Five Minute Sherpa

an espresso shot of thoughtful guidance

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On Healing

The way we heal the wounds in our lives is to tell the story. Tell the story of your harm over and over again until you are no longer limited and harmed by what has happened. This is the essence of therapy … to become familiar with our own truths (and lies) and live honest and peaceable lives.

You cannot do this alone. We are not unbiased about our wounds, nor the words we use to describe our experiences. We need others to hear our stories, and to help us to see parts that we’d rather not see. Parts that we hate.

Untold stories (secrets) poison our hope, dreams, and relationships. Yes, there is much pain in these stories but pain is only there because there has been a fracture of relationship. Just like cold is not it’s own created thing, it is the absence of heat, so too is pain. Pain only exists because a relationship (love) has been broken.

If we cannot forgive those we hate the most (and this doesn’t mean that we have to like the person we’re forgiving), we will never be able to accept the forgiveness of others. Telling our secrets—our stories—is the process of grief, of forgiveness.

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Making Peace with DMZ’s in Marriage

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I’m sure you’ve seen it in a movie, or on the news. The scene is this: Some country breaks the demilitarized zone with an aircraft or some other object. The other country interprets this as an act of war and promptly opens fire on object, destroying it before it has a chance to hurt them. You don’t step foot into the DMZ unless you’re wanting to die, or start an all-out war.

Unfortunately, many marriages are setup like warring countries. There are tragedies, betrayals, and offenses that have gone unresolved. These stories become the DMZ between the couple. As one woman said in my office last week, “he had an affair 8 years ago, we never talked about it then, and we’re not going to talk about it now.”

The bottom line is this: Marriages will not survive DMZ’s. The moment a story is placed in the “off limits” category, knowingly or unknowingly, the couple has declared war on intimacy, trust, and forgiveness — all components of thriving relationships. When a DMZ is established, the individual parties begin looking out for the best interest of themselves, and only look at the other person from a distance.

So, how do countries stabilize war and DMZ’s? I’m not all that studied on international diplomacy, but ultimately it comes down to one word: Peace. Enemies must make peace with one another for war to end.

Here’s how you start this process in marriage.

– Take your shoes off, literally. The DMZ in your marriage is holy ground. It’s where blood has been spilled, death has been seen, and hope has been lost. We bring silence and respect when entering a place of mourning. Taking your shoes off puts your feet in bare contact with the physical ground, and terrain. You’re more sensitive to what you’re walking on without your shoes.

– Drop your weapons. You don’t walk into a peace treaty meeting with a machine gun. What are the weapons you use in marriage? Contempt? Stonewalling? Name calling? Calling it like you see it? Avoidance? Manipulation? Control? Rage? Regardless of the weapon, leave it at the door.

– Unfold your arms. Our body language tells others everything they need to know to make a judgement about how we’re approaching the situation. By crossing your arms or legs, you’re signaling defensiveness and being closed off. Defensiveness is a support of DMZ’s, not a way to make peace.

– Listen twice, speak once. The reality is most of us do not listen very well. We’re generally more interested in forming our rebuttal than allowing the words, emotions, and energy to get to us. Before you respond with what you want to say, reflect back to the other person the actual words they spoke and ask if you heard everything correctly (ie- “I heard you say you feel like I don’t like you, and that I care more about work than I care about you, is that right?).

– Slow down. Take deep breaths to slow down your heart rate. This decreases the chances of your fight or flight response from taking over. Relax your jaw, your fists, and breath. It may sound hokey, but slowing your heart rate will better allow you to view the other person as a friend, not a foe.

– Listen to your senses. What do you smell, see, and feel (physically)? In fights or places of tension, we are generally being reactive to something from the past (see #4 – fight/flight). Practicing awareness of our senses brings us into the present moment, and helps to bring clarity.

– Practice offering gratitude. If you’re not offering thanks to your spouse for their efforts to bring peace, peace will not come. Be wary of how entitlement cheats gratitude (“she should know better…”, or “I shouldn’t have to tell you this…”). If you can’t find something to be thankful for, the issue is with you, not the other person.

The saying is true: “It takes two to tango,” but it only takes one person to change the way they are dancing to invite the other to do the same. I’ve seen it dozens of times where one person has offered peace to an unwilling and defensive participant, and it changes the relationship. Don’t wait for the other person to change first, they are likely waiting for the same thing.

