Tips to Reignite the Romantic Spark in Your Relationship

Honored to be featured on Marriage.com with this article, “Tips to Reignite the Romantic Spark in Your Relationship.” See also below.

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You’ve long ago inhaled the early dating phase of forgoing sleep for intimate conversation and unquenchable sexual desire.

You’ve committed yourselves to each other in some meaningful way, be it co-habitation, marriage, or child rearing.

You’ve seen each other sick with boogers and puke, held each other up at a funeral, and learned how to navigate the strange waters of your in-laws’ quirks.

You know what she prefers on her waffles and in her coffee.

You know his family home burned when he was 8 years old, so he’ll always have to check the oven one last time before leaving the house.

You know.

And yet somewhere along the way, you look over at the person sleeping soundly just inches from your face and realize he is a complete stranger … there’s a stranger in your bed!

Your identity has continued evolving without her participation. Or you’re not sure anymore how he really feels, what really happens during her days, or why the distance between you seems to be growing faster than your debt.

Relational stagnation is oh-so-common, and happens for predictable reasons:

  • Busy-ness (ie: dishes, homework, mortgages, deadlines, LIFE) gets in the way –how could it not? In the beginning it was learning all about the other person and the world he inhabited up until this point without you. Later it became creating a world together. And then later, the days fill with managing that co-created world.
  • We assume we know someone and so stop trying to get to know her. It’s easy to assume he still feels and thinks and fears and dreams the way he did 5, 10, 15, 50 years ago. But no one stays the same. We mature. Life grows us.
  • It’s easy to expect our partners to “just know.” Way easier than taking the risk to share our inner feelings or ask for what we want and need.

Relational stagnation may be common, but it’s still a big problem:

  • It leads to disconnection, discontent, boredom, conflict, and avoidance … it leads to the slow disintegration of your marriage over time. From here, people go on to do and experience all kinds of painful things – loneliness, affairs, and divorce to name a few.
  • If you’re raising kids together, it robs them of a powerful example of what long term love can look like. Not to mention the security it brings a family when mommy and daddy, or mommy and mommy, or daddy and daddy are clearly in love.
  • If you’re raising kids together, it leads to the daunting task of negotiating “Empty Nest” with a stranger. Add retirement to this, and the newfound hours of strained time together has you wondering if you’ll end up facing this later life stage apart or alone.
  • Most importantly, you are being robbed of the vitality and security a romantic relationship really can provide. We sometimes get caught between wanting the fairy tale on the one hand and settling for “this is just marriage” on the other. In reality, marriage is imperfect, but can still be deeply meaningful, passionate, and secure.

Don’t give up, there are ways to regenerate relational vitality!

  • Get curious! Start to ask and really listen to your partner. Take an interest in his work, recent stresses, and new hopes. This doesn’t only have to take the form of conversation. You can also join her during one of her usually solo activities.
  • Take risks and share more of yourself. It could be being honest about something that’s been nagging you for years, or a new part of yourself you’re just now putting into words. Ask directly for the comfort or connection you’ve longed for but stopped daring to expect.
  • Make a pact to step outside the box together. Take a cue from your early dating life in terms of playfulness. Ride the rides together at the fair. Slow dance in the kitchen. Invest in season tickets or new lingerie. Surprise her with breakfast in bed.
  • Prioritize quality time alone together no matter what. Set a regular date night. Put down your phones and enjoy a glass of wine together after the kids are in bed. Take vacations without other friends or family. Make time for pillow talk.

If these tips are met with your partner’s apathy or opposition, or if you can’t even imagine how to begin putting yourself out there in these ways, please don’t hesitate to seek couple therapy assistance with rebuilding intimacy.

Your marriage is one of your most valuable investment opportunities when it comes to life satisfaction. Don’t underestimate the power you really do have to re-ignite the spark when you open yourself to sharing and receiving each other’s unique inner-light.

Amanda Carver, LMFT is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Atlanta, Georgia. She specializes in providing Emotion Focused Therapy (EFT) in helping couples create and enjoy lasting love and affection in their relationships as well as helping individuals create deeply meaningful lives.

Beyond “I Love You”: 3 Ways to Elevate Your Love Relationship

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“We loved with a love that was more than love.” ~Edgar Allan Poe

Early in a thriving relationship, we all savor those three little words from our romantic partners: I love you. Upon the realization of love, whether it be a slow crescendo or a clanging epiphany, we long to share our hearts with our partners and have such tenderness returned. “I love you” holds intense power in moving a romantic commitment into deeper, more intimate territory.

