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Couples Comfort Book Forward

A New Foreword - Ten Years Later I have been married now for 14 years. We have a daughter. She will soon be ten. We have survived the death of a parent, financial pressure, a major move, parenting, intense travel schedules - not to mention coming to terms with the startling truth - we really do marry our opposites. My parents always told me that marriage was hard work. They never told me there would be days when you hate your spouse.

Days? Sometimes weeks. No one told me what a cold war marriage could be. Not that I would have listened. At 23, looking into those big green eyes of my husband, I would have said (and probably did, if I could remember), "Not us.

We'll be different." Darby tells her version of the relationship saga. "Almost ten years ago, very early on in my partner's and my relationship, I found The Couple's Comfort Book at a local bookstore. Being dopey in love, I picked it up, and ended up stretching my limited grad-student budget to bring it home.

Dopey in love from time to time gave way to conflict (sound familiar?), and one night I grabbed the book and scrambled to the chapter on how to have a fair fight. "We're gonna do it this way!" I said, waving the book. "You'll be Carlos and I'll be Martya!" We aired our views and we really listened to each other ( see p. 285). We didn't interrupt, snipe, or manipulate.

We learned to argue 'by the book'. Even now, when our discussions get heated, we still argue 'by the book', and both of us firmly believe that if we hadn't learned how to play fair in our times of difference, we would have called it quits long ago. I really appreciate the book's recognition that love wears many emotional hats (delight, neediness, desire, ennui, anger, etc.)-that is its greatest strength. Ten years later, we still pull this book off the shelf." Maybe some people don't have to learn to fight by the book.

Maybe some relationships are blessed. There do seem to be couples who inhabit what I call the nirvana of relationships - married or not, parents or not, straight or gay - they have found someone with whom they are complete. Okay, yes, they fight, they may mutter petty flinty hearted things under their breaths, but somehow these couples have an I-can't-live-without-you-connection, some extra reserve of magic patience and grace.

One couple I knew could spend five minutes saying goodbye - and all they were doing were driving across town in separate cars, all of a 10 minute trip! For the rest of us, mere mortals, we must face the astonishing difficult spiritual work of being in a relationship without that magic. We must face the worst and the best in ourselves, over and over again, if we choose to stay together, if we choose to create real intimacy. Face it - the hardest spiritual path in life is being in a committed relationship. Yes, I can say parenting is a close second but the really hard years of parenting do end. You still worry, you are still connected, oh yes, but the everyday rub up against it, that ends.

The children move out (hopefully). Your partner doesn't (hopefully). I wish I could find a magic pill to make my marriage easier. The only thing I have found, which I return to over and over, is the idea that by being together, we create a third something: the relationship. This third something needs love, attention and feeding.

As much as I may hate my partner at any given moment, I value and treasure this third thing with my whole being. It is very precious to me. It deserves to flourish. So most of the time, I can do something to nurture the relationship, even when I'd like to find subtle and crafty ways to torture my husband.

Usually, any step I take away from our usual routine, from, "If he would only do ___, then I would be able to do ____," away from our tangled, sour power struggles, and into serving the relationship, then the funniest thing always happens. He does something nice for me. Then I look at him across the kitchen counter, and suddenly, he's cute again. I scoot over to his side of the bed. I say how nice it would be to go away from a weekend together, alone.

We talk - about important things or mundane things - but we talk. In those moments, we are one of those couples, we are graced and living in relationship nirvana. Nurturing your relationship is certainly not mandatory. Most people don't do it. You can certainly avoid it, keep meaning to do it, talk about doing it without actually doing it.

Nobody will die. You may even stay together. Yet I wager that you will feel you are missing something, something juicer, richer, more intimate, more real, more alive. I'd never suggest taking this step toward one another is easy but I can declare the reward is what we all yearn for, in the words of the late Raymond Carver: to call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on this earth.

Jennifer Louden is a best-selling author of five books, including the classic The Woman's Comfort Book and her newest Comfort Secrets for Busy Women. She has appeared on numerous TV and radio programs, including Oprah. She's also a certified coach, creator of learning events and unique life balance products. Her upcoming retreat with Master Coach Molly Gordon is on how to "do" change with grace and confidence. Visit www.comfortqueen.com/retreats



Couple's Comfort Book Forward


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