Sex, Love and Intimacy
Tools to Create the Relationship You Want

Alzak Amlani, Ph.D. • Psychotherapy, Consultation, & Workshops
220 California Ave. Ste. 120, Palo Alto, CA 94306 • (650) 325-8393
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Questions & Answers

On these pages I'm offering some tools to create healthy intimacy by clear communication, greater understanding of your partner, and working on key areas of challenges to you. My five practices for creating and continually enjoying deep intimacy: 1) Honest, clean and empathic communication; 2) Doing your own personal work consistently, (projections, baggage, fear of intimacy, resentment, etc.); 3) Recognizing and expressing to your partner what you appreciate about him or her everyday; 4) Accepting that relationship is a path to personal development and therefore needs regular work; 5) Continually developing a vision of the relationship you both want together.

Good Relationships are Made, Not Inherited

Q: I am in my mid 30's and have had a couple of long term relationships. None of them have been very satisfying and always had many problems. I also see family and friends having marriages where they are not happy. I am becoming hopeless about good partnerships. It is so rare to see really happy couples. Can you provide some ways of developing better relationships?

A: Many relationship experts have explained that intimate relationship based on equality is the hardest task human beings attempt. In most cultures marriages have been part of a larger, interwoven, family network. The couple is in service to the various needs of the clan, not just each other, leaving the conjugal-marital relationship in the background. In this era in the West, couples are basing their relationships on the romantic model, of staying in love with each other to fulfill personal needs. Couples want more out of relationship than ever before, yet we think that relationship is supposed to be easy and natural. To be quite frank, romantic relationship is an experiment we are still learning much about.

Here are some guidelines that create happier and more fulfilling relationships. Firstly, talk about problems in an understanding and respectful manner. There are many tools available today. A good book is "Love in the Trenches," by Al Crowell. Express anger in a clean way, avoiding abusive statements. In today's stressful environment it's very easy to snap at each other, this erodes trust and mutual respect. Don't expect and wait for your partner to make you happy, learn to be happy within yourself. Happy people create happy relationships. Acknowledge your partner everyday about his or her qualities that you like. Find time to enjoy each other through recreation and sensuality. When you meet each other after a day's work, have a few minutes of re-connecting and asking about how your partner is doing. Good relationships are made, not given


What Personality Type Are You?

Q: Recently, I saw a special on PBS about a personality system with nine personality types and each person is one of them. Although, I found it very interesting, is there any merit to such a system? Furthermore, how could it be helpful to me?

A: I think the personality system you are referring to is the Enneagram, where there are essentially nine particular ways of perceiving and being in the world. There are also various subtypes and other aspects which add uniqueness and variety to each type. This is a very old system based on the Russian philosopher Gurdjieff. I think personality typology can be quite useful if it is seen as a tool rather than a complete description of an entire person. Although, empirical research is minimal on the Enneagram, in my experience it¹s one of the best systems. It is thorough, complex, and can explain a personality at a person¹s worst and best. It also provides tools for change and growth.

Each type is named by a number: #1 is the perfectionist; #2 is the helper; #3 is the achiever; #4 is the tragic-romantic; #5 is the observer; #6 is the loyalist; #7 is the epicure; #8 is the leader; and #9 is the mediator. In most cases, people who have typed themselves have felt that they finally felt understood. Additionally, when they realized what type another person was, they could understand their idiosyncrasies and concerns much more. Finding out your Enneagram type takes at least reading a good book, such as, Wisdom of the Enneagram, and preferably taking a class where people of each type describe themselves. This helps you see with whom you most relate. It's a fun way to discover yourself and others more deeply.


She's a Christian; I'm a Hindu

Q: I came here from India for graduate school seven years ago. Now I am working here and have fallen in love with a woman from Madras. I'm a practicing Hindu, and she is a practicing Christian. I don't know how to deal with our religious differences.

A: Religious differences are significant and you need to talk about each of your viewpoints before you marry. The Hindu religion with its pantheon of Gods is quite tolerant of other traditions, but when immersed in Indian-familial culture, it is not as open. Christianity is concerned about social issues and charity, but is intolerant of other viewpoints.

Consider these questions: Is your religion about principles or about your heritage? Can you enjoy commonalities and accept differences? Do either one of you have any interest in converting, not just for the other, but for yourself? How much of a divide will any of this create with your parents and family, and how will that affect you all of you?

It is challenging to raise children when parents are of different faiths. If religion is a strong value for both of you, you need to think about what you will practice in your home and how you will teach your children about religion. Will you try and integrate both traditions or choose one? Is it possible to focus on the principles and not the form? Unless you make clear decisions about these issues, you will end up fighting, or not passing on to your children any religious teachings.