Over time “I love you” can lose not only its exuberance but also its meaning as it takes its place on the shelf of other common experiences in life. Or conversely, “I love you” may seem too common a phrase to fully communicate the depth of one’s feeling, connection, and commitment to another.

In her pioneering work with adult attachment theory and the development of Emotion Focused Therapy (EFT), Dr. Sue Johnson focuses on the necessary components of active and thriving attachment connections. Love and the communication of love is important, yes, but so to are additional behaviors that create security and maintain passion in a relationship over time. In her book “Hold me Tight” Dr. Johnson discusses the qualities of what she calls ARE relationships – that is, relationships where partners are Accessible, Responsive, and Engaged with each other.

Being accessible, responsive, and engaged are the hallmarks of secure attachment. When our partners by and large respond to us in this way, it tells us we are important and can count on them. It also keeps the spark alive, for it is within a trusting connection with another that we feel and risk intimacy and passion.

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“I carry your heart (I carry it in my heart)” ~e.e. cummings

Much like an infant who cries for a parent to hear the cry, respond to the cry, and soothe the cry, in couples we look to our romantic partners to show us they don’t just care through words, but are truly available in action. The child whose parents didn’t hear his cry or responded with hitting, ignoring, or shoving a bottle in his face without notice that it was actually a dirty diaper that needed changing may grow up to experience relational connections as unsafe. So, too, do we learn to feel unsafe with our partners when we have the sense that they don’t really see us, aren’t really there for us, and can’t be counted on to sit with us through life’s difficult storms.

In addition to “I love you,” meaningful ways to communicate deep care and commitment include:

  • “I’m here for you”
  • “What you’re saying/feeling makes sense to me”
  • “I believe in you”
  • “You are most important to me”

All words must be followed up by actions, in this case the actions of being deeply present:

  • Making yourself available in times of need, and making quality time with your partner a priority in the never-ending competition for your energy
  • Giving your partner your undivided attention while s/he shares of her/himself
  • Listening and validating your partner before jumping straight to “fixing” it or shifting topics
  • Offering big and small gestures of support for your partner’s dreams or through his/her fears, including affection
  • Showing up with your own vulnerability

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    “To love at all is to be vulnerable.” ~C.S. Lewis

If you want your partner to really know and feel what s/he means to you, “I love you” isn’t enough. If you want a relationship that anchors and inspires you each to be your best self, you will have to reach deeper inside and offer each other accessibility, responsiveness, and engagement.

Sometimes when we did not grow up with models of this type of relationship, when our current relationship is stagnant from conflict, betrayal or distance, or our inner child is still hurting from lack of attunement from when we were young, seeking the assistance of a couples therapist can be helpful. Consider finding an EFT therapist in your area who is specially trained in how to strengthen the attachment between romantic partners to create secure and lasting bonds.

Amanda Carver, LMFT is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Atlanta, GA. She specializes in providing Emotion Focused Therapy (EFT) in helping couples create and enjoy lasting love and affection in their relationships as well as helping women create deeply meaningful lives. All written content and images owned by Amanda Carver.

Love Wins!

I realize I’m almost a month late on writing a post to celebrate the Supreme Court ruling that recognizes gay marriage in all 50 states of this great country. As a marriage and family therapist it is with deep pride that I celebrate the loving, committed relationships of all of our citizens. It has long plagued me that the very title of my profession – marriage and family therapist – implied discrimination.

When our relationships are strong and healthy, we also tend to be strong and healthy as individuals and communities. With all due respect to Simon & Garfunkel, we are not rocks or islands. Rather, we are intensely social creatures whose brains and hearts work better in the context of intimate connection with others. There is no denying the intense power of relationships to color our lives for better and worse. And depending on the day or year, they *will* do so for better *and* for worse – thus the need not only for love, but also commitments.

When a relationship hums in affection and connection, it does not just create a happy or strong marriage or family. It creates a place from which individuals are able to go out into the world and claim their place in it. It creates parents who raise children both compassionate and confident. It quite literally makes the world a better place. It is from this knowledge that I find my life’s calling in helping others heal relationships. It is from this magical place where 1+1 = more than 2, that I am so happy for the many, many loving relationships in our nation that now have the freedom to make full commitments to each other in the eyes of the law and the land.

I raise my cup in congratulations for the loving commitments of marriage made by all couples, and the striving to keep to those commitments and remain connected through sorrow and joy. When love wins, we all win.

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Amanda Carver, LMFT is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Atlanta, GA. She specializes in providing Emotion Focused Therapy (EFT) in helping couples create and enjoy lasting love and affection in their relationships as well as helping women create deeply meaningful lives. All written content owned by Amanda Carver.

