NURTURING HEALTHY RELATIONSHIPS FROM WITHIN
When circumstances change and life inevitably shifts, we often turn to our partners for support, but significant life events can alter your dynamics–internally and with others–and make it challenging to navigate a new season of life. The recent tornado has impacted us all on a very deep level and while we welcome the hope of spring, we also feel a sense of vulnerability. This is when we hope to turn to an intimate partner for comfort and reassurance. Deepening the bond of love is what Dr. Chelsea Wakefield has devoted her life to. Spring cleaning your closets may be beckoning, but refreshing your perspective on love will make a more impactful difference, trust us. Whether you’re in a relationship or looking for one, Intimate Relationship Expert Dr. Chelsea Wakefield can help you rejuvenate your love life and understand the secrets to deepening relationships with yourself, your intimate partner, and all of the loved ones in your life.
Shortly after venturing into the working world, Dr. Wakefield discovered her natural aptitude for helping people to resolve their troubling personal and relationship issues and made the fateful decision to continue her education and expand her ability in the field of couples therapy with great success. She is now a nationally-recognized relationship therapist and the author of several insightful books about the inner-workings of relationships both with ourselves and with others. Over the course of her career, she has helped thousands of women overcome relationship challenges and equipped them with the tools and perspectives that deepen their inner lives and enrich their intimate bonds.
We are thrilled to have gotten a chance to sit down with Dr. Wakefield for an exclusive preview of her upcoming intimate relationship workshop, Nurture at The Nest, on April 8. We discussed her incredible career trajectory and gained some thoughtful insight into her daily work in her private practice in Little Rock as well as her position as Director of the UAMS Couples Center.
Q: As one of the top intimate relationship experts in the region, you are known across the country for your intricate understanding of what makes relationships work and fail. What led you to pursue this profession and how has it impacted your life?
A: I started my professional life as a musician. For quite a few years, I taught private piano in people’s homes. Along the way, I realized that while I was teaching piano, I was also doing a lot of family therapy–talking to kids about life, talking to parents about kids. Eventually, I went back to school to pursue professional training.
My specialization in couples therapy developed about fifteen years ago. I started to get colleague feedback regarding how I was particularly gifted in working with the parents of troubled children and helping couples resolve their issues so that the kids could live in a more harmonious, nurturing home environment. I also had a history of watching my parents’ marriage disintegrate after my sister and I left home, and I wanted to understand more about why marriages come apart. So I began to study couples therapy and have continued to do that ever since.
Q: When people develop relationships, they often establish expectations of the connection and sometimes are not equipped to adapt to inevitable changes in dynamics. Without proper communication and sense of self, these challenges prove difficult to overcome and the partnership often suffers. What advice would you give someone to help them open the doors of communication and start to repair their relationship?
A: Almost all relationship difficulties are transcended by personal growth. Now I’m not talking about instances where there is violence or significant substance abuse or ongoing betrayals of trust by the partner. I’m talking about the kinds of differences, power struggles and conflicts that occur in almost all intimate relationships. It is amazing how when we examine the stories we tell ourselves, our personal sensitivities, projections and patterns of relating, we suddenly see how we are contributing to the difficulty dances in our relationship.
It is astounding how growth and change in one partner will invite change in the other and the whole feel of the relationship is suddenly very different. One person’s growth invites the other person into their own process of growth and change. When we stop insisting that our happiness depends on the other person changing, the other person becomes less defensiveness and self-protected and a space opens for a fresh connection.
Now I’m not saying there aren’t instances where a woman might “outgrow” a relationship or get to a place in her life where she no longer wants to live with chronic negativity, or undermining, or a partner who never keeps their agreements, but we must also be careful about the unrealistic expectations we bring into relationships. When you commit your life to another person it is a destiny path, an unfolding journey. I teach people to really encounter each other, and that kind of “presence” makes a world of difference. Now there is a deeply felt connection and the creative potential of who these two people can be together opens up. A relationship is beyond the “you” and “me; it is a “we” and that “we” needs to be created and sustained across a lifetime.
