Okay, it’s a cute word. But what does it mean to have a real relationship, a relationship with substance? What does it take to have a relationship that not only lasts, but also thrives with loving connection? From growing with my beloved of 52 years, Joyce, and from our work with couples for 42 years, here are our 7 primary ingredients for REALationship. Every one of our couple’s retreats includes these elements. Of course there are many more ingredients but, if you sincerely understand these basic 7, the others will come along quite naturally.

1. Appreciation. It’s great to give compliments, to acknowledge the things your partner does for you, or how they look. However, a deeper appreciation includes the soul/spiritual qualities of your mate, like kindness, generosity, joy, childlike innocence or open-heartedness. Appreciate who they are as well as what they do. Acknowledge the biggest gifts your beloved has brought into your life. This is real appreciation. Do it daily. I love Joyce’s deep sensitivity, a quality that even I have criticized during our early years. Her sensitivity has allowed me to become more sensitive. Her ease of feeling her feelings has helped me to more quickly feel my own feelings.

2. Vulnerability. This is the fast-track to REALationship. We’re taught to hide our vulnerability and, instead, only show our strength. If I was vulnerable, and showed my fear as a child growing up in a tough neighborhood of Brooklyn, the other kids would pick on me. Hiding my vulnerability kept me safe on the streets, but did not work very well in my marriage. Joyce feels especially close to me when I ask for her emotional support, when I admit to fear, when I let her know how much I need her. It’s the times when I’m the most vulnerable that she sees my true strength as a human being. And her vulnerability with me lets me know how important I am in her life.

3. Inner parent, inner child. As much as we’d like to think we are all grown up, there is still a small child part of us that needs to be acknowledged. Our inner child gets scared and needs love and attention from the inner parent of our partner. Ignoring your inner child is guaranteed to get you in trouble with your mate. I remember one time when I got off a particularly difficult phone call, and I felt shaken. My inner child desperately needed comforting from Joyce. Instead of recognizing this basic need, I started ordering Joyce to do things. I unconsciously traded vulnerability with irritability. Luckily, my wise wife recognized a suffering little boy hiding behind the irritability, and she asked in a soothing voice, “Barry, are you needing a hug right now?” A humbled little voice squeaked out of me, “Yes.”

4. Sharing hurt feelings. Getting our feelings hurt by a loved one is unavoidable. This is a corollary to accepting our inner child. Many of us either don’t recognize when our feelings are hurt, or don’t express the hurt feelings we do recognize. Instead, we shut down, closing their heart, avoiding the possibility of confrontation. Or, we get angry and retaliate. Both of these approaches erode the love bond. Joyce, being sensitive to her feelings, easily recognizes when I’ve done something careless, and immediately lets me know. I, on the other hand, have spent years hiding my inner child, and consequently hiding my hurt feelings, mostly from myself. I’m getting better at recognizing my hurt feelings, but I still often cover my vulnerability with anger. “You hurt me, then I’ll hurt you” is almost a reflex. The following sentence is our goal: “I trust that you didn’t mean to hurt me when you said or did that, and it did hurt me.”

5. Responsibility. REALationship requires that you take responsibility for your actions. One way to do this is to apologize to your mate when you hurt them … whether intentionally or not. You may sometimes be so focused on the ways they hurt you that you miss the pain you cause them. Rather than taking the role of a victim, take responsibility for your own careless or unconscious actions or thoughts. Once, on a camping trip with our three children when they were younger, Joyce and I were locked into blaming each other. The children were off playing, but painfully aware of our arguing. The moment Joyce and I took responsibility for our own part of the argument, our faces relaxed into a smile and we hugged each other. At that very moment, all three of our children applauded.

6. Communication about sex. Couples rarely talk about their sexual relationship. But this area of relationship needs the most tender and caring communication. If you sincerely incorporate the previous five ingredients into your relationship, you will notice an increased attraction between you. We suggest answering two questions as a great exercise: First, what is most beautiful about your partner’s sexuality or your sexual relationship? It’s more appreciation, but specifically focused on sexuality. And second, what do you need to allow your sexual relationship to be even more fulfilling? Start your answer with something like, “I love it when you …,” rather than “You need to …” Keeping it positive will go a long way.

