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The pandemic dropped romance into a pressure-cooker. Some couples are forced apart, while others are confined together. Both situations come with extraordinary challenges, so I’ve brought in reinforcements to help us stay sane and make it work.
Long-distance relationships are tough, and rarely a permanent intention. Typically, the two people involved decide they’ll gut it out for a predetermined amount of time. They make this choice because they’re in love, and the momentary agony will be worth it once they reunite.
Fast-forward to our current COVID-19 world, the option to just hop on a plane isn’t available, and the geographical divide has no end in sight.
We first spoke with Christine Gerber Rutt back in episode 161, when she gave us a long-distance relationship survival guide. The plan always was to have her return for an encore. With so many couples separated temporarily but indefinitely by the pandemic, we need Christine’s expertise now more than ever.
An intuitive guide with a background in physiology and social work, Christine helps couples thrive individually and together while physically separated. This week, Christine shares key principles she uses to keep her own 20+ year long-distance relationship strong — and co-raise two kids — while extendedly apart.
It’s my pleasure to welcome Christine back to teach us her tried-and-tested four-pillar system to keep love alive through the distance.
What You’ll Learn in this Episode:
- Why resistance causes pain
- Permitting yourself to sit in your discomfort
- Language tricks to get cooperation from your kids
- Establishing sustainable communication routines
- Thinking outside the box for physical touch
Listen to the Full Episode:
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Featured on the Show:
- Thinking of joining the Expat Coach Coalition? Last chance to apply here.
- Episode 161: Long Distance Survival Guide with Christine Gerber Rutt
- Christine’s Instagram: ChristineGerberRutt
- Facebook Business Page – Sundae Schneider-Bean LLC
- Facebook Group – Expats on Purpose
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Full Episode Transcript:
Hello, it is 6:00 am in New York, 1:00 pm in Johannesburg and 6:00 pm in Bangkok. Welcome to Expat Happy Hour. This is Sundae Schneider-Bean from www.sundaebean.com. And I’m a solution oriented coach and intercultural strategist for individuals and organizations and I am on a mission to help you adapt and succeed when living abroad and get you through any life transition.So I was on a social distancing walk with one of my good girlfriends in Switzerland. And she told me that she read that the divorce rate spiked in China as soon as they started loosening the lockdown. I heard her say it. I’ve heard so many other people say it around me, but I didn’t know if it was really true or if it was just like one of those things that you hear. That kids used to have to have their candy checked because there were people who put razor blades in their apples at Halloween time. So I thought I better check it out myself before I repeated the same story to someone else. And I went online and I took a look and the very first article I opened was from a pretty credible source, Bloomberg BusinessWeek. And the title is “China’s divorce spike is a warning to rest of lockdown world.” The article went on to share how as soon as the lockdown loosened that offices were filled with couples standing in line. Making the employees so busy that they didn’t even have time to drink water.
And this is one of the reasons why I wanted to focus on love on lockdown.
If you are listening to this now, it’s during the COVID-19 crisis and things can be hard if you are locked down with those that should be closest to you and you’re finding strain in your relationship. It might be even harder if your love is literally locked down. In a sense that you’re stuck in one continent and they’re stuck on the other indefinitely.
So this is a two part series ‘Love on Lockdown with Expat Happy Hour.’ Part 1 we will focus on being separated temporarily due to the lockdown but indefinitely. And part 2 we’ll look at being locked down together and the impact on your relationship.
So stick around because I can’t think of anything more important than how this lockdown is affecting relationships.
By the way, if you’re listening to this later and it’s not the COVID crisis anymore. Stick around if you are in a long-distance relationship because this information is going to be highly relevant.
And PS before I begin with part one. If you have applied for Expat Coach Coalition, we are in the final week of closing up applications. And if you haven’t heard back from me. Check your spam. Because I’ve responded to each and every person individually. And if you have met with me and you’re still sitting on your decision, get back to me because I would love to get the Expat Coach Coalition rolling for May 13th our first call.
Okay. Love on lockdown. Many people have been separated temporarily and indefinitely. Not only are you looking for new strategies to take care of yourself, get your groceries in the house, not go crazy and maybe even homeschool your kids. But you’re going to need to figure out how to do relationships from a distance.
And this is why I invited back our guest expert Christine Gerber Rutt from Episode 161. Because she’s got such a wealth of experience. We already had part 2 in the works and we knew now was the right time. Christine Gerber Rutt is someone who’s experienced long-distance relationships for over two decades with the same man. And has raised her family successfully in these circumstances. Professionally she’s an intuitive guide. She’s also trained as a social worker. And has an emphasis in Psychology. And she also finds the time to be a writer, a workshop facilitator. She is what you call an oracle card reader and the creator of the card deck “Sincerely your Intuition.”
She’s amazing. One of the things you’ll find out is how deeply she believes in dumping self-judgment and shame and speaking our truth.
