Couples often lead such busy lives that they don't take time to share and really be together. Even if they carve out date nights, doing things like going to the movies or out with friends doesn't give them a renewed sense of knowing and loving each other. Time for themselves as friends and lovers gets pushed to the end of the to-list that, of course, never has an end. Without this personal connection, minor annoyances can turn into huge arguments. Yet, with it, minor annoyances are just that -- minor.
Here's an exercise I created many years ago to help couples build in this special time for themselves, even with hectic daily schedules. It takes two minutes, which really can be squeezed into any day. And, when put into perspective (preparing for a divorce takes a lot longer), it's very doable. The exercise is called "ITS." In the story below, you'll see how ITS got its name.
After 13 years of marriage, Jacob and Eliza have become compatible housemates and marginally compatible co-parents to their three sons. They both work; they have their own interests they share with friends. They go out together as a family; they go out with other couples.
What, you may ask, is the problem? They rarely spend time together, just the two of them. And when they do, as Eliza says, "We usually talk about the kids, work, politics -- nothing personal."
On the surface, it looks like Jacob and Eliza have a relatively good marriage. The only real problem, as Eliza implies, is they've grown distant. They don't talk about anything personal or loving. They don't talk about their wishes or fears for the future, their dreams, or their love and affection. Their unresolved arguments leave bitterness; their unexpressed anger builds up. Without the loving conversations, there is no balance for the negative feelings -- and that can erode a marriage.
I designed an exercise to help them reconnect in a way that allowed them to safely express their feelings -- positive and negative. Here's how it works, and what they did.
"Sit together on a sofa or bed, with both of you facing the same direction. That means one of you is facing the other's back. Let's say that you, Jacob, are IT first. Eliza, you sit with your arms around Jacob's waist. Jacob, for two minutes, you get to talk; you can say anything you want. Eliza, you can't respond. You just hold him."
"Since she can't see your face, Jacob, and she can't say anything, you can tell her anything you want. It might be something she did that angered or hurt your feelings; it might be a funny story that happened at work; it might be a memory from childhood. Or, you could just sit quietly and feel her arms around you. You can use those two minutes any way you want. You have a captive audience who won't walk away and who can't talk back."
"When the time is up, neither of you are to talk about it. On another day, switch. This means, Eliza, that Jacob holds you now while you use your two minutes any way you want. Make sure each of you has at least one turn during the week; if you both want a second (or third) round, go for it. But remember, no more than two minutes. And no matter what the other says, you can't talk about it afterward."
"Oh, and one more thing: Regardless how you both feel, this exercise is not to lead to love-making. If you want to do that, do it at some other time."
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