Intimacy: Thank You For Sharing

Intimacy Coach

One thing we Brits have learned over the years is that it really doesn’t do to be airing our personal laundry in public. No matter what’s going on behind closed doors, we present an unflustered veneer to the outside world and plant a sign in the garden that reads: Nothing To See Here.

In relationships this is doubly true. An Englishman’s home is his castle, dammit, and regardless of the problems that might lie behind its portcullis, the façade is still an unmoving wall of brick and mortar through which no stranger should be allowed to penetrate.

Even when everything else is flaccid and unresponsive, a British chap – or chappess – must still be able to raise a stiffened lip in the adversity of popular perceptions about what it is and isn’t acceptable to share about one’s private life.

If that’s all true (and, for the most part convention, taboos and exceptions prove it still largely is) what must we buttoned-up Brits make of those free-thinking Americans and their outrageously liberal ways?

Only last week, Gwyneth Paltrow openly volunteered the fact she has an intimacy coach. You could almost hear the gasps of shock in the well-appointed chocolate boxes of the Home Counties as their occupants choked over a copy of the Daily Mail.

To add insult to injury, a furtive glance at the website of said coach – Michaela Boehm (go on, Google her – I know you’re dying to) – reveals that she’s also giving lessons in love to the ever-cool Will Smith.

(And before you get the wrong idea, I think we can safely assume this is the kind of coaching that’s done from the stands rather than on the field of play.)

Then, in a move that is liable to blow the minds of some Middle Englanders, Mr Smith and his wife Jada have only gone and shared all of their trials and tribulations on social media.

And you know what I say? I say hallelujah. I say well done Gwyneth, Will, Jada and anyone else who is brave enough to open up publicly and say, I’m having problems connecting with another human being and I’m getting some help to find a way through it.

Gwyneth and Will are well qualified to lead the charge on breaking the intimacy taboo.

Both have lived through broken marriages. Both have since remarried. Both have careers that, presumably, are the equivalent of Kryptonite in a relationship – regular and prolonged absences usually make the heart grow colder rather than fonder. Both are, outwardly, at least, self-assured, happy, seemingly content individuals without an obvious care in the world.

Both seem like the last people who could possibly need the services of an intimacy coach.

But that’s the point. Intimacy is a two-way street and it works only when both people in a relationship sign up to it. Sometimes, when you’re removed from intimacy for a period of time it’s hard to re-learn the dance when you’re thrown back together.

Perhaps the willingness of these actors to open up their personal lives so openly is an intuitive and natural response to a problem. These are people who count their fans as a family of sorts, and social media is increasingly becoming the confessional of choice for the celebrity set when it comes to emotional and mental health.

And, let’s face it, Americans famously love their therapy – so a predisposition to sharing a very personal struggle isn’t as alien over the pond as it still is here.

But Lord knows we could do with a bit of that on our small island where the concept of keeping it real is still seen as bewilderingly inappropriate.

As a race, we don’t often get to have this type of access to such openness from a couple who are willing to share so openly about their difficulties and how they get through it, but we need these positive role models who are prepared to talk publicly about relationships.

They are far and few between and while we look on open-mouthed at the brazenness of it all, the wreckage of failed relationships that crashed for want of a conversation gets strewn across life’s highway.

Here’s the problem with that stiff upper lip: it’s formed in schools where, as children, we aren’t taught to have successful relationships.

It’s formed from in an upbringing where the very notion that parents might share their problems with or in front of the children is positively scowled upon.

It’s formed in formative years that are geared to hiding any sense of inadequacy or dissatisfaction in life because, well, there are children starving in Africa and we need to be a bit more bloody grateful for our lives, thank you very much.

The art of communication, the art of intimacy. They’re two sides of the same coin and here in Britain we’re often just bloody rubbish at both things. And we mask our shortcomings by pretending that what’s abnormal is normal.

Being unhappy is exhausting, but we struggle on because that’s what society has always shown us we should do. I think it’s time we stopped struggling and started asking for the kind of help that Will and Gwyneth are already getting.

Because maybe – just maybe – they’re onto something by getting some support from a professional when it comes to intimacy.

I recently read in a couple’s forum that we are not meant to do this alone. That we can become isolated in our culture and that it’s vital to get outside input and guidance that supports couples who want to stay together but just haven’t got the skills to navigate the conflict or distance that’s between them. 

Hollywood is 5,437 miles from London. But Will Smith and Gwyneth Paltrow are light years ahead of us when it comes to emotional intelligence.

Masturdating. It’s A Thing. It Just Might Not Be As Satisfying As You Imagine.

Zoe Clews & Associates Blog

There’s an awful lot of stuff that drifts into my inbox every day. Stuff that I probably signed up for ages ago – or, more likely – didn’t say no to when I should have done, most of which simply gets swiped to the bin.

But the other day, an email arrived with a subject line that caught my eye: 5 women on their “masturdating” rituals.

It came from Refinery29 UK, one of the few content platforms I do try to make time for if I can, by virtue of its ability to serve up thought-provoking articles that cause me to stop and reassess my world view.