So today’s episode is building from our first time together. So if you haven’t listened to Episode 161 now is the time.
Sundae: So thank you so much Christine for joining us again on Expat Happy Hour.
Christine: Oh I was so thrilled to be here. Thank you Sundae.
Sundae: So first of all, for those of you who are listening to this and have not yet heard Episode 161, Long-distance Survival Guide. It’s like a prerequisite. It is so good. And I was actually just listening to it again this morning. Not as the someone who runs a podcast but as a listener like “Yeah. Oh, that’s good.” So thank you Christine. It’s such a valuable episode and I’m so grateful you agreed to come back again.
Christine: Oh, I’m so happy about this. I can’t wait.
Sundae: So before we dive into the pragmatics. Christine and I agreed that part two from our first episode would be more on the pragmatic side for navigating long-distance relationships. And before we do that Christine, let’s just touch base. Where are you in terms of your own relationship? Are you still doing long-distance or are you guys together?
Christine: We are currently doing long-distance. I’m based in Switzerland with our two children. They’re 14 and 19. And my husband is in Qatar. And he’s been there since July. We did see him for two weeks over Christmas. And we are now looking at very probably about another year before we get to see each other.
Sundae: Wow. I can’t believe you just said another year.
Christine: Yes. Welcome to the new world,
Sundae: You know, it’s so crazy because both of us have done long-distance relationships for various periods of time. And one of the things that’s always been a consolation for long-distance families, is you can hop on a flight and see each other for example. And this is what’s different about the COVID-19 pandemic is that we just don’t don’t have that luxury anymore.
Christine: Absolutely and the longest I’d ever done it before with seven months. Which was a significant period of time and really challenging. But as you know, it’s one of these things of acceptance. I mean, of course we talked about all of that in our previous podcast. But I think maybe touching on it very briefly now is this mindset of we don’t know. And actually we never do know and we never did know. It’s just kind of we think we knew but things can always change. Things are always changing and now it’s just visible.
Sundae: You’re already blowing me away, Christine.
Christine: I’m sorry. Can we just jump right into this conversation.
Sundae: But you’re right. We’re always under this illusion of knowing.
Christine: And I find the really massive thing is this acceptance of the current reality continuously. I mean change and transformation is always constantly happening all the time. And you can see it when you move to a new country, you see it when you have a baby and you see the children grow. This is actually our lives. That’s how it’s meant to be and resistance causes a lot of pain. So that’s why it’s really great when today we could talk about “Right we have these long-distance relationships now, what do you do with them? Let’s accept it. We got it. How do you deal with it?”
Sundae: Right but I mean we need to pause on that, that resistance causes a lot of pain. That’s when we deny, what is the definition of suffering? I think Dali Lama is probably the one who’s leading on that thought. It’s when we are saying “Well if he had taken that last flight, if the company would have approved that.” Etc. We’re living in resistance.
Christine: I also want to acknowledge here. And this is something that so far too few people are talking about and it must be talked about. Yes, resistance causes pain, but the resistance to the experience of pain also causes pain. So let me explain. If you are feeling sad, feel sad. If you are feeling frustrated, be frustrated. If you’re feeling happy, be happy. Feel your feelings. Let them feel and move out of your body.
Sundae: I call it: sitting in it, like trying to sit in it. But we’re taught that we shouldn’t. There’s this culture of this happy culture. Everybody has to be happy and productive. And if you’re not happy and productive there’s something wrong with you.
Christine: Yeah. Well, this is the old way that has gotten us to where we are. And you can continue to do that if you choose but do know it’s a choice. But there is another way and you can choose it. And there are people that are choosing it.
So I would highly recommend the other way. I mean, it’s challenging because you do have to feel your feelings. I mean right now everyone is having feelings and everyone is having opinions about everyone else’s feelings. And there’s opinions about the opinions. And it’s really like shut out the noise, get back to yourself.
I mean, this is why I like intuition so much because you can shut out the noise. You can say, “Wait a minute. How do I actually feel right now? What do I need to do right now?” For me the biggest thing that’s coming out of all of this is self-responsibility. I am responsible for myself. And this is actually, I mean astrology talks about this a lot. We’ve been in the age of Capricorn and now we’re moving into the age of Aquarius. This is an astrological thing. I mean people probably are aware of their sun sign and all of this. But we’re talking about this from a much bigger perspective. But you can see it here or in reality. Governments are changing, social structures are changing, school structures are changing, work structures are changing. We’ve had five years of change in five weeks. And this is no joke.
Sundae: Right. No joke. And I feel like this is kind of a different subject, but I feel like expats are perfectly poised because we’ve seen transformation and change and transition all of our lives. And we’re also the hardest-hit because we’re so defined by our mobility.
Christine: Yeah, absolutely. And I believe that expats are in a really beautiful space to be able to show up and share what they’ve learned with other people. Because other people who are not used to this they’re like, “Whoa, what just hit me? I’ve separated from people.” And expats are like, “Welcome to the club. We’ve been here.”
