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Relationship Rhythms

How intimate partners intermesh.

Effective communication skills are crucial to successful long-term relationships. The tools they employ can significantly improve the transmission of thoughts and feelings between intimate partners. When they work as they should, they bring couples closer together and help them to find new ways to resolve their differences.

There are many available resources that are available to teach couples the tried-and-true basics of quality communication techniques, but there is one crucial aspect that is rarely, if ever, mentioned. In my extensive work with couples over the last four decades, I have found it to be the basic core of what makes all of the other skills actually work. It is also the underlying foundation upon which all other communication techniques rest.

Intimate couples reach out to each other with individual styles of bids for connection. In doing so, they have their own unique way of how, when, where, and why they do so. Those styles manifest as personal rhythms that are each partner’s attempt to synchronize their needs. A good metaphor would be two potentially differently spaced gears attempting to enmesh when they are moving at different speeds.

People in committed relationships must be able to recognize these individual relationship rhythm styles both in themselves and in their partners. I have watched many couples who have mastered every other aspect of quality communication but still fail at successful connecting because they do not recognize that their connection rhythms are out of sync. They are using all the right words, voice intonations, facial expressions, and body language, yet their communication is breaking down.

There are many situations in which a couple’s individual rhythmic patterns can be disharmonious even when all else seems to be in order. Whether these clashing “gears” exist in physical, emotional, sexual, intellectual, or spiritual realms, they often upend well-intended bids for connection and resolution.

The good news is that communication immediately improves when couples identify and correct these out-of-sync connections. When they do, they can then alter their individual rhythms to more seamlessly intertwine.

The Five Relationship Realms of Synchronization

1. Physical

Out-of-sync physical attempts fall into two main categories. The first is how much, and what kind of, physical contact one partner may want versus that of the other. The additional dimension is when one partner desires a certain kind of physical touch and the other prefers something different.

For example, some people crave continuous but short physical connections, especially when they have been away from their partners for some period. Others prefer more prolonged hugs but only at particular times. Many of the men I’ve counseled tell me that they like to touch the parts of their partner’s bodies that arouse their sexual desires, while more of the women say that they prefer touch that is non-sexual affection unless it is a prelude to lovemaking.

A segment of the population, both male and female, are challenged by emotional or physical inertia. That just means that these people like to complete whatever they are doing without interruption. If, for instance, one partner is busy with a task and the other is seeking physical connection at the same time. The busy partner may respond with irritation or dismissal, not because he or she doesn’t like affection, but because the timing doesn’t work.

Similarly, one partner may like to cuddle as he or she is falling asleep, while the other wants separate space prior to slumber. Or, more women than men tell me that they prefer several hours of non-sexual affection prior to making love, and more men than women come into the same situation pre-heated and ready to move on to the kind of touch that accompanies arousal.

In many of these cases, the partners’ caring for each other may be solid and deep, but they are misunderstanding and misconstruing the other’s unavailability.

2. Emotional

Perhaps emotional lack of synchronicity between intimate partners is the most common topic in relationship-advice columns and regularly separates the genders. The expression, “I just want to connect with you,” is most often said by women. “Can we just get to the bottom line?” or “I don’t need the backstory first,” is more often expressed by men.

It’s not that men don’t understand what a woman means when she asks for heart-to-heart connection, especially before lovemaking. It’s just that most men are taught early in their lives to suppress or cover vulnerable emotions like fear, pain, sorrow, or insecurity.

They often tell me with deep frustration that their woman wants them to be “a mind reader,” and somehow intuit what she needs. If men are taught to hide their own more vulnerable feelings, they cannot easily identify with those of a woman’s need for those experiences. Most men relate more easily to battle, sports, business, and health when they are together, but rarely talk about the feelings underlying those subjects.

It is crucial that women do not expect men to connect emotionally if it means they are to share relationship issues or asked to listen to problems without wanting any solutions. It is equally wrong for men to not understand how important it is for most women to have timeless attention that is not necessarily goal-oriented.

When intimate partners have both different emotional rhythms, times, and ways they express them, they just cannot effectively resolve whatever issue is on the table. It doesn’t matter what they are talking about. They won’t be able to make successful headway.

3. Sexual

There are essentially four parts to every sexual experience. The first and fourth fall more predominantly into female energy needs and expectations. Those are courtship and pillow-talk. Courtship is the non-sexual flirtation and emotional arousal that heats a woman up, usually more slowly than what a man needs. Pillow talk is the sharing of vulnerable emotions and is often easier for men to participate in after orgasm. The middle two parts are physical arousal and orgasm and often enough for men to feel sexually satisfied. The standing joke is, “Women need 36 hours of pre-heating while men wake up ready to go.”