Q: You’ve been in the business of love for many years now and have helped thousands of people establish or reestablish meaningful connections with their significant others. What is the most common misconception you’ve heard and what can people practice to overcome this hurdle?
A: Many people view relationships as a place where their needs will be met. While having one’s needs met does make for a happy pairing, needs change. If the relationship is only about need-meeting, it will be in trouble. There has to be a context of mutual giving and support–which is different from “you must need to meet my needs.”
We have to adapt to life stages, unexpected challenges, sometimes a relationship needs to be “repurposed” or “re-storied” regarding the reasons why they are together. Two people who develop the six love capacities I outline in my book The Labyrinth of Love will have a successful relationship.
Those love capacities are:
● Commitment–to person, process and presence
● Courage–to stay in the game
● Curiosity–really wanting to understand
● Good communication
● Compassion–for self and others
● Creativity–that ongoing process of the creation of a “we” in each new stage of life
Q: Throughout my life, I’ve seen loved ones experience challenges with intimacy and infidelity, and these issues typically seem to go hand-in-hand. If intimacy needs (emotional or physical) are not balanced, it has led to infidelity and often divided the relationship. If you know that your partner is the right person for you, how do you work through those issues?
A: Infidelity is a big topic, and it happens for a variety of reasons. Almost all couples have mismatched sexual desires in some way. In the creation of a sex-life worth having, these have to be negotiated with mutuality, compassion and creativity. But sexual fulfillment is not the only reason why people stray. A lot of it has to do with emotional needs that are being met by the affair partner. It can be hard to deny the compartmentalized fantasy if someone comes along offering to meet deep emotional needs of attention, affirmation, plus fresh, passionate sex, in an experience that is unencumbered by conflicts over bills, household tasks, parenting, etc.
I tell people that the best protection against infidelity is self-awareness, (for your personal vulnerabilities to infidelity), and then knowing one’s partner deeply and nurturing a meaningful bond that is so valued that the other would do nothing to damage it. That takes an investment of time, heart and vulnerability encompassed in the six love capacities.
Q: We’ve all heard the old adage “You must first love yourself before you can love another,” but when your self-esteem is low, how can you change your inner narrative to one of self-compassion to support healthier relationships?
A: My best suggestion here would be to get into some good psychotherapy and get whatever is blocking the self-esteem resolved. Sometimes this is personal development and sometimes there are deep hurts to be resolved. The scripts we live in are very important–who I am, who others are and what a person like me can expect from life–that gets reworked in good therapy.
Q: I recently heard some relationship advice from a couple who’s been married 50 years: “hang in there.” Now, I know there are circumstances where that is not always applicable, but it rings true that we can’t just quit when we meet most challenges and expect to find something easier next time. How do you know when it’s time to throw in the proverbial towel or when to dig in and fix it?
A: Before you throw in the towel, do some personal work. Then engage a good couples therapist who can “diagnose” the relationship deficits and patterns the two of you may be stuck in that can be transcended by growth. Communication is important, but there are a number of other factors that underlie relationship difficulties. I refer you to my book The Labyrinth of Love for a deep dive into what makes relationships not only work but be truly fulfilling.
The stories we tell ourselves about the relationships we’re in impact the way we feel about them. Change the story and the way the characters are cast, and the relationship will feel different. A shift in interpretation can often help to identify undeveloped potentials and dysfunctional patterns. Personal growth as well as a commitment to loving deeply through the development of my six love capacities are certain to strengthen the bond.
In this interactive workshop, relationship expert Dr. Chelsea Wakefield will help you develop foundational tools needed to cultivate and maintain healthy romantic partnership dynamics and teach you how to exit the “drama triangle.” Join us on Saturday, April 22 from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. for Nurture at The Nest to ask her your own questions, grow your love for yourself and nurture your relationship with others. This workshop is open to members and non-members and RSVP is required, so click here to reserve your spot today!