Sundae: It’s almost like you’re bitter. You’re like, “Guys, Zoom has existed for many years. We could have Facetimed five years ago.”
Christine: Exactly, exactly. It’s like so now it’s a great time. It would be so easy to be so bitter and resentful to your people who have resisted your change for so long. And it would be so easy to say, “See I told you so.” It would be so easy to go into that. But if we want to really create a new society we’re going to have to do it from love. Well we don’t have to, we have a choice. Again, I prefer to do it from love. So how in this situation could you spread love? It’s like, “Hey, I have a really great way we could communicate.” Leave your bitter sarcasm for your other expat friends so you can vent. Because get it out. You know, I’m all about moving stuff out or dance to get it out dance all of your frustration get it out. Whatever. Expats know how to do this.
Sundae: So in the last episode you talked about choosing love not fear. And now you’re talking about choosing love instead of resentment. So it’s always been, I mean who doesn’t love. It is such a beautiful pure emotion. It’s like if we have the choice, it’s so nice. But it’s so hard to go toward we have to let go of all the other stuff.
Christine: I mean and again this love. Love is so misunderstood. And if you haven’t listened to the first episode go back and listen to it. Because I’m going to repeat myself ad nauseam. Love is misunderstood. Go back to the first episode to hear why. Let’s leave it at that.
Sundae: I mean, I’m already, my brain is already scrambled and I love it. So here’s the thing. We’re talking about long-distance. You were in a situation with long-distance. You made the choice to continue long-distance. This one year is a time that we have to wrap our brains around. Our personal situation is actually the opposite where we didn’t expect to be together. But because of the shutdown we are together and we should be long-distance. This is an interesting dichotomy that’s happening.
Let’s think about the people who are now in their long-distance relationship. They’re dealing with their resistance around whether or not this is a good thing. They are hungry to make the most of it. Because they actually frankly don’t have a choice. Like it’s happening.
So based on your experience. You’ve had so many years to test this. What can you pass on to those who are finding themselves in longer distance relationships they never anticipated or for the first time?
Christine: Well, my experience comes from multiple long-distance relationships through various periods of my life. So from over a span of 20 years.
Sundae: With the same partner who is your husband?
Christine: So I think that’s important to qualify where I’m coming from and what worked for me. You figure out what works for you. I can just share my experience and hope that you find something that helps.
What I’ve discovered is that there’s really almost like four pillars of a really solid long-distance relationship. It’s kind of like the legs of a table. One of the legs can go out and you could probably still keep the table up if you prop something. So these are like the four. Try to keep three of these really solid. Maybe it’s easy if I just tell you what I see those four are and then we can go into really pragmatic details of how to actually do that. Might be easiest for people.
First of all the mindset, the beliefs, that’s all in the last episode. That’s the foundation, that’s like the floor this thing is set on. If you don’t have that, there’s no point building a table because you’re really going to have some problems. Go back to the beliefs and mindset. One pillar is for the person who has, especially if you have children, which has been my experience, arrange your daily life in a way that suits you and the people around you and your environment. I do not worry about my long-distance partner, when I am organizing my daily life.
Sundae: That’s interesting. I was expecting you to say the opposite when you started your sentence.
Christine: Everyone does it differently. The reason I did this the way I do it was because it’s in alignment with me. That goes back to your beliefs and mindset. This is why that one is so vital.
Sundae: Because you can’t set up a daily life that doesn’t fit the foundation of what you need.
Christine: I am holding our family together, and I know that. I have had to step into that. It’s very uncomfortable for me to say that publicly. And I told you I never have before. But I know I am holding our family together. If my daily life does not support me and nourish me the table is crushed. It’s gone. I need to do it so that it works for me. And I trust. So that’s the self-responsibility piece.
The second piece is trust. I trust that my partner, my husband is doing the same for himself. He needs this also touches back on something we talked about in the last episode towards the very end where I think I exploded your brain. So it’s like this. Trust your partner that he could take care of himself or she whatever it is.
So four pillars. Arrange your daily life in a way that suits you.
The second one is to standardize your communication with your partner. That will have a lot of details to go into as well.
Third pillar is. Ask for support and receive it.
And the fourth one is physical touch. You’re going to have to think outside the box on this.
So those are the four pillars.
Sundae: Okay. So let me just back up here. One our mindset and getting clear on what our needs are as the foundation, the floor. The first leg is around daily life and making sure that the daily life suits you, the people around you, the little people that you’re probably taking care of and the environment. Trusting and relying on self-accountability for your partner to do the same.
Those are the four pillars. It starts with daily life.
What else? I’m going to be a little systematic here. What else do we need to think about when we’re thinking about daily life?