7. Spiritual connection. Nothing is more important than cultivating a spiritual connection with your beloved. Exactly what is this? It’s understanding that there is something bigger than the personal love between the two of you. Call it what you will, God, Higher Power, Source, Universe, or Divine Love, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you learn to trust this spiritual energy and ask for help. When Joyce and I got married, our different religions had caused us so much suffering that we simply threw it all out. We thought our personal love would be enough. It wasn’t. Our batteries ran down and we didn’t think to recharge them by plugging in to a higher power source. Finally, we ran into serious trouble that threatened our marriage. This propelled each of us into a spiritual quest that eventually led us back together. Today, the most important thing we do each morning is to sit together and acknowledge the Divine Presence, to give thanks for all that we are given, and to ask for help with what faces us. Find your own unique way to plug in and recharge your batteries. Create REALationship.

Here are a few opportunities to bring more love and growth into your life, at the following longer events led by Barry and Joyce Vissell:

Jul 16-21 — Shared Heart Summer Retreat at Breitenbush Hot Springs, OR
Oct 11-17 — Assisi Retreat, Italy
Feb 4-11, 2018 — Hawaii Couples Retreat on the Big Island

Call 831-684-2299 or write to the Shared Heart Foundation, P.O. Box 2140, Aptos, CA 95001, for further information on counseling sessions by phone or in person, their books, recordings or their schedule of talks and workshops. Visit their web site at SharedHeart.org for their free monthly e-heartletter, their updated schedule, and inspiring past articles on many topics about relationship and living from the heart.

Our schedule at a glance (details below):

When Where What Who
Jun 23-25 HomeCenter, Aptos, CA Summer Couples Retreat
Jul 16-21 Breitenbush Hot Springs, OR Shared Heart Summer Retreat
Singles, Couples, & Families
Sep 29-Oct 1 Rowe Center, MA East Coast Couples Retreat
Oct 7-8 Norway (near Oslo) Norway Couples Workshop
Oct 11-17 Assisi, Italy Assisi Retreat
Singles & Couples
Nov 1-5 HomeCenter, Aptos, CA The Greatest Journey (Mentorship Program) Singles and Couples
Feb 4-11 Hawaii Hawaii Couples Retreat

Quote of the Month:

“We each have a tremendous spiritual responsibility with those we love. By focusing on the beauty and greatness in one another, we can actually bring these qualities to the surface.” –The Shared Heart, p. 58.

Please join Joyce and me in holding a vision of a world where women, men and children of all nations, races and religions can see and feel the divine in themselves and one another. Here is our current 2017 workshop schedule. Joyce and I would love to see you at one of these events. Please remember how important this spiritual-emotional growth work is. Together let’s take another step on this journey into the heart of love and deeper awareness, where real world healing begins. Peace be with you all.

June 23-25
Summer Couples Retreat
Would you like your relationship to reach a new level of love, healing, intimacy and commitment? Couples describe these weekends as a safe and loving place to learn and practice new skills for their relating. Limited to a small group at our HomeCenter. Cost (includes 6 vegetarian meals from Friday dinner to Sunday lunch and either camping or day use): $590/couple camping or day use if paid in full by Jun 16. $640 after Jun 16. $100 non-refundable deposit per couple. $200 non-refundable after Jun 16. Limited indoor accommodations (extra fee), so please call early to reserve space.

July 16-21
Breitenbush Hot Springs, OR
Shared Heart Summer Retreat with music by Scott Kalechstein Grace. For individuals, couples, and families. Each summer at Breitenbush Hot Springs Conference Center, we witness individuals and couples moving through the barriers which prevent them from fully loving. We rejoice as families are united and children opened to their natural selves. The children’s program is alive with art and movement, nature experiences and fun groups! The age groups are 4-5, 6-8, 9-12, 13-15 & 16-19. The overall theme is “The Quest,” a series of adventures leading toward self-discovery. This is the highlight of the year for our whole family. Cost: adults $805-1120 depending upon lodging option. Children: FREE-$585 depending upon age. Partial work exchanges are available in the children’s program.