Helping Couples Feel Love: Why I’m an EFT Therapist

Most agree that romantic love has a powerful way of defining our lives for better or worse. When things are going well with our partner, the rest of life often feels manageable because of the strength of that bond. But when our couple relationship is going south, the emotional toll from that lack of connection not only feels terrible, it has a way of falling like dominoes into other life domains. I have a special passion for helping individuals and couples create and enjoy lasting love and affection in their relationships. This passion led me to become a Marriage and Family Therapist, and from there has led me to become an Emotionally Focused Therapist. With all the different types of therapies out there to help people through relationship difficulties, how did I arrive at Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT)? Because I profoundly believe in the healing power of this treatment! Here are a few reasons why:

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It’s a mystery of human chemistry and I don’t understand it; some people, as far as their senses are concerned, just feel like home. ~Nick Hornby

1. People aren’t ill or broken, they’re stuck in painful patterns

Since the birth of psychotherapy, the lens with which we’ve viewed people has been intrapsychic and at times even pathologizing. Freud saw people’s motivations in terms of internal drives rather than interpersonal needs, and that concept has stuck over the course of generations. I’m not saying that mental illness isn’t very real – it is. But many aspects of behavior, especially in terms of relational behavior, are better understood from an attachment frame. We are social creatures with an innate need to form secure and lasting bonds. This need is so innate we fail to thrive without it, and many experiments in the research literature highlight the significance of our need for attachment as being as important as food or water. This begins with parent and child and continues with other important figures and our potential romantic partnering with another person. Thus, much of what happens with couples that isn’t working is based on attachment fears being activated and protests against emotional disconnection. If you look way beneath all the fighting, demanding, emotionality, and withdrawing, you find that these actions are not pathological or unfixable, they are our way of saying, Do you really see me? Are you really there for me? We aren’t broken for wanting this connection. We are hurting and afraid because we don’t have it or can’t trust it.

2. Couples communication needs authenticity, not rules

So much of traditional couples therapy and the general public’s concept of couples therapy is about communication skills. I’m all for good communication! But simply learning to speak and listen and compromise isn’t enough. Not only do many of these communication methods leave couples feeling stilted or awkward when they’re trying to discuss something as profound as matters of the heart, they also fly right out the window in more heated moments when those discussions have shifted into the realms of sex, money, family, or who forgot to start the dishwasher (warning: strong language, scene from comedy clip). In EFT, couples aren’t taught specific skills for communication. Instead they are guided to experience real vulnerability and attunement with each other in ways that feel authentic and meaningful. This type of bottom-up learning not only feels more relevant, it is profoundly lasting.

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What I want most, is to know what you hear in the silence between us. ~William C. Hannan

3. It works!

Dr. Sue Johnson began developing EFT in the 1980s because she realized something was missing in our understanding of couple’s pain, conflict, and healing. This was during a time when attachment was being more fully recognized as a relevant part of the human experience thanks to the pioneering work of John Bowlby. But most were still focused on the parent-child attachment and not thinking much about how attachment needs play out in adult relationships. Over 2 decades later, Dr. Johnson’s treatment approach has been proven to work by meeting the gold standard in research. Studies have shown time and again that it’s not only the attachment frame that’s important, but EFT’s way of accessing that frame that creates truly lasting change.

4. Secure attachments are transforming

When couples create secure attachments with each other, it does more than lead to deepening love and commitment. It can change each partner’s entire experience of themselves, each other, and the world. I know this because I’ve seen it in others and I’ve experienced it personally. Since being in a securely attached relationship, I’ve felt my entire self and life shift toward the more steady and the more alive – the “roots and wings” of Earth Meets Sky. When you have a partner as a secure base, you are able to go inside yourself and gently embrace all the beautiful and scary parts of who you are as well as approach the world with far greater curiosity and confidence. Old wounds diminish and any future feels possible because you know in your deepest heart that your partner will be by your side.

In short, I’m an EFT therapist because I hope to help others create and deepen this kind of transformational love. We all need it, and we all deserve it.

If your relationship is hurting from conflict, distance, or even deeper relational traumas such as infidelity, consider turning to the guidance of an EFT therapist. EFT therapists have a unique way of helping you heal in individual therapy as well. If you live in the Atlanta area, please feel free to contact me to see how I may be of assistance in helping you and/or your partner create and deepen the powerful bonds of love.

