beliefs we are able to regain a sense of power, and gain access to our ability to effect change. By changing ourselves we can’t NOT change those around us! By coming from a radically different place ourselves we find we can transform the entire relationship dynamic.
Outcome resistance: While interpersonal transformation is possible with new perspectives and new skills, nothing will in fact help if there is a core resistance to the possibility of change. Before diving deeply into the hows of changing your relationship dynamics, you must first ask yourself “Do I want a better relationship with this person?” Allow the answer to surprise you. There are actually many possible motives and factors that could be competing with your authentic desire for expanded joy and intimacy (sometimes we’d rather blame, be right, even hate).
Process resistance: If in asking the above question you find that you do indeed want to become closer with your partner (or whomever you are in conflict with), the next question is whether you are willing to give up blame and look instead at your own role in the dynamics? In your heart of hearts, who do you think is more to blame for the quality of your relationship? You or the other person? The prognosis for your relationship if you are in a victim mentality are close to zero - this stance is dangerous and debilitating. That said, are you willing to begin to look at yourself as part of the cause? And are you then willing to engage, from this place, in a process to help transition your relationship from a place of hostility into a place of love? If you find that you are unwilling to make this shift towards responsibility, or do not feel you are interested or able to engage in making changes on your own, you may be experiencing process resistance. This resistance is important to listen to and must be addressed before expecting yourself or your partner to change any further.
Exploring resistance exercise: To do this exercise, take one sheet of paper and create two columns, on one side list all of the advantages of remaining resistant and on the other list all of the disadvantages. For example, the advantages of continuing to feel as though it is THEIR fault may sound something like: I don’t have to feel guilty, if I can continue to blame them I don’t have to feel any pain, I get support from others when I complain and play victim, it is satisfying to scapegoat others, I feel morally superior, I don’t have to change, it helps me feel like there is nothing wrong with me, it lets me be angry all of the time, it justifies my passive aggressive or revenge type behavior. The disadvantages of resisting responsibility, on the other hand, may sound something like: keeps me feeling powerless, maintains painful status quo, being angry all the time is exhausting, I don’t feel centered in my best self, I feel disconnected from my compassion, there is a sense of stagnation, I don’t experience any growth or room for learning, I am constantly stressed, I experience anxiety and depression and loss of intimacy, this just feels unhealthy. When you finish your lists add up the total notes you made in each column and reflect on the balance you see. In what ways has your resistance to looking at your own role in your relationship been helping you, and in what ways has it been harming you? And what, now that you see all of this written in front of you, are you feeling ready and open to?
Looking at your own role: Nearly all relationship problems are encapsulated in any single thirty second exchange shared between two people at odds with one another. To explore this, take a moment of conflict you experienced recently and write down exactly what the other person said, and then what you said next. What you said next determines the entire outcome and if you look closely with humility you will see just how your response/reaction triggered the exact problem that you have been complaining about. This realization can be incredibly painful and humiliating as we spend so much of our energy focused on what the other person said or didn’t say and so convinced that it is all their fault! Although painful, this realization is also our key into the potential for transformation!
Free yourself from victimhood: When we see ourselves as victims we do not see the impact of our behavior on the other person, and we stay blind. If you have the courage to look, and to examine the role you play in conflict and tension you will become empowered. By freeing yourself of victimhood through noting the ways you are the one who is creating the very problem you are suffering with, you begin to see how you also have the power to transform the relationship by thinking about it and communicating in a radically new way. From here change can occur quickly, and even, at times, easily.
Try keep a relationship journal: As mentioned above, we can learn a lot about our role in our relationships by checking out the ways we do or don’t respond and react to our partners during conflict. To do this in a methodic way, follow these steps:
1) identify and write down something that someone else said that triggered you
2) write down your response in the moment
3) assess whether your response was an example of good or poor communication (see below)
4) enlightenment step: ask yourself “what was the impact on the other person of my responding the way I did?”
5) revise what you could have said using the techniques listed below
EAR- Good communication requires patience, presence, and skills. EAR stands for empathy, assertiveness, and respect. It is communication that incorporates EAR that creates feelings of mutual acknowledgement and safety and leads to repair and connection versus escalation and disconnection.
5 secret techniques of effective communication (no particular order):
You are the god of your own experience: We are creating our interpersonal realities in every moment of every day. We are not the victims of our experiences, but rather the god who is creating our own reality. The enlightenment step described above, in which you ask yourself how your reactions are impacting your relationship dynamics can lead some to mystical and spiritual insights. This turning towards ourselves as the cause is a practice. It isn’t easy! Be patience with yourself while you are learning to grow in this new way!
Be sure to check out David Burns’ website for loads of free resources, a blog, a podcast, the workshop schedule, and so much more!
Read his book Feeling Good Together
Also read David Burns’ book Feeling Good
www.neilsattin.com/feelinggood Visit to download the show guide, or text “PASSION” to 33444 and follow the instructions to download the show guide to this episode with David Burns
Our Relationship Alive Community on Facebook
Amazing intro/outro music graciously provided courtesy of:
Find out what's in store for the upcoming 100th episode of the Relationship Alive podcast! Also, this week is an opportunity for you to get caught up on episodes you've missed, or to revisit ones that have had an impact on you. Looking forward to seeing you next week with David Burns, author of Feeling Good and Feeling Good Together.