I’m not a runner.
I don’t have a runner’s build.
I just can’t run.
These are just some of the excuses I’ve told myself all my life. And a pitiful Foam Glow 5K about six years ago almost permanently set these self-limiting beliefs in stone. But when the pandemic hit and Chicago shut down, I had more time to work out, and I wanted—needed—a challenge. I decided to push myself and give running a try again.
I downloaded the Couch Potato to Running 5K (C25K) app. The first several days of training were easy, but I remember when I clicked on the day where I needed to run 20 minutes straight. I looked at the app with dismay. There was no way I could do this, I thought.
But then I did it.
I continued to use the app to guide my training. And every day I got stronger and my stamina increased. Less than two months of following the app, I was ready to run my first 5K of 2020. Then within two weeks of my first one, I ran 3 more. Despite the notoriously awful humidity of Chicago summers, I outran my excuses and kept on going.
Okay, so why does this matter—and what does this have to do with you and your love life?
While on a run recently (because I do those now!), I was examining the limiting beliefs I’ve had about myself and recognized that they’re all-too-similar to what I hear from my clients on a daily basis—especially when it comes to their relationships. This is particularly true when it comes to problems stemming from emotional intimacy, which are recently rather prevalent due to the ongoing pandemic. The stay-at-home order has caused more couples to spend more time together, but as many quickly find out: more time doesn’t necessarily mean more intimacy.
I’ve been working with couples where Partner A still feels disconnected and is making more frequent efforts to connect with Partner B since they’re physically around more. The problem arises when Partner B doesn’t feel as comfortable with emotional intimacy, and reacts poorly—often unintentionally pushing Partner A away and hurting their feelings.
When I ask Partner B what prevents them from getting close to Partner A, I hear things such as:
I’m not built that way.
It’s just a personality thing.
I’m like that with everybody.
Exes have called me The Ice Queen / Ice Man.
I wasn’t brought up to talk about feelings.
The discomfort of being vulnerable and emotionally intimate with their partner is palpable, and I feel it deeply through many telehealth sessions I’ve conducted during quarantine. Of course, the ‘Partner Bs’ have their excuses. My Irish-born client “Sean” cites his culture, for example. “We don’t talk about our feelings, Anita,” he tells me, emphasizing that even his sister is uncomfortable with deep talks with her husband. “We just didn’t grow up talking openly.”
No matter your background, how do you know what you can do, unless you consistently try? Comfort and skill with emotional intimacy is a muscle that has to be exercised, just like any muscle. When it comes to the most important relationship in your life, it’s not “a personality thing.” It’s your life line—no matter your culture, age, or gender. Just as cardio transforms the health of our physical heart, so intimacy transforms the health of our relational hearts—which affects our happiness both in and out of the relationship.
Sure, it might feel easier to create goals for our physical health. They’re more concrete. You either accomplish them or you don’t. You know the drill:
run a 5K
lose 15 pounds
give up carbs for 1 month
But aren’t emotional goals just as important—if not more so—than an upcoming 5k or 15 pesky pounds? Doesn’t the strength of your relationship matter more than ever, especially during these unprecedented, stressful times?
You can create concrete goals for your emotional well-being just like for your physical. But, just like physical goals, it’s important to be realistic. If I told myself, “Anita, run a 5K” on Day 1 of using the app, I would’ve failed. I knew that would’ve been a ridiculous and unrealistic goal.
Just like Sean balked when his wife asked him to spend 30 minutes engaged in pillow talk with her. So we started with 5 minutes and are working on slowly bumping it up by 2-3 minute increments.
Start small. Ask your partner for concrete ways that they feel connected to you. Examine a way you can begin there. Don’t hesitate Googling for inspiration—start here or talk to a therapist to get started. And what can Partner A do? Applaud and affirm these efforts. After all, you’re the inspiration, so stay inspiring! Do not ask when the next marathon will be. Partner Bs will more likely train if you understand the herculean efforts they’re making.
If you’re personally struggling like Sean, here are some ideas of what could be on your list:
Talk through two conflict conversations without shutting down
1x / week initiate a game to understand my partner more intimately
Listen instead of trying to fix things or solve a problem
Within two days I will tell my partner when they hurt my feelings instead of waiting several weeks
I will initiate “I love you” more frequently and not just wait to respond when my partner says it to me first
I’d love to hear from you about your goals, whether for your physical or emotional well-being. Send me an email at email@example.com. I’ll respond when I’m not training for my 10K.