Do You Need a Relationship Tune Up?

“For one human being to love another; that is perhaps the greatest work, the last and final work for which all other is but preparation”. ~R.M. Rilke


February is the month that many couples turn their attention to their relationship. Some ramp up the romance and go big with gifts and celebrations; others remain low-key.  Whatever you do this Valentine’s Day, it’s a great time of year to get honest with your partner and take a “temperature read” on how you feel about your relationship.

Signs You May Need A Relationship Tune-up

  • you feel you are drifting away
  • you don’t feel “seen”, loved and appreciated by your partner
  • you keep having the same arguments over and over
  • there’s little or no physical intimacy
  • you’re bitter and resentful about past hurts
  • you no longer kiss good-bye or hello
  • you crave “something more” in your relationship
  • your anger towards your partner is spilling into other areas of your life

What You Can Do:

1. Get Professional Help:

Where did we get the idea that we’re supposed to be experts on everything? If something is not working with our car, we take it to a mechanic. If our tooth hurts, we go to a Dentist. Why then do we not seek help until often times, it’s too late? Your relationship is like a garden. You must notice if the plants are wilting or fading. It’s not greener on the other side or with someone else, it’s greener where you water it.  If you’re impatient for results like me and want something less traditional and more effective, then join me at one of my  upcoming Couples Retreats!  They are intense but extremely effective!

2. Find time to hug every day.

Not touching in our culture has become a sick habit. We are mammals and we need affection. Give your partner a good morning and good night hug.  Go to the door and greet your partner with a welcome home embrace.  Get the kids to do the same. Rule: Whoever is home should go to the door.  Dogs do it. Why don’t we?  We need touch to survive and after a stressful day, a hug can be magical. In my workshops, I teach people how to hug heart- to- heart. I recommend you choose a favourite song, play it and then just hold each other in an embrace. The song has to be a special song for the two of you…maybe the song you first danced to. If you don’t have a song, choose one you both like and make it your “hug song”.

3. Share your Feelings:

Practice talking about your feelings with your significant other. If you can’t talk about them, then write them out. Feelings connect you to what’s sacred within you and when you share them with your mate they build the bridge of true intimacy, and real love.  If all you’re doing is going through the motions, you may be suffering from a “flat-lined marriage” or a “transactional” relationship.  Acknowledging and discussing how you feel without blame or shame is often the first step in improving your emotional connection.

4. Pay Attention to the Little Things

All that we do, all that we strive for, and all that we want is to love and be loved.  Don’t blame your partner for the love you may lack. Instead whatever you want, give it away first. Give a kind word at the end of a busy day. Make a fuss over her, prepare him a special meal. Hug. Read poetry in bed. Leave a warm fuzzy in a lunchbox, or on voice mail, e-mail, or in their car. Pay attention to the little things. Plan something special just for the two of you. Celebrate birthdays, anniversaries and Valentine’s day. Talk. Please talk. Don’t let the stressors of your day-to-day life rob you of life’s greatest joys.

Learning to Accept Your Failures

After twenty-something years of marriage she had ended it. Now, the house was up for sale and the kids at university. After years of indifference, “flat-lining’, I call it, it had come to this. She had moved out. She was, after all, the one who had been working on herself. Workshops. Retreats. Therapy, lots of therapy. She was the conscious one who could no longer take the status quo. But now she was feeling like a failure, berating herself for ever marrying him.

“I don’t think I ever loved him,” she continued. “Why would I ever have married him? God I was stupid!”

“All is good,” I heard myself say. “He was the necessary stepping stone to the wise woman you are now. All experiences, even the unpleasant ones, have something to teach us.”

But I never loved him, Grace!

At 20 we call it love and maybe it is, but as we grow and mature and live life, the heart stretches so that the love we feel and give is deeper, richer, more textured.

“Well, I’m sure you loved him with your 18 year-old heart,’ I said. “It was the best you could do.”

My friend grew up with a psychotic alcoholic mother and an absent father. “Dysfunctional” doesn’t even come close to describing her childhood. There was cruelty and constant fear. She was the oldest, so she took the brunt of the abuse. Finding Tom, who was a gentle heart, and seemed stable at the time, felt like finding an oasis in the desert.

Maybe it’s a different feeling at 18 or 20—it’s not the love that we can feel at 40 or 50 when life’s wisdom has taught us the difference between infatuation and true love. And whatever this euphoric feeling is at the beginning, what we know is that if we have not done any of our personal work, healed our wounds from childhood and figured out who we are, we end up asleep for most of our waking lives. We become blind to the beauty in our beloved because we don’t see it in ourselves. We don’t know how to love each other because our heart is burdened with emotional pollution. And digging it up at midlife seems much too painful. It’s easier to go on anti-depressants. Marriages flat-line because we flat-line. It happens to many modern couples and it happened to Tom and Sara.

