From power struggle to intimacy

Hello folks, if you are anything like me or the many people I come across in my work as a couple’s therapist, you are also looking to live a good life. Time and time again, the ingredient most sought out by humans to live a good life is overall health, passion and intimacy, trumping riches and glamour head’s down.

I am thrilled to share a little something that will show you the way to passion and intimacy!

Imagine a world, where each couple learns how to reach a level of connection with one another so real, so deep, that every moment throughout their lives together is a precious gift, treated as such, no matter how good or how difficult life gets. It is like building a strong shield against the forces of what potentially can destroy marriages. The ingredient? Intimacy.

In honor to the couples I have the pleasure to meet and work with, I am writing today about what it takes to break through the most pervasive issue that brings these couples to therapy: “power struggles and sadness about feeling disconnected from one another” aka: lack of intimacy.

How come in the age of “connection”, (i.e.: world wide web) we have become the most “unglued” universal society? Create a business that promises you will meet your soul mate, and I will show you a millionaire in the making. Why? Because we are born wired to connect on an emotional level with another human being and we, disillusioned about being misunderstood by our partners, fall for the illusion that we will (surely) find it a click away or a bar away. Without awareness, we fail to recognize what it takes to have intimacy and sometimes go through life aimlessly hoping that it wall fall on our lap (and magically last forever).

Welcome to learning otherwise!

Marriages that lack an “internal compass” of mutual emotional connection are at risk of falling for this trap. The “disconnect” begins with empty arguments (no learning from them, just fighting or distancing) and it evolves to power struggles. You know, the arguments that seem to end up with two people walking away “limping” while hoping that the other would one day, really understand them. This can go on for years.

Why do couples get hijacked by ongoing power struggles?

Two forces at work are responsible for this hijacking and paradoxically, the two elements needed for true intimacy.

One, is lack of empathy. Yep, not knowing how to really “cross” over the other’s person’s world and truly listen and feel their partner’s quandary. Secondly, the automatic activation of one of the brain’s oldest survival part, the amygdala. The amygdala is the brain’s center for detecting threats; it signals the body to do something quick and come out alive. For some people, the amygdala is the only perceived resource available and they live on “edge”, reacting impulsively to most situations and responding (emotionally) intelligently, rarely. This process is so swift, that unless the person becomes conscious of this “lightning/thunder” effect, connection and intimacy eludes them and is replaced by an undercurrent of anger and fear, also known as perpetual defensiveness, ergo, power struggles.

Our brain needs another brain to regulate itself socially and emotionally. The closer the relationship, the more the ability of the brain to “mirror” and develop new pathways by means of relating. You can understand then, how crucial it is for the brain that would help your brain regulate, to “attune” with you. This is called “resonance”. When you resonate you connect. When you connect, you grow and heal. When you go through these processes ongoingly, you develop intimacy. When you develop intimacy, your marriage is safe and you have created a sacred place for you and your children to embrace life in all its glory. Your amygdala quiets down and you can now be “present” to your partner; the power struggles dissolve.

What exactly is emotional intimacy and more importantly, how does one get to give it and receive it?

Intimacy happens to be the “glue” that allows couples to go through great times fantastically and through rough times, elegantly. By the way, when looking for intimacy, look way above the waist…it’s a brain thing (many people when asked whether they have intimacy in their relationship, will reply: “sure, we have sex…”)

Emotional Intimacy evolves over time as the attuned, loving, warm, compassionate, transparent exchange of vulnerabilities, fears, joys, cares and needs without the defensiveness.

After sharing life together for a while, some couples, sadly, steer away from intimacy and get stuck in power struggles, searching for solutions in a therapist office, 6 years too late, research suggest.

Not too long ago, my husband and I attended “Adventures in Intimacy” a transformational 3-day workshop in Miami, Fla., led by world-renowned therapist Hedy Schleifer and her husband, Yumi. Together they travel the world teaching couples about the power of connection. What a treat!

I decided (and got a nod from my hubby) to share with you today a bit of our own journey into our experience in building deeper intimacy.

Our marriage needed a jolt. We made a conscious decision to learn about one another with new eyes. We wanted more from our marriage and boy did we get it!

My husband and I are both passionate beings; we thrive while sharing life together: traveling, eating out, having long conversations, nurturing our kids, playing together and yes, making sweet love. We always loved and did all of those things but we also felt misunderstood by the other in critical moments. He criticized me and I him. We started to play this “pursuer-distancer” game that left us both starving for the other. We did this because we longed to be heard by the other, understood, accepted and loved unconditionally and we just didn’t know how to do it well, mainly because we each felt that if we “gave in” we would lose something as an individual. Turns out we were dead wrong. As a result we drifted apart without even knowing it. We felt alone in those moments in our marriage and because these things happen in cycles, the good times prolonged the process of intimacy building. Well, we both wanted more, we wanted to hold on to the times when it all felt perfect and in a blink, the cycle would take us right back to a power struggle and a bit more alone.

All the “knowing” in the world, didn’t amount to anything until we learned to go beyond the “knowing” to “being present” and have compassionate empathy with one another. We have been married for 19 years, and it took us a long time to learn how to love one another intimately. This, in a nutshell was our story. We have created a different story; one where no one runs and no one hides any more, “escaping” into the old cycle is no longer an option. We have true intimacy.

Breaking away from power struggles and into emotional connection with your partner is the single most important aspect to have a rich, long-lasting, knock-your-socks-off-marriage. Who wouldn’t want this? When we have this kind of connection with our partners, life is an adventure, not a problem to solve. Joyful moments are utopic and challenging moments turn into learning experiences.

Do you have true intimacy in your marriage? Once you learn what blocks its growth and learn how to “cross” over your partner’s world and out of yours, you will start the process. I invite you to dream bigger and live better; it is possible and infinitely rewarding.

Here’s to your adventure!

Warm regards,



(the use of “he”, “she”, “marriage”,”relationship”, “partnership”,”spouse”,”husband” and/or “wife”, has been used indiscriminately in this newsletter)