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Having your wounds kissed by someone who doesn’t see them as disasters in your soul but cracks to put their love into is the most calming thing in the world. ~Emery Allen

Amanda Carver, LMFT is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Atlanta, GA. She specializes in providing Emotion Focused Therapy (EFT) in helping couples create and enjoy lasting love and affection in their relationships as well as helping women create deeply meaningful lives. All written content and images owned by Amanda Carver.

The Promise of a Lifetime

You may have noticed that my online presence has changed a bit in the past few weeks. I am now Amanda Carver! I am married and excited to announce that, yes, when you see Amanda Carver, LMFT online, it’s me!

Though a wedding or commitment ceremony is but a moment, a marriage or partnership holds the promise of a lifetime. It requires much in terms of vulnerability, tenderness, passion, humor, and forgiveness. A ceremony is a way to honor the path behind that led to this moment of profound commitment, and the path ahead undoubtedly full of both vibrant and difficult times – but better enjoyed and weathered because it’s together. In this way, my husband and I decided that having a marriage ceremony that we wrote together and witnessed by our closest family was deeply important to us.

One of our vows included: I promise to keep your trust. And to share my honest self with you, even when it may be easier to pretend or hide. I promise to make it safe to show me your true self, and to not try to change you, because the whole spectrum of who you are is who I’ve fallen in love with.

At many times in a relationship, a couple can come to this important point of making or renewing vows. In considering what means the most to you about commitments of love and marriage, what vows would you like to make to your current or future partner? Please share!

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All written content owned by Amanda Carver. Photo credit: Mike Moon Studio and Morgan Corbett Photography.

Communication Problems? Create a New Language Together!

Most of the time when a couple seeks counseling with me they cite the primary problem as “communication issues.”

I just don’t get where’s she’s coming from!
He shuts down and won’t talk to me!
I feel like I don’t know her anymore!

When two people come together as a couple they each bring his/her own history and way of being in the world. This individual experience can manifest in a language or way of communicating that on the surface seems quite similar to our own, but in actuality is quite different.

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In the early stages of coupling, it’s easy to show genuine interest in another’s language, of trying to really understand what this new amazing person in your life is all about. There’s also the propensity to downplay differences for the sake of building a very new connection. But over time the earnest curiosity wanes, and all those differences once swept under the rug sneak out into your life one little crumb at a time.

An extremely powerful way for a couple to take charge of this breakdown in communication is to create an entirely new language together! Such a language starts with understanding the other person and from that deep understanding, creating new meaning that bridges the “you” and the “me” into an “us.”

4 Ways to Create the “Language of Us”

  1. Teach & Learn – Growing up in a family means instinctively knowing the unspoken rules of how to think and act with your family members. We then take these rules with us, sometimes without even realizing it or considering if the rules fit for us in our adult lives! Whenever you find yourself confused by your partner, or thinking of yourself as “normal” in comparison, it’s a red flag that it’s time to step back and learn more about each other. What are your experiences and beliefs about family, romantic partnership, emotions, and how the world works? If you’re often the one who shares easily, don’t forget to invite your partner to share, too!
  2. Love Languages – There’s a popular book “The 5 Love Languages” by Gary Chapman that discusses the importance of loving your partner in the ways he/she experiences love. Not surprisingly, we tend to show love in the ways we wish to receive love rather than in the ways our partner wishes to receive love. This can cause a lot of “communication issues!” Imagine the sad frustration of giving and giving in a way that’s not interpreted as loving! And the disconnection your partner feels, as well. It can be helpful to start considering how your partner best experiences your love and to be on the look out for his/her loving gestures, too. For more information about love languages, visit Dr. Chapman’s website.IMG_2581
  3. Conflict Languages – Per Dr. Sue Johnson’s model of couples attachment as addressed in Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), couples not only have love languages, they also have distinct ways of protesting emotional disconnection with each other. A protest can be nagging, shutting down, attacking, withdrawing, etc. When our partners act in these ways, we tend to put meaning to these actions such as, “She doesn’t think I can do anything right” or “He doesn’t care.” However, when you start to understand the deeper levels of your conflict, you can learn the map of your partner’s hidden wounds and protest behaviors. You learn that a nag or shut down often means “Please come closer to me” or “I feel helpless.” Please read my previous blog post “Navigating the Iceberg: Diving Deep to Re-Connect with Your Romantic Partner During Conflict” to gain a better sense of the real issues in couples conflict, as well as check out Dr. Johnson’s book “Hold Me Tight” for further guidance.
  4. Inside Meaning – After putting in the time to understand each other in history, affection, and disconnection, don’t forget to be playful with your shared language! Inside meaning is an extension of the concept of inside jokes, and is a hallmark of intimacy. Such a language often organically develops from shared experiences and co-created meaning of those experiences. Being able to accurately read the subtle facial expressions of your partner, recall a fond memory between the two of you, develop words and phrases as shortcuts of expression, and use pet names all communicates: “You know me more deeply than anyone else.” IMG_2573