Christine: For me, it goes back to this acceptance of the reality that we’re in right now. So whether we’re talking about during the COVID pandemic or whether we’re talking about after we’ve moved on to other other issues. It really is acceptance of what life is right now. So when my kids were really small we had a separation where the youngest was four years old and the oldest was 9 years old. So we’re talking about really small kids. You’re talking about a completely different type of situation. Right now. My oldest is 19. So I’m in a significantly different situation.
So for the nine year old. First thing I did was realized bedtimes are really problematic. I was going to say something else but decided you don’t need to censor this. So I said to myself so you don’t have to. So I took all of the mattresses and put them in one room. And that was the best thing I ever did. The kids still remember that. The time we all slept in one room. They were all on the floor. We all just slept in one room. And now it’s the exact opposite. I made sure each of us have our own room and I live in a small apartment. We have a three-room apartment. That’s room not bedroom, room. And there’s three of us that live here. So we made sure each of us have our own space so we can go and be alone. And this is of course very important for daily life. So this is how you could arrange your together time and alone time? So depending on the age of your kids and who you’re living within your space possibilities changes that. So find out what works for you.
Sundae: I’m going to chime in here because when I first had to solo parent unexpectedly in 2016, my son just turned 4. And I think so we’re talking about the same sort of small people situation. What I’ve noticed around my clients who have small people in their lives, that their demands are so high it’s as if they’re not even allowing themselves to think about their own needs. It’s because it’s like a tidal wave of demands from little people. And in terms of day life one of the things that I worked really hard on in the beginning was teaching them, “You have your needs and I’m going to do this to meet that need. And now we need to be on the same team and help Mama get her needs.” So it would be like, “You guys need to go outside to move. So I’m going to go onto the soccer field with you. But keep in mind at eight o’clock you’re going to have quiet time in your room because then Mama needs quiet.” Like being really transparent with your kids, even when they’re four, they get it.
Christine: Absolutely agree. I mean we’re teaching our kids how to do by example. If we give them everything they’re going to think that’s what we do. I’m not the handmaiden to my children. Even when my daughters were how old? I think it was like one and a half when I started this, so they were really super young. I would tell them I would take daily coffee breaks. And I’ve had clients also do this as well and have said it’s miraculous. I would have a daily coffee break and I would use language that my child could understand. “When the coffee cup is in my hand. You’re not allowed to walk into this room and talk to me. As long as the cup is in my hand. I’m taking a coffee break.” And I started by doing it for 1 minute and eventually worked up to I think it was an hour.
Again, age-appropriate all of these things as well. But you can start with really small things. You can also do this with a timer. Again trust that your child can take care of themselves. You do not have to give everything to your child. Start small and build it out.
Also, I am responsible. Again self-responsibility. I am responsible for getting my needs met. No one else. I need to do that. I am responsible. So how do I do that?
Sundae: Totally and I think our kids are, we underestimate how much capacity our kids have. One of the things that I do is if I’ve had a busy day or I haven’t had enough space in between my work and my family life. I found language that works for us. I’ll tell them that grumpy van is about 10 kilometers outside of town. I’m like, “Grumpy van is circling in, it’s getting close to town you guys. Can you please, before I get grumpy, can you please help me out here?” You know, like keep it down or participate or whatever it is. And I’m like, “Oh you guys grumpy vans like three miles out of town.” And then I will be upstairs and they should be brushing their teeth and they’re not and then I’ll be upset about something and then my son will go, “Mom, I think grumpy van is in town.”
Christine” But that’s a beautiful way of also introducing humor to the situation while being really clear.
Sundae: I just take myself so seriously all the time. Like come on I needed to find another way.
Christine: Yeah, I think we need to lighten up a lot. I mean I found with older children. So I have 14 and 19, well, almost 15 and 20 year old. So I’m on the other spectrum now, I had to with the current situation, make a decision about bedtimes. And I decided, and this will not work for everyone, I totally have decided to let them self-regulate their entire day. The only thing that is, I wouldn’t say expected, is there’s a lot of things. but the family thing that is expected, is we all eat dinner together. This is the time we have dinner, you’re all there. Self-regulate, you go to bed when you need to go to bed. You’re old enough to know to brush your teeth. You’re old enough to get your own food and between you all are old enough to figure out your own lives. If you need help, I’m here.
But actually, this is a beautiful opportunity for them to recognize how much sleep they need. How much time they have to set aside for studying. How are they going to make sure they get on their online classes at the right time and how can they make sure they get food? And it’s amazing to watch how they do it. My youngest daughter is staying awake usually until about 4:00 in the morning. That’s early for her. So usually like about 5, she’ll kind of go to bed and then sleep all day. And then she’ll get up and she’ll do her thing and she loves it. She’s thriving.
Sundae: Yeah. Well why not actually she doesn’t have to be physically somewhere anytime.
Christine: But I had to get over this idea of what should be done.
Sundae: So daily life. There’s so much we could talk about and I want to make sure we have time for the other three pillars and I know they overlap. All of these are intertwined. Tell me more about them. I want to hear more about your second one which is about standardizing your communication.
