Posts Tagged ‘intimacy’

By Mark E. Smith

Many couples face adversity. Some come together, while others fall apart. What foremost trait keeps couples together while facing among life’s toughest of times?

I recently worked an Abilities Expo, a consumer trade show for all products related to disability. During the expo, I met countless couples where one partner had experienced a life-changing illness or accident. It was the perfect opportunity to ask, What’s been the single biggest relationship key that’s helped you move through this as a couple?

The answer that most gave surprised me when it probably shouldn’t have: humor. Over and over again, couples told me that shared humor made the toughest situations bearable. And, they nailed it, knowing what all of us should know.

In fact, there are scientific reasons why humor and laughter enhance our relationships. Humor is an intrinsic “mood lifter.” When we smile or laugh, it releases endorphins, the “feel good” chemicals in our brain. In a way, we get a little high when we smile or laugh, so it dramatically points our perception toward the positive, even in the bleakest situations. Therefore, when in a relationship, humor makes uncomfortable situations comfortable and breaks us out of daunting thoughts. If there’s a surefire way to direct a moment or mood as a couple, humor is it.

There is a caveat, however. It’s vital that both people share the humor. There’s no room for jaded or cynical humor. If one person finds humor in a situation and the other doesn’t, it will only make a situation worse. Two people laughing is a shared connection; one person laughing is angering to the other. We must laugh together, not apart.

I met a couple at the show, where the husband is living with ALS. The wife told me, “We can laugh together and cry together. If you can laugh together, you can cry together. But, it’s a lot more fun to laugh together….”

Life and relationships aren’t easy – especially when adversity comes our way. However, among the best tools we can have is humor. If we can laugh amidst a situation, we can address and cope with it. After all, the couple who laughs together stays together.

By Mark E. Smith

Words are just that – words. While they have formal definitions, the way we interpret and experience words vary greatly. Trust and intimacy are two such words that, despite formal definition, have dramatically different connotations and practices in our relationships.

On the surface, most see trust in a relationship as intertwined with commitment, meaning your partner isn’t going to betray you. Similarly, intimacy generally means closeness, both emotionally and physically. However, while most couples have built relationships on these core principles for countless generations, the scope of what trust and intimacy mean within relationships is dramatically changing in our culture as we speak.

See, baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, are now between 53 and 71, to the tune of 76 million, the largest aging population in US history. Of course, there are a lot of aspects to the baby boomer aging population, but one that is especially intriguing is the shift couples are having to make when it comes to trust and intimacy. I’m not a baby boomer myself, but as a married man with a disability, I have an understanding of what many aging couples are facing, where trust and intimacy are taking on deeper, more complex meanings within relationships based on changing abilities.

The reality is, while baby boomers are demonstrating living longer than their parents’ generation, it means facing such realities as later-in-life illnesses and debilitating medical conditions. As a result, couples are finding themselves in the circumstance of one spouse caring for the other – and it’s a complex transition. Trust and intimacy, then, become a whole different experience from what a couple once knew.

In many situations, the individual needing caregiving must trust enough to feel safe in sharing vulnerabilities with his or her spouse – and that can be a harrowing leap of faith. It may have been that trust was once about fidelity or finances, whereas now it’s about your spouse helping you use the commode or bathe. That’s a big leap in trust for many. Similarly, the caregiving spouse must trust that his or her spouse is comfortable in receiving help.

On the intimacy side, it can likewise be a difficult transition. Imagine being a modest person, where your spouse must now assist you in very private living skills, such as bathing. Intimacy takes on a whole new meaning. It requires a deep understanding of each other’s emotions given the circumstance, and that can be tricky.

Interestingly, when couples are able to expand their scopes of trust and intimacy to include illness, disability, and caregiving, it can bring them ultimately closer together. The key I’ve witnessed, though, is that long-standing routines of life must remain in order to keep perspective and romance within the relationship. And, depending on the circumstance, that can be hard to do (and sometimes impossible). My wife helps me considerably in the mornings and eves, but the bulk of our life is that of a 40-something couple with children moving through life. In our case, while my disability and her caregiving aren’t the ideal, we have evolved and expanded our scope of trust and intimacy, and it adds to our unity as a couple. Put simply, we’ve learned what we can work through together – and that’s empowering to all aspects of our marriage.

Such circumstances are an increasing part of relationships within our culture as it ages, and I hope couples are able to navigate these new waters in ways that expand trust and intimacy rather than erode it. Life is about change and growth – and fortunate couples evolve together, regardless of what life sends their way.

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By Mark E. Smith

Imagine your basketball team is tied at the ending of a game, seconds from the final buzzer. You’re standing at the opposite end of the court, and the ball comes to you. What do you do with it?