Many men have told me that they prefer their genitals touched soon into lovemaking. Alternatively, most women tell me they need to open up like a flower, starting from the outside and encouraged to emerge only as they become more aroused. They can feel boundary-violated if their partners plunge into their erotic zones as a first move and is not usually a successful maneuver for optimum success.

Some people prefer hard touch while others respond to gentle caresses. Some like sustained physical connection while others prefer touch-and-let-go connections. One partner’s urgency can be another partner’s turn-off. Alternately, if one partner is too slow to arousal, the other may lose interest.

Also, both men and women differ widely on how often they want sexual connection and how long they want it to last. Some people like sex on a regular basis and others prefer a lot of sex for a short time with longer periods in between. There are also wide disparities about the actual act, itself. What may be a huge turn-on for one partner may unearth dissonance in the other.

4. Intellectual

Intercourse is a word that can be applied to both sexual and verbal interaction. It comes from a mid-fifteenth century definition meaning simply “to and fro.” When two people are in sync intellectually, their conversations are a communal and reciprocal exchange of dreams, ideas, goals, feelings, attitudes, concerns, needs, and hungers. When they interact, they build on one another’s ideas, creating synergy and more curiosity.

The rhythm of how partners exchange these crucial expressions is particularly significant. The more vulnerable a thought or feeling is, the more supportive the other must be to ensure the emotionally open partner must be at the time those thoughts are being expressed. If the partner sharing feels dismissed, overruled, erased, interrupted, challenged, or invalidated, he or she is likely to stop sharing. Even if the listening partner is innocently under or over-reactive, that same result can occur.

In addition, the more biased or fixated partners may be in their opinions, the harder it may be for the other partners to listen if they don’t feel or see things the same way. Learning to synergistically build concepts and dreams together is the hallmark of good communicators. Unfortunately, many intellectual disparities may not be resolvable. Too often, people don’t know how to listen deeply, expand the other’s mindset, or understand a different line of thinking from their own.

Again, some people process words, thoughts, and feelings more slowly than others. This does not necessarily mean they have a less emotional capacity than their partners do. Successful intellectual meshing can only happen if both partners allow for a difference in speed, volume, and intensity.

5. Spiritual

Spiritual beliefs are crucial to one’s purpose as well as to his or her meaning in life. They are the foundation of why people do the things they do, how they relate to others, and what keeps them in the game when things are tough.

It is not absolutely necessary for both partners in an intimate relationship to derive inspiration from the same source, but crucial that they respect and support each other’s beliefs and conduct themselves accordingly.

Often spiritual beliefs are so deeply imbedded that many people do not understand the impact they have on their intimate relationships. Because these convictions are the basis for moral and ethical decisions and what both partners draw upon when they are troubled or over-stressed, they must be held sacred.

When either partner shares his or her spiritual reasons for thoughts or behaviors, the other partner must be willing to listen with respect even if he or she does not see things the same way. Even when partners are raised in the same faith, they may interpret those teachings differently, and must explore them together to make certain they understand any differences in the way they are experienced.

People pray, meditate, or commune with their source of light at different times and in different ways. It is always healing to any relationship when intimate partners can do that together, but they must allow one another time to do that even when they are unable to share those practices.

Being out of sync spiritually is a crucial problem for many partners. They may put their differences on a moral continuum and use those biases in ways that may distance the other partner. When those types of conflicts emerge, the couple may need spiritual counseling from someone they both trust.

The smooth meshing and accurate dove-tailing of all of the physical, emotional, sexual, intellectual, and spiritual “gears” form the basic foundation for all successful communications between intimate partners. If they are out of synchronicity, they will either collide and destruct, or not connect at all.

New lovers often use a kind of emotional transmission device to prematurely mesh these gears. When the relationship matures, the emergence of disharmony may occur. They are often not interested in looking at these potential non-synchronizing connections early on for fear of marring their seemingly magical compatibility.

For any intimate relationship to have a chance at long-term survival, new partners must be willing to look at where their rhythms automatically intermesh and where they may need to alter them for their relationship communication to flourish.

Dr. Randi’s free advice e-newsletter, Heroic Love, shows you how to avoid the common pitfalls that keep people from finding and keeping romantic love.

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