Christine: I’m all for going with the flow, very much so. But this is one where I found that it was really helpful to be really clear what time of day we’re going to call and how. So for us that means very practically that we call, we have dinner together.
Sundae: The whole family has dinner?
Christine: Yeah, so he’s on, what are we? I think the thing we’re using now is Facetime. It changes depending on what year and century we are in. But right now it’s FaceTime. And I got a tripod. And that was another thing that was really helpful to get to put my phone on so he can just be at the end of the table. I put him on a little stepladder and he’s at the end of the table with us.
Sundae: So it’s something like predictability. You know you’re going to have that one touch point that day. You’re doing something together.
Christine: And sometimes we talk for five minutes and sometimes we end up talking for two three hours. So we don’t regulate the length, just the, “Hey, how’s it going? You know what? I don’t really feel like talking today. Do you need to talk? If you do I have the capacity for that, but I don’t have the capacity.” The other thing that I think is important in these calls, is again going back to that love. Like love yourself and don’t try to hide your emotions. Like love your fear. Love your hate. Love your bitterness. Love your joy. Love whatever is coming out and show it and express it. Don’t try to hide your feelings. Feel your feelings and let the other person feel their feelings without you having to feel like, we just had it recently. I was having a fabulous day and he was having a horrible day. And so it’s like I had to let myself have my fabulous day and share that with him not try to hold it back and let him have his horrible day and share that and not hold it back and let us both be in whatever we were in without trying to take on someone else’s burden or without trying to change someone else or the situation. Just let it be. So that I think is really pivotal for all conversations. Even outside of this.
Sundae: And I just want people to pause right now and scroll back 30 seconds, 60 seconds. Because I think that’s something most people do and they don’t realize that they’re doing it. They are monitoring their feelings and hiding them or masking them for the comfort of other people.
Christine: Yes, and that is a train wreck waiting to happen.
Sundae: Right, to say it lightly.
Christine: The other thing that I’d really like to say here that is super key and important, is when the other person is feeling bad. Really if you want the train wreck to happen immediately. Try to change their mood. Like if someone’s feeling bad, if someone’s feeling sad, do not try to go into rationalizing, do not try to go into pep-talk. If you try to change this, I am sorry I could go on for a really long time about this. I used to have depression quite severely and whenever I would tell someone I was doing bad, they would try to tell me all the good things in my life. And there were a lot of expletives that came out of my mouth. I don’t care. And again, feel what you feel right and let other people do the same.
Sundae: Oh my gosh, can you imagine. Like this is my challenge for everybody who’s listening. What would your week look like if you just allow yourself that space to feel your feelings? Like what would that week look differently? I just think that’s massive. So take that on if you’re interested in that. Like what if your entire family gave each other permission to feel their feelings and give space for other people? I think it would be transformative.
Christine: It will be transformative. Let’s put a parentheses around this before people who have never done this before. It’s uncomfortable. Like both the good and the bad feelings. It’s uncomfortable, if you really let him feel them. So give yourself some gentleness around this. Be gentle with yourself. And the other thing I’ve learned about feeling your feelings is feel them and also allow them to move and to release and to go. Movement is the best way to do this.
Sundae: That’s why I run every day. I have to run every day because it’s like if I didn’t they would get stuck in my body somewhere. This is why I’m watching on Facebook and watching my clients, watching myself and just looking at what’s going on. And I see this, like wine sales must have skyrocketed. People are masking their feelings or they’re running from their feelings, you know by going to coping strategies like Netflix or alcohol. And I’m not judging that at all. Because people have got to do what they’ve got to do. And I’m not going to weigh in on that at all, but it’s interesting to watch. I’ve watched people in my life who have gone completely sober in their transformation. They’ve said how they noticed how it was actively trying to run away from how they felt. And they had to sit their feelings. So this is kind of a side note, but I feel like it’s relevant because I’m watching that go on on such a global scale right now.
Christine: And I think it’s a really important point to notice what you’re doing for coping mechanisms. Whether it’s drinking whether it’s Netflix, whether it’s napping, whether it’s texting, whether it’s working. What are you doing to escape your feelings rather than to feel your feelings in order to release your feelings?
Sundae: Yep, totally. So movement. Absolutely. So what I’m hearing from you is if you’re going to take the move and really sit in your feelings then a way to deal with the discomfort and healthy way is movement. We’ve talked about dances. I mean, this is, I always recommend a five o’clock dance party for people who need to. Or if you can physically, run or walk or whatever you’re doing in your area.