Most players dribble, hold or pass the ball as the buzzer times out. After all, what can be accomplished at the buzzer, an entire court away from the basket?

My answer every time in life is to take a leap of faith in our talent, luck and what’s meant to be, and throw the ball as high and hard as we can across the entire court, toward the basket – because there’s a chance it will go in. When we have nothing to lose and everything to gain, go for the longshot every time.

I was writing an article a few years ago on pediatric wheelchair use, and I called the mother of a little girl in Southern California for an interview. We’d met a year or so earlier at an event I attended in L.A. on business, and we were linked through Facebook.

When I called her for the interview, I only had one thing on my mind – the interview. However, she was so engaging and wonderful to talk with. We ended up speaking the next eve, then the next, then the next. I quickly realized this woman was amazing, having it all: outer beauty, humor, intellect, compassion, you name it.

But, by all accounts, she was out of my league, though. If anyone objectively looked at the reality of the situation, I was at the wrong end of the basketball court to have any chance of making a basket. I was a single dad with cerebral palsy living in rural Pennsylvania. Why would a gorgeous high-end optician and artist living in San Diego even entertain me as a potential love interest?

However, as I fell for her, I turned to the one trait that’s always got me to new heights in my life: I went for the seemingly impossible longshot. I put my heart out there with nothing to lose and everything to gain. You might say I threw the longest basket in history – from Pennsylvania to California – and it miraculously swooshed the net. Yet, while making a full-court basket only lasts for one game, my now wife and our marriage is for a lifetime.

Life is going to put us at the end of the court from time to time. When we’re blessed, a ball comes our way. And, when the ball comes to us, we can pass or we can trust in ourselves and fate, throwing the ball as high and hard as we can toward the basket. No, it won’t go in every time – it hasn’t for me. But, when it does, it changes our lives forever.

The-Wedding-Singer

By Mark E. Smith

Let’s talk about sexy! This conversation started for me about a year ago when I asked my lifelong best friend – both of us wheelchair users – about whether he was observing what I was: there seemed a sudden shift where many of our peers with disabilities were now in amazing relationships. “When did disability become the new sexy?” I asked.

There have always been cultural stigmas around disability and sexuality – the most historic and inaccurate being that those with disabilities are asexual, that sexuality doesn’t exist within the disability realm. Further adding to this is the totally inaccurate message in society at large that physical perfection directly correlates with sex appeal – that is, the better looking you are, the more sexually desirable you are.  Now, we know in our progressive culture that neither of these are true. However, here’s the question: if we know that imperfect physicality doesn’t deter sex appeal, what then actually drives sex appeal?

The science is in, and the results are encouraging for the 99% of us who aren’t supermodels. While most might say a big bosom or bulging biceps are what people find sexy, the true factors are far more complex and equalizing according to researchers.

Firstly, people find integrity sexually appealing – which makes sense because healthy people aren’t attracted to those who aren’t forthright. The deeper the trust, the purer the attraction.

Secondly, people find a smile and eye contact totally sexually appealing. Admit it, when you’re checking out at the grocery store and the checker glances up at you with eye contact and a smile as he or she runs your V8 juice across the scanner, you’re like, “Was that a flirt?” and it feels awesome. So, imagine when someone at a cocktail party smiles and makes eye contact from across the room – that’s hot! And, if you’re the one doing it, you’re hot! And, if two of you are doing it with each other, it might be time to find a closet – the coat closet, that is, where you can exit the party and go have great conversation over coffee (what did you think I was implying?)

Thirdly, wit and humor are huge turn-ons. Wit and humor make us fun, engaging, grounded, disarming, comfortable and charming. Seriousness is like rain: it’s great as needed, but you don’t want to live with it every day. Wit and humor is the warmth and sunshine that draws others to us.

Fourthly, intelligence is seen as very sexually appealing. Intelligent people both make us feel more secure and stimulate us mentally and emotionally – and that’s sexy. People who demonstrate poor judgement aren’t those who attract others. Act with intelligence; be sexy!

Fifthly, compassion is exceptionally sexually appealing – it ties into deep biological reproductive drivers, where we’re compelled toward people who nurture. It’s a huge turn-on when your partner recognizes and addresses your needs, and you, his or hers.

Last, but not least, people find confidence ultra sexy – bring in the alpha! Now, arrogance shouldn’t be confused with confidence. There’s nothing sexy about a narcissist. However, confident people are cool, calm, collected, in control, comfortable in their skin – and who isn’t attracted to someone with such composure? Just be you; that’s confident and that’s sexy.

