Posts Tagged ‘Tim Atkinson’

Getting Your Sex Life Back In Gear

July 25, 2011

IMAGO Director, Tim Atkinson interviews YourTango.com Expert & Sexologist, Tammy Nelson for her thoughts.

Is it just a natural part of getting older together that our sex life is going the way of the Dodo?” asked Brenda and Simon. “We really care for each other, but on the rare times it happens, sex is pretty dull.

Tammy Nelson made quite a stir in 2008 with her book Getting the Sex You Want in which she applied Imago Relationship Therapy to restoring the love lives of couples like Simon and Brenda. “Sometimes couples wonder if their marriage is simply past its expiration date” she told me. “They are asking whether it’s time to trade in their partner for a new model.

Simon doesn’t want to be unfaithful, but makes up for lack of action in the bedroom with internet porn. That leaves Brenda worrying that it might not just be the sex that’s wrong, but that the whole relationship is fading away. “We don’t even really know how to talk about it” they shared with Tammy.

Not knowing how to talk about sex is extremely common in relationships, and Tammy’s response is to use Imago Relationship Therapy to get Brenda and Simon talking about the deeper things that really matter.

Step 1 – Talk about what it is you are missing in a positive way

Shortly before my last marriage ended, my wife would say to me things like “get some help with your sex technique.” Other days she might complain, “You don’t find me attractive anymore.” From Tammy I learned that these comments are painfully common, and are just as effective as saying nothing and silently seething. Instead, it’s important to find a way to share your concerns in a positive way. “I’m feeling distant from you” might be one way, or “I’m missing those wonderful times we had together.”

Step 2 – Talk about what sex means to you

“Usually at least one partner feels guilty and anxious about the lack of sex” explained Tammy “So it’s helpful to start connecting around sex in a way that looks at the deeper needs, rather than the physical details.” Tammy coached Simon and Brenda in a way of talking called the Imago Dialogue. She would ask each partner to share what sex means for them. One might say “Sex for me is about being emotionally connected”, and then the other would mirror that back, repeating what they heard. The mirroring process helps build connection, because each partner feels really heard. Mirroring becomes more important the deeper the conversations go.

Step 3 – Appreciate your partner

When couples talk about what is going wrong, things go more wrong. For example, men tend to avoid sex altogether if there is any suggestion of dysfunction. It’s easy in these conversations to shift the blame on other things, like too much stress at work. Soon discussions about sex get blocked, waiting for the external world to change. And it rarely does.

Instead, turn the conversation around. Tell your partner “One thing I really appreciate about you sexually is…” This will be even more effective if you can both use the mirroring process described in step 2. You can add “One thing I really like about our sex life is…”

Tammy encouraged Simon and Brenda to talk more about the whole sexual experience. “It’s not all about the finish line” she says “but finding the delight in each moment couples share together.”

Step 4 – The weekly sex date

I was quite taken aback when Tammy told me that her advice for a couple wanting to resuscitate their sex-life is to set aside a regular time for sex. “Same time, same day of the week, whether you feel like it or not.” she prescribed. “Even if you are angry or tired!”

I always thought that sex should be spontaneous, but Tammy changed that. “Marking a regular date in the calendar sets up some anticipation, and helps couples begin to look forward to it. Simon and Brenda were resistant, but willing to at least try it. They found, like many, it worked well for them for a few weeks, and started to get the sizzle back.” She explained.

But after about six weeks many couples hit a wall. That’s when it might be time for some good “nuts and bolts” type conversations about what happens in the bedroom, and maybe get a little specialist advice.

Step 5 – Get exciting

Now is the time to start using the Imago Dialogue to explore more about what you really want sexually. Stay in the positive, telling your partner “Something sexual I enjoyed in the past…” and then expand into what you would like more of in the future.

At this stage Tammy starts coaching couples to share fantasies. “These aren’t necessarily things that couples are really going to do” explains Tammy “it’s more important for their partner to understand what these fantasies mean to their partner emotionally.” Tammy calls it sexual empathy.

One example may be a partner who wants to be blindfolded, but her partner didn’t want to do this because he felt it was degrading to her. Through Imago Dialogue he learned that his partner felt that being blindfolded would free her from insecurity about her body, and enable her to be more fully engage in pure sensation. It became a new point of connection.

Tammy’s work is deeply rooted in Imago Relationship Therapy, where creating deeper connection is all important. She believes that eroticism is an important part of that connection, bringing a fresh energy into the relationship. As sex becomes a world of new adventure and discovery, Brenda and Simon can fall deeper in love than ever before.

Sick And Tired Of Being Sick AND Tired?