I wanted to share something really pragmatic about the communication strategy. You talked about dinnertime. One thing that we did in our family was my husband was responsible for bedtime. And you might be asking how do they do that from a distance? He would read a story on his phone and my son would have that same story on the iPad and they’d page through together. So that’s a little tip for people who want to have their partner as an anchor in their kids’ lives. And one part of the day, you can get creative and read stories and do bedtime. So I guess what I’m saying is you found a creative way to do it. You guys do dinner. We did bedtime. So I’m challenging everybody who’s listening. What is that one creative thing that you’ll do? Maybe you’re going to walk together and bring the phone along and you’ll be walking all the same time and talking and sharing the view or whatever that is. I think it’s worth it.
Christine: I love that. I love that thing. I think it’s really important that the partner that’s away from the children has time with the children alone without the other partner being around. So I do that by, now with the children being older, I do that by introducing a topic of conversation. Because sometimes he just doesn’t know what to talk to them about. You know, they’re teenagers. They’re not as communicative at this point as four year olds may be. So I will introduce a topic of conversations like “Oh, did you tell him about the email that the teacher sent about what’s coming up for school?” And she’ll be like, “Oh no I didn’t.” And I’ll excuse myself to go get a glass of water and let them talk.
Sundae: And for me, it was a break. I was like, okay I’m going to go empty the dishwasher while he’s doing that. Like it was just also a pragmatic break for me. I called it, this is my thing right now, I call it #Momspa. Especially as we have no space. I’ll do the laundry and listen to music or I’ll go do the dishes and have a glass of wine or whatever. That’s my #Momspa. Create a mom spa if you’re the one who’s taking care of the kids and the other parent is gone. Or Dad Spa. Whatever has happened in your family.
Let’s look at this idea of asking and receiving support before we go on to the one that’s the most confusing which is touch. Especially when it comes to physical distance. So what about asking/receiving support as your third pillar?
Christine: So this one really is about just really asking for that pragmatic support. So for you it would have been, “Hey, can you read a story to the kids at bedtime?” For me? It’s like “We’ve got a birthday coming up and we thought you were going to be here for the birthday. But oh look flights are canceled. So can you now research and order a birthday gift and have it sent here for her?” It could be something like, “Can we schedule two hours to fill out the tax forms together?” It could be something like, “Hey, could you call your mom? She’s driving me nuts and I don’t want to talk to her anymore. Can you deal with that? Let her know that we’re okay.” Or whatever. This actually didn’t happen to me. But I know this happens to other people. It’s like what do you need from your partner that you can ask for?
Sundae: I think it’s interesting because most people wouldn’t even think about it because they’re not there. So it’s like, “Well, he’s not here. He can’t help me with the taxes.” You know what I mean like that sort of frustration. But actually why not like, “Let’s hop on the phone for two hours and do this.”
Christine: Well, it’s so much easier sometimes to do it yourself. But if you’re talking about a long-term separation. And let’s be honest we never know how long it’s going to be. Why not say, “What can I delegate?” Be the boss of your life. Like, “What am I doing that actually is really draining that I could ask him to do?” So there’s some bank things where I’m like, “Listen, I know you have access to our online account. These things need to be done. Could you just do it? I know I could but I would really appreciate if you could do it.” And another huge part of it is to receive that support.
So every once in a while he’ll, it was so funny, so before all of his COVID stuff started he sent us a surprise package in the mail. He didn’t tell us it was coming. Just all of a sudden there was a package there for my daughters. And ironically enough it was just a joke gift of toilet paper. This was before COVID. One had toilet paper with like unicorns on it and the other had paper money. And of course, it wasn’t more than one month later where we were like, “Thank you for the toilet paper we can use that now.” But it’s like these little touches.
Sundae: And I think it also, one might be asking, “Why is one partner asking for help and the other one isn’t? I’m thinking about it from the one who’s solo parenting. There’s a disproportionate amount of parenting being done by the one who was physically with them. So it’s a way to create a little bit of balance and lift the weight a little bit for the one who has the solo parenting role. And it’s also for the other person a way to contribute and be participative in the family still despite the distance.
So now we got to get to this last one. This one’s gonna be interesting. So the fourth pillar is touch. And when we’re talking about a romantic relationship, families, couples who are long-distance. This could be an interesting topic.
Christine: You have no idea what’s going to come out of my mouth right now. You’re just kind of like, “Oh my God, where are we gonna go with it?” I love it.
Sundae: I am putting my hands open and surrender to whatever comes.
Christine: You’re like we could always edit it out if we need to. This one is so important and it’s so little talked about. It’s kind of like one of those. “Let’s whisper it in secret.” But the truth is, we know this from psychological and scientific studies, humans need physical touch. The problem comes when we rely on, most people do this, that most people rely on one single person to fill our very human need for touch. And I believe another really huge challenge of this is that touch has become sexualized. But it’s not actually. So I would encourage people to, again that’s the belief in mindset thing that’s really specific for this. What are your beliefs in mindset around touch? Because you’re going to be confronted with that when you have a long-distance relationship.