Now, the fact is, I haven’t shared anything that you don’t know – and researchers on this subject aren’t rocket scientists. Yet, it proves a powerful point for all of us: sex appeal ultimately doesn’t stem from the body, but the brain. And, if your brain demonstrates integrity, knows how to flash a smile, can make someone laugh, demonstrates intelligence and compassion, and is absolutely comfortable in who you are, well then you are exuding sex appeal wherever you go, a love magnet!

Did I just catch you smiling at me?

love

By Mark E. Smith

Currently, with tremendous strain, I can bench press 210 lbs. one rep. But, I don’t. Instead, three days per week, I bench press 120 lbs. 20 reps, then I drop to 100 lbs. and bench press another 20 reps. Guys all boast how much they can bench press one rep because it sounds impressive. However, it’s truly a specious exercise – they’re not building endurance or true fitness because they’re only doing it once, lifting beyond their real capacity. Me, I choose to lift less weight at higher reps because I want to build meaningful fitness to my genuine capacity.

It’s a lesson from the gym that’s even more important in our relationships. We should only represent ourselves to our truest capacities, as well as recognize the true capacities in our partners. Otherwise, relationships fail and people get hurt.

All of us mean well going into relationships. We put our best self forward and we see only the best in our love interest. Yet, it’s so easy to get caught up in that which we’re not. We want to be what the other person seeks, and we want him or her to be what we seek. And, it all works perfectly – that is, till we realize one or both of us are beyond our capacities. It’s like my bench pressing 210 lbs. I can do it once to impress, but I can’t sustain that level. If you want the real me, I bench press 120 lbs. really well.

In relationships it’s vital that we know our true capacities from the start, adhere to them, and truly recognize our love interest’s capacities. It’s just being honest, and when we do this, it dramatically reduces the odds of someone getting hurt.

Yet, it’s tough to do. It’s so hard because ideals don’t always align with reality. What we want in a relationship can be the antithesis of what we’re capable of. There are classic examples we all can relate with. Someone wants a relationship, but makes no time for it. Someone wants a relationship, but is emotionally still buried in a past one. Someone wants a relationship, but doesn’t have the emotional health to cultivate it. We’ve all done this, experienced this or witnessed this – and it only results in pain.

Bishop T.D. Jakes talks about the importance of realizing our capacities for love and how they vary based on who we are and what we’ve been through. He uses the metaphor that if we’re 10-gallon people looking to be filled with love, we’re never going to be filled by someone who only has an ounce to offer. By the same token, if we only have an ounce to offer, that’s fine, but let’s know that we can’t promise to give more than we have. There’s no right answer, just an honest one.

In this way, we must approach a relationship with accountability on our part, and clarity toward our partner’s capacities. We may want a certain type of relationship, but are we capable of it, and are we being honest and fair to our partner? And, are we able to view our partner with clarity, ensuring he or she is capable of the relationship?

The key to this is utter honesty and following our instincts. If we overextend our capacities in any way, it never feels right, and we have an obligation to stop it or, ideally, be authentic enough not to do it in the first place. Similarly, if our partner’s words are contradicted by actions or circumstances, don’t overlook that. Recognize each other’s true capacities and respect them because if you don’t, someone will get hurt.

Now, this isn’t psycho babble or new-age psychology, but common-sense life experience. I’ve been on both sides, as many of us have. I’ve tried to be someone who I wasn’t, and it didn’t work. And, I’ve overlooked signs in others that I shouldn’t have. There was no ill will in any of it, just intentions wishful beyond our capacities. What I learned in the process, though, is that there’s ultimate joy in being authentic in acknowledging both our own true capacities. Maybe the relationship will reveal itself as soul mates or prove unrealistic. It’s the variables of love. But, the beauty in being authentic in our capacities is that we have the honesty, authenticity and courage to just be us.

lightendtunnel
By Mark E. Smith

In my roles within the mobility industry, I often encounter very difficult situations. No, I don’t mean broken wheelchairs or grumpy customers – those are typically easy to resolve. Rather, the difficult situations I face are families in emotional crises, where a husband is newly paralyzed or parents have lost a child to a progressive condition like muscular dystrophy. And, along that harrowing road over the past 15 years, I’ve seen such families turn tragedy into triumph, while others crumbled into ruins. What is it, then, that separates these two outcomes? What is it that allows couples to survive devastating circumstance while others dissolve?

I’m not a psychologist or a sociologist, nor have I done any scientific studies. But, I am a real, thinking, feeling person with empathy toward those facing adversity – I’ve been there and I know what it’s like. And, as I’ve been in the trenches with families in crises, I’ve observed two very distinct factors that allow couples to face and overcome life’s most profound tragedies, actually strengthening relationships, not destroying them.