I take a sip of my latte and look out over the lake.

“Maybe you’ll meet the love of your life now,” I tell Sara, trying to be encouraging. “You have healed the past and prepared your heart. You’re ready to attract a different man now.’

If it is true as research suggests, that women grow more confident and self-accepting with age, then it’s also true that a woman of 50 loves and accepts herself more than a woman of 20. The self-doubt demons seem to heal by menopause.

“Maybe,” she says, “but I still wish I hadn’t married him.”

How about you? Do you have regrets? Do you criticize yourself for a failed marriage or relationship?

“The world, Govinda, is not imperfect or slowly evolving along a long path to perfection,” Siddhartha tells his friend. “No, it is perfect at every moment … therefore everything that exists is good—death as well as life, sin as well as holiness, wisdom as well as folly. Everything is necessary, everything needs only my agreement, my assent, my loving understanding; then all is well with me and nothing can harm me.”

I have always loved that passage in Herman Hesse’s novel, Siddhartha. I think it’s very wise. The point is that nothing in life is a waste, no experience was put there at random. Everything you experience, the pain, the joy, the peaks and the valleys, are perfect because they make up the you that is reading this right now. Imagine if you could delete some events, a few relationships, a marriage, a job here, a bad decision there … if you could take any of it back, then the mix would be all wrong and you would be all wrong. You are a perfect recipe, and your life is unfolding perfectly—just the way it should. Take it all. Accept it all and most importantly, love it all. That is the way to internal peace. That is the way of the spiritual warrior.


Emotionally Intelligent Marriages

Once upon a time when love was new and fresh, we would regularly share our intimate feelings and vulnerabilities with one another. We felt close and connected. But then the pressures and stressors of modern life set in. We are asked to juggle our many roles and responsibilities. Then there’s the kids, aging parents and Covid-19! We try our very best to be good people despite the disappointments and betrayals. And the shutting down of our feeling Self starts. Sometimes we even add booze and drugs.

In the west, we have been conditioned to live in our heads. The mind can solve complex problems, advance careers and make money. While we love to operate from the rational brain, the entanglement that is romantic love can only be unraveled if we activate our emotional muscles.  In order to handle the emotional waters we must make emotional intelligence our priority.

Are you emotionally literate? Can you communicate what you are feeling in any given situation? This is a critical skill not only for your professional relationships but with your children and romantic partners. Emotional literacy involves having the self-awareness to recognize and name your feelings and to be able to manage and control your negative emotions such as anger, frustration, anxiety, sadness, guilt and shame. According to research anyone can learn to grow their emotional muscles.

The best gift you will receive from attending my Couples Retreat Intensive in Niagara-on-the-Lake is how to make friends with your own and your partner’s negative feelings that have accumulated in the “marriage pond” over the years. You will learn how to communicate your feelings to your partner as well as how to listen to your partner’s feelings without taking it personally, without wanting to run away, or trying to fix them or judge them. In some cases, you will learn how to navigate the turbulent waters of anger and betrayal and years of disconnection. Emotions are part of life, sometimes the best part of life. We need to make friends with all of our feelings if we are to have successful relationships.

Once a couples repairs their emotional bond, a broken relationship can come back to life! In the past 14 years and working with over 3000 couples, I have been amazed to witness the healing miracles at my Couples retreats. The transformation that is possible in one weekend is nothing short of miraculous. If you have reached a dead end in your relationship, or if you’re worried you may be headed for divorce, invest in yourselves. Attend a life changing retreat to get the clarity, closure and healing you both need so that you can move forward. You will see that the quality of your life dramatically improves in all ways. Aren’t you worth it?

Best Advice for Couples: Elle Magazine Interview

ELLE MAGAZINE:  What are your top three pieces of love and dating advice based on your research and experience with couples?    

GRACE:  1. Listen with Your Heart—Good communicators listen for feelings as well as facts. They naturally make people feel special and heard. They “ooh and ahh” at the right place. They look you in the eye and are not easily distracted. We naturally fall for those people who “get us”…and to do this, you must really listen with your whole heart.

2. Be Yourself—authenticity is what we are seeking in relationships and it just happens to be the greatest turn on—too many people wear masks because they feel that who they are is not good enough or because of childhood wounds, they may feel unlovable. Women harshly judge themselves as not being perfect enough. The most common wound is not feeling “good enough”. If this is you, do some work on yourself. Gain greater self- awareness and self- acceptance. You’ve got to love you before you expect others to love you.

3.  Don’t Give Up on Love: It might feel like a battleground out there and you may have suffered relationship wounds. But don’t give up. We are mammals who need love and connection above all. There is a “special mammal” out there for everyone!