So really go back and look at your mindsets and beliefs around this, and you have to be in integrity with yourself. And do understand that touch could come in so many different healthy forms. The other thing is when we’re talking about human needs. I mean we see this from psychology. All humans have some really basic human needs. If you want to go back to Maslow’s pyramid, that’s a classic of what the needs are. This is one of them. And as we know with needs from psychology, a need will get met one way or another.
It’s going to get me. It’s going to be positive or it’s going to be negative. You’re either going to sabotage yourself or you are going to nourish yourself.
Sundae: A need will get met one way or the other.
Christine: Always. Tony Robbins actually also has some good material on this as well. I can’t remember, he talks about needs as well. I can’t remember the exact terminology. I didn’t think we were going to go here or I would have it ready. But that would be something else to look into because he has a slightly different angle on it. But it really is, “Hey make some choices about how you’re getting your needs met.”
So when we’re talking about physical touch, let’s talk really pragmatically. First of all, we’re talking touch. We’re not talking sexuality. We’re separating these two for this part of the conversation. Put lotion on your body, like touch your own body and feel, actually feel your fingers on your skin. You could do it right now. Take your fingers and put it on your arm. Just feel, can you feel the hair on your skin? Just feel that. Some people actually do this for the first time and feel like an electric jolt because they’re so unnaccustomed to paying attention to their own touch. It’s even when you touch your fingertips to your fingertips, if you really focus on that contact, it changes your perception of reality.
Sundae: And I can imagine where my mind is going, is if you’re touch-deprived you can easily go from touch as a human need to a sexual need. Like it can quickly jump to another category.
Christine: And sexuality and your sexual needs are a completely different category. These are not even the same category. So I know that in and of itself just separating those two for many people is just going to be a challenge.
Sundae: I’m laughing because I did a social distance walk with one of my best friends. We haven’t seen each other in a long time and we promised that we wouldn’t hug for the Integrity of social distancing. And when we saw each other I was like I just need to hug myself right now because I wanted to hug her so bad when we were walking down the street and I must have looked so funny that I was like giving myself like this big pretend hug because I couldn’t hug her and I wanted to so bad.
Christine: Sundae, that’s how I fall asleep every night. I’ll be honest. I didn’t realize I was doing this but I realized, it was a few weeks ago, I realized all of a sudden that when I’m falling asleep I’ve actually got my arms wrapped around myself. Like, “Whoa, this is actually quite nice.” But it makes a difference if you’re putting your attention and your focus on it. So all through the day we’re touching, you rub your hands to wash them, you have physical contact with yourself throughout the day. But it’s paying attention to it. And this physical contact can of course become sexual. And I would highly advise that it does with yourself. This is a really important aspect of our beings and it’s important for it to be met. Because again a need will get met one way or another.
So right now we have the COVID situation. So let’s just stick with the sensual, the physical touch, not the sexual one. So after the COVID situation is over or before it happened, I actually had a friend where we would arrange just to meet to hug. That was it. And we would just for two hours, we would just hug. And sometimes we would talk and sometimes we wouldn’t but that’s it. And it was a man, so it was highly unconventional. But my partner was okay with it and he was okay with it. I think he had a girlfriend at the time and she was okay. Like everyone was cool with it.
Sundae: Yeah just spooning.
Christine: And there’s nothing sexual about it. So to get to that level of acceptance and neutrality is a really beautiful place.
Sundae: You’re going to have so many people up in arms right now, Christine. There’s so many people who are listening right now who are going, “Nope, that’s going to lead to danger, you can’t be doing that. You can’t be doing that.”
Christine: Then you should not be doing it.
Sundae: Then you should not be doing it.
Christine: Yeah, do not do anything out of integrity. I would never do anything that jeopardizes my marriage. And that’s why I want to say it was okay with everyone. It was not a secret. I mean, I would not be talking about it on a podcast if it was. It was in full integrity. That’s why I’m saying do what works for you. But do know that for some of you I’m sure you’ve never even thought this was a possibility. Can now say, “I wonder if?” Or what is possible that you didn’t think was possible.
For example now with COVID you’re not allowed to get that close to people’s faces. But we could actually touch feet. We could actually meet on the lawn and put our bare feet against each other. I actually did this yesterday and it was so beautiful.
Sundae: Well, I’m sorry to interrupt you. I think what’s so beautiful about this is that we have this opportunity to do things so differently. We as humans are navigating, how do we get our needs met for connection, support, for touch, for all of these things, for communication in our daily life. All of the pillars you’ve mentioned is the bigger picture of what we’re trying to do globally. How do we meet our needs in new ways?
And I love that. I mean, I can’t say that I love it because people are suffering and there’s all these other things that are really hard about it. And a beautiful part that is coming out of this as a result I think is that we’re discovering completely new ways.
Christine: And I think that it’s so important to hold both the beauty and the brutality in both hands at the same time. Because that is life. And once you start to be able to do that, hold seemingly contradicting emotions and feelings, it’s revolutionary.