May 9, 2011

Over the next few weeks we’ll be sharing a series of articles written by Imago Executive Director, Tim Atkinson for the Your Tango Expert Blog. Tim interviews some of Imago’s senior faculty about  topics ranging from improving your sex life to infidelity to breakups. We’re sending them out to you because these posts illustrate how Imago can strengthen relationships, help couples to overcome common challenges and ensure each partner receives the love they want. You will see that the core Imago dialogue process is used each time plus some suggestions for helpful new perspectives on your relationship.

O what a heaven is love! O what a hell!” said the 17th century poet, Thomas Dekker.

Does love ever feel like that to you? Given that 50% of marriages end in divorce, and all sorts of other grim statistics, I guess there’s a good chance that your answer is “Yes.”

But do you know why? Why should love have its dark side – other than to create a large market for romantic movies, paper handkerchiefs and voodoo dolls?

I decided to ask some experts. I’m in a good position to do that since I work with 1,200 couples therapists from around the world. They are no stranger to loving relationships that have turned nasty and taken the unfortunate turn to the dark side. I asked some of these amazing experts to help me write about what goes wrong in love. And more importantly, how to put it back together again when it falls apart.

This article introduces a series which features stories of real couples who have climbed back up the loving ladder to bliss. First let’s look at some of the most common issues couples bring to therapists, and some of the common elements that help couples restore their connection.

To begin, I asked Imago couples therapists about the situations they most often encounter. Their top list included the following issues:

Rebuilding trust after an affair was near the top.

Followed by couples whose new child had introduced tensions, especially when the parents fought over parenting styles.

Finally, were couples whose sex life had become unsatisfying, or who had simply become bored with each other.

Then I had a conversation that changed everything.

“I don’t like looking at it that way” said Imago Couples Therapist, Pam Wood, “I don’t work with situations, I work with connection”. Pam told me that using Imago therapy, her primary goal is to help the couple to improve the quality of connection to their partner. Once the connection is rebuilt, couples have the ability to work through pretty much any situation.

Imago Therapy was developed by Dr. Harville Hendrix and his partner Dr. Helen LaKelly Hunt. It’s a favorite of Oprah’s, as well as thousands of therapists worldwide. Harville is fond of saying “Conflict is growth trying to happen” because Imago views the current situation a couple is experiencing as a symptom of something deeper. Underneath there’s another story going on that’s all about the couple’s emotional needs. That’s the conversation that will make a real difference.

When I looked at my survey notes again, I noticed that therapists most often found couples were saying “we need help with communication”. It sounds like couples themselves sense that there are things which need to be discussed, but they can’t seem to find a way to get them out into the open. Sometimes sharing things of the heart makes them feel too vulnerable, or creates too much of an angry reaction from their partner. For example, it turns out that it’s relatively common for a therapist to encounter couples who give each other an “F” in sex. That’s not so easy to talk about, without getting your partner quite hurt and defensive.

I talked to 6 different therapists about 6 completely different situations, asking them to map out a five-step process which the couple could use to resolve their problems. The common theme that emerged was that these five steps followed a structure for a meaningful conversation. Often the first step was about recognizing the problem; the next steps were about becoming curious, and looking underneath the surface.

To do this, Imago therapists use a central tool, called the Imago Dialogue. It’s a way to guide a conversation about our feelings that can feel safe enough, so that each partner can share openly. It is also carefully designed to build connection at each step.

Whether it’s understanding what to do if you want a baby and your partner doesn’t, or why your step-kids are destroying your marriage, the key solving both, and countless others, is to understand what is going on for your partner. To truly step into their shoes and see the experience and feelings through their eyes and heart. That’s why the Imago dialogue is central to the work of Imago therapists.

That doesn’t mean that all the therapist needs to do is to run through a standard approach in every situation. Each couple is unique, and over the series we will show you how different situations require a different therapeutic approach. For example, when you have just found out your partner is cheating you may not be ready to hear what the emotional circumstances that in their mind led to the affair. But eventually, this is one of the goals. Each article in the series includes an interview with a therapist who will help outline the steps needed to resolve a particular conflict.

I’ll leave you with one question to ponder: If conflict leads to growth, what’ so good about growth anyway? It starts with one core belief: as people we’re simply able to grow more complete through our deepest relationships with others, especially our partners. The more complete we are, the more we can get out of life, and the more we are available to love deeply and in a rewarding way. But, often, the road to true connection has major obstructions – often those “elephants in the room” that we’ve always known were there, but never talked about.

Clearing those obstructions, together, can be one of the most intimate experiences you will ever have, leaving the way clear to a wonderful, full relationship.

Just remember this, when you walk in to see an Imago Couples Therapist, and start telling them that there are problems with the in-laws, or you can’t agree about money, the therapist may not be thinking about your problem. Instead they may be saying to themselves “Here’s an opportunity to bring the two of you closer than you have ever been before, and make your relationship more rewarding than you might believe to be possible.”

Tim Atkinson is Executive Director of Imago Relationships InternationalImago provides couples therapy and couples workshops around the world.