The above picture is “a view from the Dora Observatory in Korea. The DMZ (and beyond it, North Korea) is visible through the haze. (photo via flickr user Ben Kucinski)

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Myth #2: It Takes a Village

This post is part of a series in response to an article about reasons not to be afraid of a divorce. The bolded first sentence/statement below are the words from the author in the linked article. The following comments are my opinions in response. Read the introduction to this series of posts here first.

Previous posts in series:
Myth #1 — Divorce Pain is Temporary


 

Myth #2 —  “Society says divorce is bad, that may not be true.”

The above quote links divorce to caffeine where the author states, “society used to think caffeine was bad, now it says it might help prevent cancer.” I’m in agreement that there are a host of issues society has gotten wrong. I don’t think anyone can argue that point. But, have we gotten the issue of divorce wrong? A question I had after reading this was: ‘Is divorce harmful to the body like caffeine was once thought to be?’

I don’t think the author intended for this connection to be taken literally, but I went on a search anyway and here is what I found. In 2009 the Journal of Health and Social Behavior published a study that linked divorce and widowhood to a decrease in physical health. In fact, there was a more significant toll on the physical health than on the mental health of those who’d divorced or widowed. I think some of this decline in physical health is linked to the need for companionship, because in this study those that remarried reported physical health issues getting better.

Not surprisingly, our society has drastically changed over the past 50 years. In the summer of 2013 I, and my extended family, buried the patriarch of our family, my grandfather. He was a man rigorous in his commitment to family, responsibility, and hard work. He grew up as the country exited the great depression, fought on the front lines in France, and stayed at his job for the entirety of his career. His work ethic was remarkable. I don’t think he would consider himself all that special amongst his peers, or others from his era. They did what they had to do, regardless of how hard it was.

The society he helped create said divorce was bad because (the following are my words), there was a cultural understanding that marriage was hard work, just like the rest of life. The culture supported hard work in every facet of life, and marriage was no different. Doing what feels good was not something my grandfathers’ culture promoted, or advertised. That is not the case today. We are constantly bombarded with advertisements promoting pleasure. The culture’s message is clear: Do what feels good. This is not a helpful message for those facing hardships in their relationship.

Last week I wrote about marriage being one of the main pillars that creates culture. If you take marriage away, what is left? Doing what feels good often does not take into account the effect upon those around us. If our society is more bent towards encouraging choices that feel good, which I firmly believe to be the case, then there is tons of support for divorce being a acceptable (and desirable) decision. But did my grandfather’s generation, his society, get it wrong? On the issue of marriage, I think they got it right.

Usually doing what’s right comes at the expense of our own individual freedoms and desires. This is a difficult reality: The good of the whole doesn’t make all the individuals happy. In fact, the good of the whole often time comes at the cost of individual pleasure. There has to be a bigger story, a more compelling story, that causes people to lay down their rights, freedoms, and preferences for the good of the whole. Divorce is not that compelling story for a society because it promotes a me-first, “every man/woman for themselves” attitude. This is a dangerous and slippery slope. The history books do not reflect well upon those who take it upon themselves to act on desires for personal glory, or pleasure.

At present, our society is losing clarity on why marriage is important. The conversations are about civil rights and freedoms, not about what it actually takes to build a sustainable marriage. This is problematic, regardless of who you married. Our culture has deemed divorce acceptable thus we have lost a vital support system for marriages to thrive. I’m sure the saying is familiar: It takes a village to raise a child … well, it also takes a village to raise a marriage.

Next Up — Myth #3: The same people judging you for getting divorced are probably part of the Miserable & Married crowd.

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Sources:
Hughes, M. and Waite, L. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, September 2009; vol 50

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Anne Lamott on Brian Williams and scapegoats

Anne Lamott, one of my favorite authors, recently posted some thoughts (originally posted here) about Brian Williams (NBC Nightly News anchor) and our common humanity. This is worth reading, even if you don’t have a clue what’s happening with Mr. Williams. My favorite line encompasses something most of us are afraid of doing: “Let’s be human together.”

 

Brian Williams is our new Old Testament goat. It’s like being the new It Girl, although of course, not quite as festive. And I’m caught up in it, too. It’s hard to turn away, and a part of me, the dark part of me with bad self esteem, is cheered. The handsomest, richest, most perfect guy turned out to have truthiness issues; and it was good.

