On Sunday evening, May 14, Dr. Avi Muschel, PsyD, spoke on behalf of Let’s Get Real With Coach Menachem on the art of showing up and being present in your marriage and relationships.

He explained a type of therapy called EFT, which stands for “emotionally focused therapy.” He taught that communication plays a major part in all relationships.

He focused on one piece, which is vulnerability. Vulnerability, he said, means being real and being genuine. In EFT therapy, the therapist is real with the client and comes with the attitude that we are all just people. He explained that, in every relationship, “the more real we are, the better we feel.”

He noted that there is a lot of pressure in the frum lifestyle, including social, religious, and financial pressure.

The people you enjoy spending time with are the ones you feel you can be yourself with. “It is healthy and helpful to be real.”

He taught that it is a tremendous challenge to show up as who you are, and it is the first step in building a marital relationship. When we can say that this is what I was feeling and I want to feel something else, this opens our spouse to a whole other side of us. “Talking about feelings leads to a higher level of communication.”

Dr. Muschel pointed out that we all desperately want to be connected to someone else. A baby wants to be held. Children love attention. What is not so well appreciated is that adults also want attention. “Every person has a need to connect to someone else.” You feel good when someone sees you and cares for you. Loneliness is as bad for your health as smoking cigarettes.

Dr. Muschel shared that a little child walks ahead of his mother, but he is always looking back over his shoulder to see if she is still there. “We want to know that, when we look over our shoulder, that our spouse is there.”

This need doesn’t go away. Adults still carry this feeling.

He spoke about two main things that happen when people feel their spouse isn’t there for them. They either run away or they withdraw. It’s a devastating feeling. He shared that people say, “I feel empty and alone.” So, the person gets upset inwardly or outwardly. If this cycle persists over time, it weighs on you. You feel you are going in the wrong direction.

So, what if we flip this. Look outside of ourselves and be willing to be vulnerable. He shared that you should express what you want. Tell your spouse that you want to tell him about your day. Tell him, “I want to be close to you. I want to be with you.” Let him or her know that you want connection instead of criticism. This opens the other person to empathy. “Reach out to your spouse in an emotional way.” Zoom in on your feelings right now. This lands better than talking from a place of criticism or defense. Dr. Muschel added, “I’m not saying it’s easy.”

The goal is to try to talk from a place of honest emotions and connection. If something is blocking your spouse from hearing your need, then you may need professional intervention.

Someone asked about dating and how to be yourself. He responded that, in dating, you want to present the best version of yourself, not a fake version. He explained that when you date, you need to know yourself. You have to wear nice clothing, but you don’t have to borrow clothing from a friend that isn’t really you. He added, “Be as nice as you are.” He added that, in dating, it is a big deal to be real.

Someone asked about dealing with a spouse who is fighting inner demons. A person needs to communicate that it is hard for her because of this, and she should say she appreciates what her spouse is doing.

He also spoke about timing. If the problem is just happening, like the wife is on the phone too much and the husband is upset about it, it is not a good time to talk about it when she is on the phone. Wait for quiet time and communicate that you really want time with your spouse: “Sometimes, it’s hard for me when you’re on the phone so much. At certain times I feel hurt when I see you on it.”

Another person asked what to do if one’s spouse is too needy for him. Dr. Muschel responded that what he really means is that “I am afraid I am not going to be there enough for you. Your needs are great, and I have a real fear that I’m not able to give you your emotional needs.” He explained that this is a scary feeling. That is what she means when she says you are too needy. The role of the spouse is to communicate that. The goal in EFT is to get to a place to be able to say this. If a wife says that she is afraid that she won’t be able to provide this, it helps the husband and they start to connect about what each one needs from the other.

He concluded that “the goal of EFT is to start in the world of interpersonal and then move into the world of intrapersonal and then to go back to the world of interpersonal.”

When we say that we are in this together, it shifts the energy of the conversation. Say what you really mean without blaming the other person. Communicate in a reflective way. Be careful that the other person doesn’t view it as an attack.