Sundae: Yeah, totally. Beauty and brutality at the same time. So there’s a part of me that is really prudish and doesn’t want to talk about this. There’s another part of me that’s like really hard to talk about. But what about the sexual aspect? So you’re a partner, you have that in your relationship and now suddenly you’re apart from each other. What advice do you give to people who are in a long-distance relationship and are not able to be sexually intimate with each other anymore.
Christine: There are so many ways of doing this. And again each person really has to be in Integrity with themselves and their partner and make decisions together. Like this is really something you need to talk about. So I’ve heard the whole range of options. Because people tell me things. People tell me all the things, and I’m like, “Yes tell me more.”
So really find out what works for you. And there’s a whole range of things. I’ve heard of people sexting. So you send text messages that are sexy. I’ve heard people who do, and I’m not going to tell you what my personal practices are in this area because this is an area that’s private that my husband and I have discussed together and said this is not public information. So I am now going into generalities on purpose. Some of this is my experience and some of this is from all of the people, hundreds of people I have talked to over the past 20 years. So it’s these things. Like I’ve heard of people doing online sex where it’s like self-masturbation together. Like each of you are masturbating with video. I’ve heard of people doing recording like stripteases and sending it to their partners. Parentheses around that, any sexual activity online is on online.
Sundae: Oh my God my head is just dying right now.
Christine: Another parentheses / exclamation point. Any recordings should probably not be sent to a cloud if the family has access to the cloud.
Sundae: My cheeks are red right now. I’m just dying for everybody who’s been in that situation or people who are so brave to do that.
Christine: Thank you to all of the people who have shared their stories with me so that the rest of us. Every time a girlfriend tells me something they’ve done that’s turned out to be a disaster. I always put my hand to my heart and I say “I am so glad you had such a fucked-up experience so I don’t have to, thank you.” It’s like I genuinely am grateful.
But no matter what you do, find ways to give appreciation to your partner. You can be talking on Zoom or whatever it your thing is and you can say, “You looking really good today.” Like appreciate the physical aspects of your partner. Remind them that like, “I like the way you have your hair today.”
Sundae: Like I still see you in this way. That’s nice. I still see you. So because of time I’m going to have to rope us in. And probably because I’m such a prude this makes me uncomfortable.
Christine: Can I just add a note? Yes, it makes people uncomfortable to do this. So do it in a way that works for you and your partner.
Sundae: And the one thing I’m gonna put out there is have this conversation and make the decision together sounds like really wise advice around that.
So we have talked about the four pillars of a long-distance relationship that people can think about no matter what’s going on in the world. But especially now for the COVID-19 people were unprepared for this at all or unprepared for the extent of it. I really really want to emphasize to everyone who’s listening how important these four pillars are that Christine has identified. Because relationships are hard enough. And then when you add the distance it can be even more challenging. We need to be close and have our own autonomy at the same time. So, how can you create closeness when you have all of that autonomy?
So Christine, thank you so much for being here again on Expat Happy Hour.
If you want to follow Christine, she’s on Instagram at Christine Gerber Rutt. I’ll put that in the show notes. She’s doing these great Instagram stories right now in a series on learning the language of your intuition, which will help you guide yourself during this challenging situation whether you’re living long-distance or not. This is a compass that will be priceless for you.
So, thank you again Christine for joining us.
Christine: It’s been my pleasure. Thank you so much.
So there you have it Christine and I dove into four pillars of a successful long-distance relationship. Looking at daily life. Setting up the schedule for you, your people and your environment. Asking, receiving support. Having standardized communication. And recognizing the importance of touch.
There’s so many things I’m taking away from today’s episode. But I think the things that will stick with me the most is going back to this idea of how resistance causes us a lot of pain. So really embracing what is if flights are blocked, they’re blocked.
The other thing I think is really important when we go on the big picture level, is our ability to sit in the discomfort. When sort of quote unquote regular life is going on we can escape into our hobbies, into nights out with friends, into our work environment, whatever it is. But when we’re locked down at home there’s really no escape. So learning how to sit there. Christine offers not the old way but a new way. A new way that’s founded in self-responsibility and trusting yourself and others to make choices that are in alignment with their integrity.
So this is important. Love on lockdown. This is part one. Get ready for part 2 coming up next week where we look at how to nurture relationships when you’re feeling like you have no space. And what I think about it, maintaining connection with people who are right next to you and you might be struggling. Or maintaining contact with people who are far away can get tough.
And that’s exactly what my work has been all about. And that’s exactly what I teach in Expat Coach Coalition. So if you are someone who serves or would like to serve expats. This is my last call to consider Expat Coach Coalition. Because we’re getting started early on in mid-May and I’d love you to be a part of it.
You’ve been listening to Expat Happy Hour with Sundae Bean. Thank you for listening.
I’ll leave you with the words from Esther Perel, author of mating in captivity: “Love rests on two pillars: surrender and autonomy. Our need for togetherness exists alongside our need for separateness.”
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