He’s our sin offering. Wow, how often do I get to type those words? Not nearly often enough! It’s exhilarating. It’s Shirley Jackson’s “Lottery.” Each worsening detail is like a self-esteem ATM.

I’m watching talking heads on the biggest news stations come down on him, and I know some of these most famous men to have been unfaithful, and worse–way worse, with children. They’re in the delicious throes of schadenfreude, which part of me is, too. The sweeter part of me, the child, the girl in her little blue kilt, the mom, the nana, the black-belt co-dependent, wants to shake her fist at the bullies. Who here doesn’t lie, emebellish, exaggerate? (I’m reminded of the old joke about Jesus telling the crowd who is stoning the adulteress, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” Suddenly a woman throws a rock at the adulturess. Jesus looks up, and says, “Oh for Pete’s sake, Mother.”)

No one, not one single person, has stood up for him. I would, but I’m a lying liar, too–well, maybe not as egregious as Brian Williams. I don’t tell people “I looked down the tube of an RPG”. Well, maybe that one time I did. But that was just so people would like me more.

I would stand with Mr. Williams, because he’s family. There’s a scene in Small Victories where I was giving a writing workshop to the prisoners in San Quentin, with my friend Neshama, and she told them. “I’m human. You’re human. Let’s be in our humanness together for a little while.” So yes, I stand with him.

But my solidarity wouldn’t mean all that much. My son rolls his eyes sometimes at family gatherings, because the story I’ve just told has changed from its last telling. But then again, so has his.

The sober people I know began sobriety by minimizing how bad their drinking and drug use was; by the end of the first year, they’re copping to the most graphic, disgusting behavior you can imagine. This was definitely my case; I started out mentioning that maybe I had a few too many a couple times a week, to the truth, which was that I was insane, trying to buy opiates, guys, the random RPG.

(Of course, Brian Williams did not do nearly as socially repellant things as my addict brothers and sisters did. In our defense, though, we rarely said we had been struck by RPG’s. So it’s sort of a wash.)

The truth eventually set me free. It’s the “eventually” that gets ya. But it did. I hurt a lot of people, mostly other women, but with a lot of help and solidarity, I told my truth, and there was great healing, for them and me; and what I did still sucked. Sometimes, they still do.

Take, for instance, the words for which I am probably most semi-famous, besides “shitty first drafts” and that my bad thoughts make Jesus want to drink gin straight out of the cat dish. The words were not even mine: it was my wild Jesuit friend Tom Weston’s word who actually said that you can tell you’ve created God in your own image when He hates the same people you do. Father Tom said it in a lecture 23 years ago, at a small gathering. The first few times I quoted it–probably at Salon, and possibly in Bird by Bird–I attributed it to him. Then the next few times, I didn’t. I just shoe-horned it into conversation, as if I’d just thought of it that minute; brilliant daring me

And not exactly “conversation.” More like, “While being interviewed.”

Then, it got picked up, and it was everywhere, and I started trying to correct the lie–at a big public level. In print, and on Kurt Andersen’s gigantic show, Studio 360 on WNYC, New York City’s NPR. It was the childhood dream of going to school naked. But I did it.

The line is frequently quoted, as mine. It’s a great line; it says it all. But I’m sick of cringing and saying I borrowed it. Okay–stole it. Fine.

Me, and one of our greatest historians, Doris Kearns Goodwin, right? Do we say, as people are saying now about Mr Williams, “Well, we wouldn’t be able to trust Goodwin after she plagarized.” No. We absolutely trust her. We decided to. She earned our trust back.

The point is, we are gigantically flawed. Oh, my God, such screw-ups. We can be such total asshats. And if you’re in the public eye, like Brian Williams, or in the public baby toe, like me, it goes viral.

We do the best we can. Sigh. Some days go better than others. We get to start our new 24 hours every time we remember. I’m also remembering the old wisdom story about the elder who tells a young girl that inside him, inside all humans, are two dogs, a good dog and an aggressive dog. They’re always at war. The girl asks him which dog usually wins. He thinks about it, and says, “The one I feed the most.” So I am going to feed my kinder side, forgive and trust Brian Williams, me, and, sight unseen, you. His story will to play out however it does, almost entirely based on NBC’s financial considerations. In the meantime, we can wish him and his family well.