And, let’s be honest, things don’t get much more thought-provoking than the notion of masturdating.

If you haven’t come across the term before (apologies for the unintended pun), then masturdating is the process of taking yourself out on a date, and it seems this is now an honest-to-goodness thing that many women appear to be enjoying on a global basis.

In spite of its name – doubtless a clever play on words that happily doubles as a click-bait-writer’s wet dream – masturdating has nothing to do with its rhyming cousin (or perhaps it does, if the date with yourself goes better than you expected).

Instead, solo dating – let’s use that term from now on – is offered as the antidote to loneliness for what is thought to be up to a third of the UK’s single women. According to Refinery29, a recent poll of 2,000 women suggested 41% were happy to take themselves out for a little one on one quality time. This compares to around 37% of men who are happy to do the same.

According to the case studies in the article (there’s a link to it at the end of this piece if you want to read it for yourself) dates range from a quiet restaurant dinner with a book to a day out in the park, spa days and everything in between.

And whilst I was reading it, I began to think about how I felt about this apparently new trend for self-selecting isolation.

And this is where I got to.

On the whole, I’m a big fan of self-sufficiency. Resilience and comfort in one’s own skin and company are underrated qualities in my book.

Being happy enough to spend an evening or a day – or even several of them in a row – with no human interaction beyond marvelling at your own idiosyncrasies is inarguably one of life’s great pleasures.

No, independence is good. My issue with solo dating is when it has no longer become an activity of choice. And if you think about it, solo dating is a lonely solution to being lonely.

If you think for just a moment about why solo dating is a thing, the only conclusion it’s possible to draw is that it’s an apology for something that, deep down, we know is unnatural. Humans are social animals. Being alone isn’t part of evolution’s game plan.

But we live a culture that glorifies independence to an extreme. God forbid we should admit that as social human beings we might have needs.

So, while, on the surface, masturdating seems to have self-empowerment and self-love written all over it, there’s a danger that for those of us who’ve not been taught how to do relationships, it’s a convenient way of justifying emotional incompleteness.

In short, for some of us, it’s just easier to go it alone. And for those who’ve seen the recent article about single women being happier than married women, it’s easy to see why there’s a danger that we over-encourage women (and men) to celebrate their emotional and physical isolation.  

The important thing to come back to is that we are social beings … we heal our wounds within the relationships we have with others. On our own, we lick them and then pick at the scabs.

We mustn’t lose sight of our inherent core needs: to be seen, to be understood, and to connect with another human being in romantic intimate partnership. 

To admit we have needs takes courage and vulnerability – and it’s there that self-love and doing the inner work pays off.

When we know what we need and we have the communication skills to express it in an assertive way that is also kind, we have a chance to be happy and content in life and able to genuinely appreciate the time we have to ourselves. 

I believe we need a new movement that allows us to be utterly honest about our needs.

Where we let go of the shame to want to love and be loved.

Where it’s cool to have needs and own them.

And if you want to take yourself out on a date once in a while, then that’s cool, too.

Is Romance The Victim Of Your Failure To Engage?

Red Heart

Love rests on two pillars: surrender and autonomy Our need for togetherness exist alongside our need for separation. Marriage is not the end of romance, it’s the beginning

Esther Perel

No-one who’s completely sane likes having a difficult conversation. There’s not much joy to be had in criticising the behaviour or commitment of someone else and a lot of us go out of our way to avoid those moments of confrontation.

Sometimes we can get away with that avoidance. Maybe, in the broad scheme of things, saying what you really think or feel serves no great long-term purpose, either because the issue is time-limited, or resolution will have no material effect on our lives.

But where there are problems between you and the person you’ve chosen to spend your life with, whether in marriage or otherwise, failing to be completely honest can have a really negative – or, if left unresolved, catastrophic – impact on the health of the relationship.

My work helps and encourages couples to stop avoiding the difficult conversations that keep a relationship healthy. Without them, unwanted resentment, anger, rage and blame slowly creeps into the relationship because neither person will say, I feel hurt when …  

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Trauma Is Chemistry

Ice Cube In Flames On A Spoon

Hands up if you ever played doctors or nurses – and focus at the back, there … we’re talking about role-play when you were six, not cosplay when you were, well … older (that’s a whole different article).

Most of us acted out the part of a doctor or a nurse or a dentist when we were kids, and I bet that even though you probably won’t remember or associate it in this way, when you did, it was often just after an appointment with your own doctor or dentist.

More than that, I’d be willing to stake a little money on the fact that on those occasions, you acted out whatever treatment you’d just received. An injection, maybe. Or drilling a tooth.

Even now, you probably think that was just a simplistic process of taking a ‘new’ childhood experience and contextualising it in your own relatively new world.

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The Perils Of Co-Habiting With Your Hobby

Beautiful Landscape With Tree Silhouette And Reflection At Sunset With Alone Girl And Bike Under The Tree

“Well, there were three of us in the marriage, so it was a bit crowded.”