The first is factor that successful couples have in the face of adversity is unyielding love and respect for each other. Now, all couples will say that they have unyielding love and respect for each other, and it seems obvious that couples would have this. But, we live in a culture where relationships are about as sacred as trip through a drive-thru, and there’s too often very little respect among partners. Think about couples around you, or maybe your own relationship, where each individual makes him or herself the priority, not the relationship or partner. Or, think about how moodiness, arguing and name calling are deemed acceptable by many. Those are traits of dishonor and disrespect, and when crisis hits, such couples are doomed. In crises, the blame-game ensues and rather than protecting each other’s hearts, they go for the jugular.

However, surviving couples are different. Mutual respect reigns over moodiness, arguing and name calling. Surviving couples run toward the safety and shelter of their relationship during crises, not away from it. There’s a sanctity to the relationship that’s upheld, serving as an unconditional safety net during crises.

Statistically, the average length of marriage prior to divorce is eight years. Why eight years? Money magazine recently reported that over any 10-year period, we have a 98% chance of facing a major life crisis, albeit financial, health-related, and so on. Therefore, if we’re in rocky relationships, and are all but certain to face a crisis, of course it’s just a matter of time before it’s game over, logically right around that 8-year mark.

Yet, truly loving, respectful couples ultimately find crises as opportunities to grow close together. So, at eight years, having faced crises and embraced each other, their commitment is stronger. A couple simply has to have unyielding love and respect to weather crises. I have yet to meet a couple who’s stayed together through a life-changing crisis who didn’t have a foundation of unyielding love and respect for each other.

The second trait that I’ve found couples must have in order to survive a life-changing crisis is a sense of a higher power. Now, I don’t mean formal religion – although it’s often the case – but a true belief in a guiding force that everything happens for a reason, with larger meaning and purpose. This is such a powerful tool toward coping and healing because it often explains the inexplicable.

I was born with severe cerebral palsy. If I looked at that as a random act, solely making me suffer, can you imagine how bleak my world view would be – there’d be no purpose for my life. However, if I truly believe that there’s a purpose to why I received cerebral palsy, I then naturally look for the positives, giving my life purpose and meaning. Couples who succeed through tragedy do exactly this – that is, they share a belief in a larger purpose and meaning to all. If one or both partners are bitter or resentful over a crisis, again, they’ll go for the jugular, not the heart – and the relationship won’t survive. Both partners must believe in a higher power of meaning and purpose.

What I know is that given enough time – statistically within a 10-year period – couples will face crises. And, having witnessed many families experience the most harrowing of circumstances, I can attest to this fact: As long as you and your partner have unyielding love and respect, and believe in a larger meaning and purpose to all, you’ll make it hand-in-hand to the light at the end of the tunnel.

Too busy concept.

By Mark E. Smith

Let’s be honest, there’s no such thing as busy. I mean, it’s a cop-out word that really means insensitive, unorganized, self-absorbed and, sometimes, lazy. It’s the epitome of an overwhelmed, often self-centered person that says nothing about productivity.

See, I’m a very productive person, but I never consider myself busy, especially when it comes to people. Melissa sits outside my office in her cubicle, and I suppose that if you asked her if I’m busy, she’d tell you yes because I’m usually a flurry of activity, with my keyboard keys clanking, phone chattering, door opening and closing. Yet, I’m never busy. Rather, I’m productive To me, busy is an end-all, a shut-down. It’s when you walk into someone’s office and he or she says, I can’t talk now, I’m busy. Or, it’s when your romantic partner says, I don’t have time for this discussion, I’m busy. It’s a complete dismissal of who you are and your importance – and it hurts and erodes trust. And, I avoid such insensitive behavior like the plague because I want to be productive, emotionally available and successful – and busy doesn’t allow any of that.

Now, this isn’t to say we shouldn’t set healthy boundaries. None of us can do all tasks and meet all needs at once. However, prioritizing instead of shutting down is the key. If I’m given a task at work and I already have a full plate, I simply state, Thank you, I’ll get to it once I’m finished with X, Y, and Z. I never turn down work based on being busy – again, self-absorbed, lazy people do that. Similarly, I prioritize people, where I try to offer immediate availability, but if I can’t, I’ll acknowledge their sincere importance by saying such a validating reply as, Can I call you back in an hour, as I’m in the middle of this urgent task, and I really want to focus on you when we talk. And, I strive to keep others abreast to my day’s schedule, so they know why I may be unavailable at certain times.

Of course also in the area of boundaries, we don’t want to become dumping stations for others’ work or have emotionally unhealthy, needy people consume our time. However, even then, busy is a cop-out. Rather, address the root causes and define boundaries instead of simply proclaiming, I’m busy.

In this way, if you want to be productive, successful and emotionally available, being busy doesn’t work. Ultimately, I have all the time in the world for work and those I care about. But, I have no time for people who tell me they’re busy.