 

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Are you Hopeless in Marriage?

Most people who have not done significant spiritual or relational work do not know how to do conflict well. Invariably, we will unconsciously adapt our conflict styles to what we were exposed to in our childhood homes. The saying “the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree” is true here, how are we to know a different way of being without the help of someone else to show us another place?

Marriage provides the context for taking another person to another place. It offers hope that I can live alongside someone who will help me to become a better person, and I can do the same for them. The reality is that once the newness wears off (which happens at different rates of time for different people), couples often lose sight of the purpose of marriage.

I often hear, “I just want to be happy and live in peace” when asking people what they desire in their marriages. Generally this is in reaction to the growing disconnect and conflict that exists between husband and wife. However, when you don’t do the necessary maintenance and work, It decays and begins to break down. This is true of the material world just as it is for relationships.

Cleaning up and fixing something that has been neglected for a long time takes more energy and effort than the time it would have taken to maintain. In relationships, if you do not spend the time proactively working and engaging the faulty issues in your marriage, when it comes time to “fix it” or “buy a new one”, it’s going to feel overwhelming.

This overwhelming feeling coupled with the already everyday needs and demands of life make it even more difficult to find the courage, energy, and hope to dig out of the mess. If you’re at this place of hopelessness in your marriage, seek out a counselor. If you’re afraid you’re on the road to hopelessness, here are some suggestions to work on:

Do go on regular dates with your spouse.
Do monthly budget meetings to review and plan financial concerns and needs
Do yearly/bi-yearly marriage enrichment activities (counseling, retreats, books, etc)
Do not turn on the ’screen’ (tv, phone, computer/tablet) at least 2 nights per week
Do not blame your spouse for anything, ever. Take responsibility for your actions.
Do not use the word divorce unless you are filing.
Do not have an affair with work, alcohol, Facebook, video games, food, or the TV.
Do practice non-sexual touch without it leading to sex.
Do not hide behind your kids activities to avoid conflict.
Do not use your kids to fulfill your loneliness.

No relationship is beyond repair. I have seen couples dealing with multiple layers of betrayal, lies, and brokenness work diligently on repairing their relationship. When you married your spouse, they became the right one, don’t buy into the lie that there is someone better out there for you. If you’re willing to do the hard work, your hopelessness can be healed.

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Sunsets and People


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“People are just as wonderful as sunsets if you let them be. When I look at a sunset, I don’t find myself saying, “Soften the orange a bit on the right hand corner.” I don’t try to control a sunset. I watch with awe as it unfolds.”
Carl R. Rogers

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Book Review: Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters

371fe__51vm4spIX8LDad’s beware: Reading this book will likely provoke anger, shock, shame, guilt, and fear. There are stats and eye-opening realities that the author presents suggesting the current and future perils our daughters will face in the world. For this reason alone, dad’s need to read what Meg Meeker has written. Yes, it’s a shock to the system, but that is sorely needed. While this is a book catered to dad’s with daughters, I think it’s a book that all parents need to read.

Some of material Dr. Meeker talks through is in regard to relationships, not only between dad’s and daughters, but also between daughters and boyfriends. Parents of all boys would be wise to read this because of the unique insights into the needs of young women. It takes a village to raise a child, and by engaging with our boys we will be setting up the girls to be treated respectfully and decently.

One thing I did notice about the book that seemed a bit heavy handed was the sole emphasis on the role of the dad in the daughters life as the most important parental relationship. While this may have been done intentionally to get through the “thick heads” of many men, it does leave a gap as to the importance of mom in the parental relationship. I don’t think Dr. Meeker would say that the mom isn’t important, but it’s omission was notable. This will undoubtably be offensive to some, but does not discredit the overall merit of the book.

I appreciate Dr. Meeker’s call to action, specifically to make dad’s aware of the overwhelming need of their presence in their daughter’s lives. Being engaged with their daughter is likely something already overwhelming for dad’s (at times, I feel this way with my daughter), which is why this point is made over and over again throughout the book. I agree with the reality that daughters need their dad’s to be present and to show up with them. Too often I hear of grown women lament their dad’s absence as a key factor in their lack of self-esteem, self-worth, and self-image.