ELLE MAGAZINE: What’s the most interesting insight you’ve gleaned about love and relationships and why?
GRACE: Most marriages that end in divorce could actually be saved. In my work with over 2500 couples, I’ve learned that people considering divorce just don’t have the necessary emotional intelligence or maturity to navigate the negative feelings that inevitably accumulate in committed partnerships. Once they learn how to communicate and heal their negative feelings without blaming or shaming themselves or their partner, true intimacy is achieved. Relationships that were previously in crisis miraculously heal.  Empathy flows and trust is restored. I’ve seen couples do a complete 180 degree transformation and it is amazing to witness.

ELLE MAGAZINE: What’s the biggest challenge people encounter in love and relationships, and do you have any advice for overcoming this particular challenge?
GRACE: The biggest challenge is time.  Modern life bombards couples with work and family demands, and consequently the relationship takes a back seat. When couples are stressed or pressed for time, they don’t talk enough or share how they feel; they don’t do fun things together just the two of them. Advice? Be vigilant—check in emotionally with your partner weekly. Aim to have at least one date night per week. Once a year go on a vacation, just the two of you. Go for daily walks if you can to share your day and how you feel. And if there’s conflict and damage done, get help early. Very much like in medicine, early detection saves marriages and ensures long term happiness and life satisfaction.

Why a Couple’s Retreat vs. Traditional Counselling

Traditional Therapy Only Goes So Far:

There are many reasons why people choose a Couple’s Retreat or marriage intensive over traditional talk therapy for marital issues. First of all, traditional therapy  (CBT cognitive behaviour therapy) is extremely limited when dealing with the emotional bond that is romantic love.  It involves the thinking rational brain not the emotional limbic brain.  It also tries to motivate you to change your behaviour by appealing to your rational mind. The problem is that the next time your partner triggers you, the anger, hurt and resentment in your Emotional brain hijacks you and everything you knew about dealing with conflict or behaving rationally goes out the window.

Romantic Love is a Slave to the Emotions:

Romantic love is a slave to the emotions.  I see it all the time. If we feel  positive emotions towards our partner, we behave in beautiful ways. If we feel hurt, slighted or negative, watch out! Our behaviour can become downright toxic or low vibration as I like to call it.

Traditional Therapy is Slow:

Another reason to choose a marriage retreat over traditional weekly appointments is that the latter approach is extremely slow.  Even if you are lucky enough to have found a super skilled and compassionate coach or therapist, it takes a while.  In work as in life, I tend to be extremely impatient for results. I think most people are.  There is momentum that helps the healing process at an Intensive Retreat. Reconciliation happens when we feel understood and for that to happen, we need to have a deep conversation. Giving yourself one weekend with no distractions is the way to go.

5 Reasons to Choose a Marriage Retreat: 

  1. CLARITY:  They have been sitting on the Relationship fence for a long time. They are confused, conflicted and numb. They’re tired of the same communication dance that plays out over and over.  In many cases, they are in crisis and they are playing the blame game.  They’ve lost hope and yet…they can’t bring themselves to break up the family. There is a lot on the line:  A home. Stability. Identity. Friends. Family.  So the majority of the couples who come to my marriage retreat come for clarity: do they stay or do they go?
  2. RE-SET/HEALING:  The second group of people come to work on their issues. They are not in any crisis but they keep falling into communication holes. They’re not as happy as they could be.  They’ve fallen into some bad habits and they want to be pro-active. They want to fix their issues before they become too big. This group of people usually like to learn and educate themselves. An ounce of prevention….
  3. CLOSURE:  These couples come for emotional closure–to “uncouple” at the highest possible frequency and with the kindest of intentions.  They want to do the “work”– so that they can co-parent and not hurt the kids. They also do the work so that they can avoid a costly divorce, and finally they come for closure so that they can understand themselves and what went wrong so that they don’t attract the same type of partner with the same issues next time around.
  4. CRISIS: These couples come because something “big” has just happened, (usually one person announces they want out or that they’re in love with someone else or one person discovers that there is an extra-marital affair) and they need immediate help. Traditional weekly counselling cannot address the canyon of hurt that betrayal brings.  Betrayal is a deep wound and you need an intensive approach to help heal the shock and trauma of the event and to find some stability and a plan for moving forward.
  5. TRADITIONAL COUNSELLING DIDN’T WORK: These couples are sick and tired of going to different therapists only to come out more frustrated and feeling alone and disconnected. Finding the right professional to work with can be a daunting task. I’ve heard it all–from therapists who take sides to counsellors who do more damage.  One of the biggest differences between traditional counselling and an Intensive workshop/retreat is that the conversation in talk therapy is between one partner and the professional while the conversation at my retreats is between the two of you. Great things can happen when someone teaches you how to communicate your inner most feelings to your partner. Vulnerability is the bridge to understanding.
Grace Cirocco
179 King Street
St. Catharines, ON
L2R 3J5 Canada
Telephone: (905) 688-0868
Fax: (905) 688-2788