September 29-October 1
Rowe, MA
East Coast “Couples Living From The Heart” Retreat. Couples Retreat Weekend at Rowe Conference Center in the beautiful Berkshire Mountains of western Massachusetts. Music by Scott Kalechstein Grace. Call Rowe at 413-339-4954.

October 7-8
Norway Couples Workshop
Weekend Workshop and training for couples. Contact Renate or Hermod Nordby Hansen hermodnh@online.no.

October 11-17
Assisi, Italy
Assisi Retreat for individuals and couples. The powerful energy of Assisi combined with the deep inner focus of the workshop, helps to facilitate profound inner growth. We are blessed to be able to stay at a truly unique place where tourists are not allowed, a beautiful and comfortable monastery right across the street from the Basilica of St. Francis. We will again be visiting and tuning into the energy of the sacred sites of Assisi, including the Basilicas of Francesco and Chiara, the ancient churches of San Damiano and San Stefano, and the places Saint Francis made sacred, like the Carceri (the monastery and caves on Mount Subasio. Tuition: $995/person. Double occupancy & meals; $400/person for 6 days/6 nights. Private room & meals; $450 (as available).

November 1-5
The Greatest Journey (Beginning Retreat) Aptos, CA
Find and live your dream, your passion, and your purpose! Individually and together with a small, carefully chosen group of 8-14 participants (singles or couples), these 6 months will help re-define your life. Includes: three 4-day retreats at our Aptos Home-Center, tele-workshops with the group, and rotating peer-to-peer support. Must have attended at least one weekend workshop with the Vissells.

February 4-11, 2018
Hawaii Couples Retreat
A week-long retreat just for couples that will transform your relationship. During these 7 days on the Big Island of Hawaii, you will not only open to more love and connection you thought possible, but you will have enough time to integrate these positive changes into your lives back home. The romantic quality of Hawaii and the luxury of having a full week together will make this retreat truly life changing for each couple that attends. We will focus on healing, renewal, communication, forgiving, deepening the sexual relationship and rising, not falling, in love with our partner. We will have couple meditations and yoga, inspiring music, laughter and thrilling sight-seeing – in short, an extraordinary heart-opening experience for you and your partner in the presence of dolphins, whales, giant sea turtles, a beautiful black sand beach and the nearby volcano, steam vents, and thermal warm ponds. Kalani Honua on the Hilo side of the Big Island. Tuition: $1950/couple. Lodging and meals: $1050-1820, depending on lodging option, includes 21 gourmet meals.


Counseling with the Vissells. For individuals or couples who need help, you can choose from one hour to a two-day intensive with either one or both of us. For children, teens, or young adults, our daughter, Rami, can be reached at ramivissellphd@hotmail.com.

Do you ever shop on Amazon.com? Now you can support The Shared Heart Foundation just by shopping online. Just go to smile.amazon.com, sign in like you normally do, specify The Shared Heart Foundation (you only have to do this once), and 0.5% of every order supports us. Thank you for this support.

If you have a website and want more people to find you, contact our dear friend, Steve Soskin (MailScanner has detected a possible fraud attempt from "sharedheart.org" claiming to be http://spinasite.net or email steve@spinasite.net) or 704/804-1134). He does web design, SEO, and Social Network marketing as well as hardware and software repair. Using free and very inexpensive secrets, he is dramatically increasing traffic to our site. He will save you a lot of money, and he can help you no matter where you live.

Our love and blessings to you all,

Barry and Joyce Vissell

Please click on SharedHeart.org for inspiring articles about relationship and consciousness, as well as our updated schedule.

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Author's Bio: 

Joyce & Barry Vissell, a nurse/therapist and psychiatrist couple since 1964, are counselors near Santa Cruz, CA, who are widely regarded as among the world's top experts on conscious relationship and personal growth. They are the authors of The Shared Heart, Models of Love, Risk to Be Healed, The Heart’s Wisdom, Meant to Be, and A Mother’s Final Gift.