The co-creation of your very own language as a couple with all it’s intricacies and authentic knowing will deepen the intimacy between you and your partner in powerful ways. Don’t forget this can take effort, especially if your history is colored by significant disconnection with each other. Reaching out for help when needed is key. Couples therapists are skilled at helping you and your partner interpret each other and create a new language all your own.

All content and images owned by Amanda Bowers.

Navigating the Iceberg: Diving Deep to Re-Connect with Your Romantic Partner During Conflict

IMG_1567In working with couples and in navigating my own love life with all its heart swells and perils, I’ve found that conflicts between romantic partners are some of the most painful encounters we experience as adults. Hardly anything can derail our days or our lives more than being out of synch and in discord with our significant other.

Dr. Sue Johnson, the creator of Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) wisely declares, “Conflict in romantic relationships is 90% protest at emotional disconnection.” Over the past 25 years, she’s pioneered EFT as an empirically backed method of assisting couples based on adult attachment theory – the theory that the attachment needs we are all born with do not go away just because we grow old enough to “take care of ourselves.” Rather, we continue to need emotional connection and responsiveness throughout our lives, primarily from our significant other.

When I work with couples, I’ve taken to calling it the “Iceberg of Disconnection” – the ability we have as couples to hyper-focus on the tip-top jutting out of the water and then continue bumping up against each other due to failure to note the fuller berg below. No blog post could possibly summarize the complexity of EFT or how to create deeply secure attachments. However, I will share my go-to approach based on EFT principles for how to dive below and potentially reconnect with your partner when the protests of disconnection arise. IMG_1569

  1. Stop the Conflict Long Enough to Consider Your Deeper Distress – How many times have you found your day unraveling due to conflict with your sig other about something “silly”? For instance, let’s take Claudia and Jeremy (*names and story fictionalized). Just the other night they got into a bitter argument about “Game of Thrones.” Now some might say that nothing could be more serious than if Daenerys Targaryen assumes the throne or not, but Claudia was far more interested in curling up in her partner’s arms for the night than hugging a cold pillow on the couch. The first step in reconnection is to take a step back and realize you’re not arguing about what you think you’re arguing about (at least not most of the time). Claudia was not angry that Jeremy was only minimally interested in GoT, and he was not distant because he believed she was over-invested. They could have argued all night about which stance toward the show was more “normal” and driven each other crazy. Instead, at some point (about the time she was huffing her pillow and blanket into the other room), she turned around and admitted, “I’m so sad right now.”
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  2. Name Your Protests for What They Are – Claudia was sad because she experienced Jeremy’s lack of interest in GoT as disconnection. That fantasy shows were a common way of connecting with her now deceased brother only added to the depth of her yearning not just for Jeremy’s physical presence but also his emotional presence during this TV event. When she was finally able to say, “I’m sad because I wanted to share this with you and it reminds me of my brother,” it totally changed the conversation. She was able to further explain, “When you put down people engrossed by a TV show it also puts down previous ways of connection that I’ve enjoyed.” Yes, she was angry. But she was also sad, feeling small in so many ways. Claudia needed to speak from her deeper truth in order to draw Jeremy into the connection she was so hungry for.
  3. Respond in Kind – When she got more real with him, Jeremy could have used it against her and continued with distant quips. But instead he allowed her vulnerability to draw out his own. He was able to admit, “When you become so absorbed in the show I feel left out because I just don’t enjoy it the way you do.” This further changed their conversation. From the depths of vulnerability the ice melts, and there’s safety to explore “softer” emotions like sadness, shame, fear, and yearning. There’s room to create connection. IMG_0286

Often when one member of a couple is nagging or yelling it is an attempt to say, “I feel your distance, please reconnect with me!” And when the other person is cold or withdrawn, it is a way of saying, “I am also upset about our disconnection and simply don’t know what to do.” The only way to move past your original disconnect is to be brave enough to name and share your deepest emotional truths with each other.

If you lack the language to speak about your truths or are uncertain about how to respond to your partner, please read Dr. Johnson’s book “Hold Me Tight” and consider the additional assistance of a couples therapist to help you create a deeply sustaining connection.

All content and images owned by Amanda Bowers.