This is a must read for all dad’s with daughters, regardless of their age. The stories she shares really help to bring home the heart of her writings, which was extremely helpful as a reader to put flesh on the ideas she presents.

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Jesse Take the Wheel

If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a hundred times: Wives are terrified of their husbands driving behaviors. Just a few months ago a couple sat in my office and the wife was almost in tears about the trip from their home to my office. They were running a few minutes late, the husband was upset with his wife for not being ready on time, and thus drove in a very careless manner. He, of course, did not see it this way.

The most common rebuttal I hear men use to defend their driving ability: How many times have I gotten in a wreck? This was the exact response the husband said to his wife during their drive to my office after she asked him to slow down. He was not going to change his ways. The message was clear: I will continue driving this way regardless of how you feel about it.

I’ve been guilty of this behavior, and of using this excuse. My rationale is that Stephanie, my wife, should have no reason to be afraid of me driving because I’ve got an incredibly glowing record on the road. During our 12 years together, I’ve gotten 1 ticket and only been in one minor fender bender (I’ll refrain from defending either occurrence).

The problem is, despite my great driving record, I’m paying more attention to my perceived abilities than I am her fears. This is the definition of arrogance. Sure, some of her fears are bigger than what I’m causing, but the moment that I began to slow down a bit and not drive so close to other cars is about the same time that she began to relax on our trips together. It’s no coincidence that her fears are near zero now that I’ve chilled out driving.

Our call as husbands is to love and care for the places in our wives that are insecure. I’m not sure why it is this way, but driving fast excites men and terrifies women. This is a perfect setup for there to be conflict.

We men are driving precious cargo: Our kids, wife, and ourselves. The way we drive is a direct connection to how well we care for that cargo. If we are driving carelessly, we are placing a judgment of little value on those we claim to love the most.

The majority of the time we are driving alone. No one is there to tell us to slow down, stop texting, checking ESPN, or reading twitter. But these are the moments that we need to be the most aware of the impact our lives have on those around us. If you end up in a coma or six feet under, her fears will be confirmed. All it takes is one accident to nullify your illustrious driving career.

I’m constantly on the lookout for the ideas around relationships that make logical sense and have a high rate of return. Sometimes in my search for the ever elusive “easy button” (I blame Staples) I miss out on the true easy opportunities to love my wife. Surprising, I know. When I realized that the way I drive is like me writing a love letter to my wife, I began paying very close attention.

There are hundreds of practical ways that we men can love our wives. Some of these efforts take hours, some only take a few moments. Changing your driving habits might cost you 4-5 minutes per day. Spending these 4-5 minutes as an extra investment of love will yield great results.

(Article originally published at Start Marriage Right)

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Just One Point

I did good. It was my wife’s 30th birthday, and I had the ultimate celebration for her.

We were in our first year of grad school in Seattle, thousands of miles away from friends and family. She was a bit homesick, and just beginning to understand that any season other than Summer means lots of grey skies and rain.

I arranged for some of her closest friends to send her a teacup that was unique to her, and write a note explaining the selection. On her birthday morning, the kids and I setup a tea party and she unwrapped a dozen teacups to complete the setup. It was glorious, and I was feeling quite proud of myself. She felt celebrated and all was well for that day.

I felt like I’d earned the mother lode of “points.” You know, “points” being the relational banking system (which I’m sure was created by men, for men) that illustrate how much one cares for another person. I was convinced that I’d proven my dad’s theory wrong that men can only earn one point per day with their wife.

If you’re not familiar with the point system, it’s pretty simple. Regardless of how great the act of service, expensive the gift, or sacrificial the behavior: Men earn one single point that says they loved their wife well. This point is non-transferable, expires at midnight, and cannot be redeemed on any other day than the day it was earned. It’s somewhat of a joke in our family that even if a husband buys his wife a diamond ring, he only earns a single point. It’s only funny because it is true.

This illustrates one of the great challenges men face in relationships. We want to fix, which is rooted in our nature that we are made for work. Fixing is a part of the drive that men use to make their mark on this world. Intuitively, men know that there is an infinite amount of work that is required in relationships. Searching for that elusive multiple-point gift or act is an ever present goal.