If you’re of a certain age, you’ll remember the famous (or perhaps infamous) Panorama interview that Princess Diana gave to Martin Bashir and that answer, in response to his question about whether she felt Camilla Parker-Bowles, now the Duchess of Cornwall, was a factor in the breakdown of her marriage.

Relationships can be crowded enough with just two people in them, never mind an unwanted interloper who sucks love and mutual respect from them. But it’s not always other people who overcrowd a marriage or long-term relationship.

Sometimes it’s obsession.

We all know someone who’s discovered a new passion. Their enthusiasm for whatever diversion they’ve stumbled across converts them into instant experts – crusading evangelists for whom every road leads to Damascus and the conversion of others.

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No, really…. it’s absolutely OK to love who you are

Red Heart

The ego can be a thing of terrible beauty – rampantly cocksure one moment, fragile as parchment the next.

It is capable of inspiring and propelling us to moments of true greatness, leaving others around us lost in the backwash of its afterburners. And then, in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it instant, it can plunge us into self-doubt and self-loathing.

Ego defines our emotional and psychological essence, a wild animal that paces the cage we lock it in. We feed it and it grows. We starve it and it shrinks. We neglect it and it becomes savage.

Often, its food of choice – or, perhaps more accurately at least, the diet we choose to feed it – is the approval and love of others. Our daily interactions with other humans – and machines, actually – can be boiled down into simple transactions of approval and disapproval, an ongoing exercise in the mutual business of validation, judgement, recognition and acknowledgement.

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Are You Dating From Defecit? Picnic

In a shade over six months the UK will no longer be a member of the European Union. Whatever your view of that in principle, the matter of Britain’s membership is a debate that has long since been obsolete. Our love affair with Europe is in its death throes and come next March the political equivalent of a decree absolute will formally be signed by all parties.

Our departure is no longer about the financial terms of the divorce, either. 

Events over the weekend (which largely unfolded in The Daily Mail at the pen of Boris Johnson) and this morning, as it was revealed that at least 80 Conservative MPs will vote against Theresa May’s so-called ‘Chequers’ deal, have ensured that the immediate post-referendum arguments over whether or not the NHS would get another £350m a week are also now entirely moot.

The big question today is whether we will have any sort of formal relationship with the rest of Europe at all. 

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5 Good Reasons To Stop Calling Your Ex A Narcissist

Reserved Ii

The more I read and hear about narcissism these days, the more I think that it is to contemporary emotional psychology what the Atkins Diet was to weight loss in the Nineties: everyone’s got an opinion about it, but no one seems to quite understand how it works.

Google my ex is a narcissist and you’ll get 2,650,000 results. Which is a crazy number. Though arguably not as crazy as some of the advice they contain.

The pearls of largely uninformed wisdom I found in the first dozen or so pages of search results included advice on how to break up with a narcissist, the signs to look for in a narcissist, the three phases of a narcissistic relationship and, most worrying of all, how to win back your narcissistic ex.

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The Path Is Not The Punishment

Lovcen Mountains National Park At Sunset Montenegro

I have a friend whose favourite theory is that Hell isn’t a place you go to when you die, it’s the place you go to live. And you get to do it over and over again, until you become a decent human being.

He’s fond of arguing that reincarnation is simply the re-taking of life’s exams. Then again, he’s also fond of arguing that the people who learn the fewest lessons in life are destined to live in Middlesbrough, so I’m not sure how much credence we can attach to his ramblings.

But if you ignore the religious context for a moment, there’s something of truth in the notion that life will continue to give you the same lesson until you finally learn it.

Giving in to human nature and casting ourselves as victims of life ‘continually’ might elicit more sympathetic hugs on Facebook, but it’s also a sure-fire way to guarantee missing the key lessons we should be learning.

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Is Your Love Story A B-Movie?

Posterini 574196252839 (1)

As a concept, it’s a fantastic script. Two star crossed lovers wounded by a past littered with one failed relationship after another. Life gives them one last battle to fight: the battle to find each other.

It’s a sweeping, soaring, tear-fest of two people hampered by fate and shackled to a future they can’t yet see but which they both know lies somewhere just beyond their immediate reach. It’s Gable and Leigh, Bogart and Bergman, Tracy and Hepburn. It’s Keira Knightley and Andrew Lincoln in that scene in Love Actually. Except in your version, Keira doesn’t let him walk away.

You have the script and, because this is your love story, you have a ready-made cast. It’s an epic romantic blockbuster destined to smash all box office records.

The only problem is that your subconscious has been tasked with job of directing it.

As the director of your personal movie, your subconscious is more Quentin Tarantino than, say, Steven Spielberg. It’s opinionated and often comes with its own agenda, drawing on your past experiences to inform your present and future. If you grew up in a house of drama, your subconscious is more likely to push you toward dramatic love and tempestuous hit-and-run run hook-ups. 

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Additional Credits

Video by Weeks360.

Photography by Liz Bishop Photography.

Production by Mark Norman at Little Joe Media and Joanne Brooks.

Hair by Jonny Albutt.

Make up by Olly Fisk and Nabeel Hussain.