Beneath all these apparent differences are universal truths that all religions espouse, but few practice. Some of these include Ahimsa (non-violence) and the Golden Rule to "do unto others as you would have others do unto you." These are the highest principles to live by and to teach your children, regardless of your religious upbringing.


Forgive and Forget

Q: Last year I had a big argument with my favorite aunt and she said things to me that were very hurtful. I got very angry and we haven't spoken since. Although I am still upset, I miss her and want to see if we can forgive and forget?

A: First, you need to get clear about what happened between the two of you. Take some time to analyze it. There are always two levels to any disagreement: the surface level is what you're both arguing about; the deeper levels are the unspoken feelings and unresolved issues, that are now coming out and need to be dealt with. During a fight people will say horrible things to each other, then withdraw, or in a few days pretend everything is O.K., and not talk about uncomfortable topics. This will work for awhile, until the next conflict, which will be bigger and more difficult. Sounds like you're ready to deal with it.

Call your aunt and tell her you'd like to resolve the conflict and any misunderstanding between the two of you. When you meet, tell her your experience of the argument and how you felt hurt, without blaming and judging. Listen to her story with curiosity and interest in seeing her side. Since she is your aunt she may feel a right to authoritative towards you. Share what it's like to hear her response and encourage her to do the same. Be open to discovering differences between the two of you. Own your participation in the conflict and she'll feel safer to share her's. Your vulnerability will evoke her's. You don't have to agree on everything to enjoy each other. You may have to agree to disagree. What can you learn from your differences? Sounds like you like each other enough to find enough commonalities.


The Honeymoon is Over

Q: My partner and I have been dating for over a year. The first six months we really got along and had only occasional arguments. Now we argue constantly, even about little things. We don't seem to get anywhere with our attempts at communicating. Are there any tools you can give us?

A: The honeymoon is over. In the first six months you only noticed the good in each other and overlooked the difficult differences. Now you're more critical and feeling less in love. At this stage, you can begin to really get to know each other and start working on a real relationship. Following are some tools to start this process.

Good communication first requires that you become a good listener and learn to communicate without blame or judgment. The 3-step effective communication process is as follows: After the speaker completes a "thought chunk" (talking about one issue at a time) the listener does the next three steps. 1) Mirror. Say back to your partner in his or her words what you just heard, without analyzing or elaborating. After mirroring ask the speaker if you heard it correctly. If the essence of the communication is accurate, the speaker says he or she got it, and corrects only what wasn't heard correctly. Step 2: Validate. Say something like, "That makes sense from your point of view," or "I can see how you could feel that." Step 3: Empathize. Begin with the expression: "I guess you're feeling..." Complete this with one or two feelings words, such as: hurt, angry, unseen, happy, insecure, fearful, threatened, etc. After completing these three steps, the listener becomes the speaker. The new listener does the three steps above.

This forms a dialogue where each person takes turns being the listener and speaker. Using this process keeps partners from getting defensive, prevents escalations of problems into fights, and assists in fully listening to each others feelings instead of trying to fix them.


Letting Go and Moving On

Q: After a year of dating, my boyfriend and I broke up. There were a lot of things that he and I couldn't work out and we both put a lot of energy into the relationship. Even though I have been dealing with my anger, letting go of the past, and healing my wounds from our difficulties and break-up, I still harbor negative feelings. I would like to let go and move on.

A: Romantic relationships will bring up many deep issues and emotions. It's always good to share and work those out while you're in relationship. Sometimes issues are discovered after the break-up and you're left to deal with them alone. Introspect and see what's new or deeper, and wasn't dealt with. Gaining clarity can help reduce obsessing about the past.

The next step is to do a completion ritual for yourself regarding this relationship. Write down aspects of your previous boyfriend and the relationship that you resented, appreciated, and now wish to forgive. Notice what you experience as you do this exercise. How truthful are you being with yourself? Which feelings are about the relationship and which are from other experiences? You will learn a lot about yourself. Then go to a private and sacred place (garden, fireplace, etc.) where you can read out what you've written. Imagine you are telling your boyfriend these things. Be aware of your inner experience as you say out what you resent, appreciate, and forgive.

End with either burning or burying what you're written and fully letting your boyfriend go. Through the week, see if you have a dream that feels connected to this ritual.


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Questions & Answers
  Good Relationships are
Made, Not Inherited
  What Personality
Type Are You?
  She's a Christian;
I'm a Hindu
  Forgive and Forget
  The Honeymoon is Over
  Letting Go and Moving On