If there were such a gift or act that could solve the relational demands of a marriage, it would reduce marriage into an objective. This objective is what we men say we want, but it’s not what we are made for. The reality is that men don’t want to spend all day working in their jobs to then come home and do more work in their relationship. As a man, I don’t find fault in this desire but I do understand the challenges it presents in relationships. The mystery of a relationship is what creates the context for marriage.

Marriage is a divine mystery, and is something that we unknowingly admit when we get married. We join in this ceremony of matrimony that is far greater and bigger than the two people gathered at the alter. If the goal is to solve this mystery, it requires a view of marriage that is centered around a need we all, men and women, have for ultimate security. There is little security in a mystery, conversely there is little security in marriage. The security we hope to have is worked for and earned, which gives credence to the truth of the “point system.”

Many studies have shown that lottery winners end up worse off because of the wealth they luckily won. They no longer need to work, thus they no longer have purpose. Similarly, earning a lifetime of points in marriage would create an absence of work, an absence of purpose. Instead of hoping to earn multiple points in marriage, we men need to view the process of “earning points” with our wives as a process of getting to know them better. Not for the sake of arriving, but for the process of the journey.

(article originally published at Start Marriage Right)

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Introverts and Marriage

Introverts have long received the label of “misunderstood.” Some estimate that at least a third or more of the population are introverts. While this is a subjective estimation (everyone has some extroverted and introverted parts), it’s safe to say that most marriages will have one person who is more introverted than the other.

If the term “introvert” is an unfamiliar one, let me give a brief background to this personality type. Introverts tend to be more concerned with the quality of relationships, as opposed to the quantity. They also are more interested in the depth of understanding, not the breadth. Introverts are people oriented but usually require time away from large groups of people to re-energize. Whereas an extrovert would have more energy after a social outing, an introvert would likely be left feeling a bit depleted.

A common misconception is that introverts only like to be alone. Certainly this is sometimes the case, it’s more likely that introverts are more limited in their social energies than of their counterpart, the extrovert. “Intro” refers to inside, which means that processing happens internally. The Myers-Briggs personality test is a great resource for helping to shed light on which personality types best describe people.

So what happens in marriage when an introvert, one who tends to be quieter, slower, and more internal in their processing, marries an extrovert? A feeling of being overwhelmed with all the stimulation of having another person inside in their world.

As an introvert with four young kids (at this time, 10 years old and under), I’m continually faced with people getting in my business. Sometimes, it’s too much for me. Two of my older kids are extroverts, as is my wife, so I’m definitely in the minority. Prior to getting married, I used to journal 4-5 times per week. It was my therapy as I processed the ups and downs in life through written word. I used to fill up journals of content every year, but when I got married, I stopped journaling. Part of this is because I didn’t have any words left for my journal. I used them all with my wife. The other part was that I really didn’t know what to do with someone else in my world on a constant basis.

I was confused. I loved Stephanie, my wife, being there, but I wanted space. I battled guilt for sometimes wanting to be away from her, but at the same time I resented her. It was an odd time. You or your spouse might face a similar situation. Here are some suggestions about navigating this area of your relationship.

First, be forthright about the emotional and/or relational needs that each of you have. How much time do you need apart or where there is enough space to recharge? How often do social gatherings need to take place? What about travel to family events, or weekend plans? All of these questions will address the needs of both the introvert and extrovert. Because introverts tend to be slower processors, they need space to think and consider what is happening in life. Talk about the specific needs you or your spouse have, and agree together how to go about accomplishing these needs.

Secondly, don’t be afraid to split up on any given event. You both don’t have to be together at every social gathering. If the setup is that both go together or not at all, one is going to be susceptible to resentment. If one of you does stay behind, make sure to check in with one another after the event, or the following day. As with all things, keep short accounts with each other.

Lastly, trade off leadership responsibilities in regards to date night or social gatherings. This is a great practice to do outside of the conversation about introversion/extroversion. The helpful aspect of this is the chance to invite the other into your world and what it is that you enjoy doing. By trading the leadership in this way, both partners will be given freedom to express themselves to their spouse.

Introverts help us to slow down, to think things through, and to settle into helpful rhythms. Without a sense of care, an introvert will shut down and become removed from the relationship. Care well for the introvert in you and in your marriage, and enjoy the fruits of a deeper relationship.

(Article originally published at Start Marriage Right)