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#37 Love Knows No Borders: Connection and Intimacy in long-distance relationships - with Phillips Hwang
Episode 378th January 2024 • Holding the Fort Abroad • Rhoda Bangerter
00:00:00 01:10:27

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Synopsis:

Does time geographically apart mean a sexless marriage? Whether under one roof or across continents, Phillips Hwang unpacks for us what healthy sexuality looks like and how to grow in connection and intimacy in our relationships. Phillips is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (Indiana), Certified Sex Therapist, and a Nationally Certified Counselor who specializes in couples counseling, individual counseling, and sex therapy.

You will learn:

05:25 - What is healthy sexuality?

13:45 - Life is hard, carrying past hurts affects us.

24:22 - Establishing healthy sexuality and intimacy in relationships.

35:20 - Sexual intimacy after a long time apart

42:00 - Practices for managing unfulfilled desires in relationships.

50:25 - Dealing with sexual rejection from a partner.

01:01:45 - Stay connected through shared objects and activities.

01:03:39 - Decide as a couple what level of sexual connectedness when apart promotes a sense of love and connectedness with each other.

01:06:00 - Valuing fidelity, respect, and mindfulness in relationships.

01:13:10 - It takes years to develop a good sex life!

Resources mentioned in this episode:

https://www.sorestcounseling.com/rhoda.html


Guest's Link:

www.sorestcounseling.com

Transcripts

Rhoda Bangerter [:

Welcome to Holding The Fort Abroad, the podcast for expats with traveling partners. My name is Rhoda Bangerter. I'm a certified coach and the author of the book Holding the Fort Abroad. In this podcast, I interview men and women who live abroad and have traveling partners so that we can all benefit from their wisdom and experience. I also invite relationship experts to apply expertise to this topic. Today my guest is Phillips Hwang. We're going to be talking about intimacy in the couple, especially when there's geographical distance, something that isn't always easy to navigate with short reconnection times and lots of time apart. Phillips is a licensed mental health counselor in Indiana, a certified sex therapist, and a nationally certified counselor who specializes in couples counseling, individual counseling, and sex therapy.

Rhoda Bangerter [:

He has a mountain of experience in treating sexual addiction and counseling about couple intimacy. I value his compassion, his open mindedness, and his kindness when talking about this. He integrates christian values into his counseling, and that too is important to me. I think a lot of people who aren't christians will share these values. Often I see in social media these days people saying that if our partner doesn't serve us anymore, then it's worth letting them go. This is not what I'm about. I want to affirm the values of love. As in love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy. It does not boast. It is not proud. It does not dishonor others. It is not self-seeking. It is not easily angered. It keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. So this is the value that we are basing our conversation on and basically talking about how to live it out in the real life. Phillips, I've talked a lot in this introduction. Welcome. And what's your reaction to what I've just said?

Phillips Hwang [:

Well, hello, Rhoda. I so much appreciate your invitation to come on your podcast. I appreciate the kind words you said, and those things are all accurate about myself. And I noticed with your introduction just referencing 1 Corinthians 13, and that's actually something I hope to maybe talk about today as we talk about the idea of healthy sexuality, how that plays out from a Christian perspective at times, but how that we can apply those concepts and values to answer some of the questions that you have today about couples and how they can live out their sexuality in healthy ways, even if there is some distance.

Rhoda Bangerter [:

I think it kind of what's the word I'm trying to look for? It's within the context of a relationship anyway, right? Whether you're under the same roof or whether you're under two different roofs. How do we live a healthy sexuality? It's tough anyway, right? Sometimes because it's two different people coming together who want to have a good relationship, who want to be loved and to love the other person. But when we get stressed or we get hurt, then there's conflict and then there's history, right? There's, like, resentment or anger or whatever. Can you just kind of give us the basis of how we create that healthy relationship and the basis for healthy sexuality?

Phillips Hwang [:

Yes. Let me talk about what I would define as healthy sexuality, and then let me kind of get into that further and describe kind of some nuances of healthy sexuality. So I do have a definition for healthy sexuality. Let me take a step back, too, before I head into this.

Rhoda Bangerter [:

Yeah.

Phillips Hwang [:

And the work that I do, I work with a lot of folks who are presenting with dysfunctions, and I think it can be, in some respects, easy to identify when things are not going right. But I think it's really important to identify what healthy looks like. It gives us, it gives people a vision of what to work towards. And I would contend, my calling, to teach and instruct and to help people work towards what is healthy. So I'm very excited to talk about what healthy sexuality is. Given that. Let me give you a working definition. Healthy sexuality is stewarding your own sexuality well, personally and relationally, that is congruent with your values and beliefs. So, again, healthy sexuality is stewarding your own sexuality well, personally and relationally, that is congruent with your values and beliefs. I like this definition because I believe it's broad enough that it can apply to all people, regardless of values and beliefs. The challenge with this definition is, I would contend most people don't know what their values and beliefs are, whether they're Christian or not. I would contend for a Christian. Their values and beliefs can be defined by biblical theology, and I would say, even for some Christians, by their Christian traditions, which may or may not be biblically accurate at times. I would say our discussion today will focus on healthy sexuality and related choices from a Christian world viewpoint. Given that, I think a lot of the points that we'll discuss today likely can still be applied, and you can simply take your own values and beliefs and kind of adjust the information to see if that fits with your values and beliefs.

Phillips Hwang [:

For example, I would say that a lot of couples, regardless of their values and beliefs, value fidelity in their relationship. They're with this other person, they expect the other person. The other person expects them, that that relationship is exclusive to each other in terms of sexual functioning as well as other relational aspects. So, again, that's just some information I want to start with. And I think it's important to also define terms so you can better understand what I mean by sexuality, for example. So my plan was to kind of talk about some of these terms, just to kind of flush this out a little bit more.

Rhoda Bangerter [:

Yeah, sure. And then I'll jump in with my questions.

Phillips Hwang [:

Sure. Yes. In the definition, I use this term sexuality. So let me define sexuality a little bit. Sexuality is this broader idea that defines our longings, that propel us into connections with other beings. So it's our longings that propel us to connect with other beings. What I mean by beings is, typically, we can think about that as other people that can be friendships, that can be intimate relationships, that can be relationship with a higher power.

Phillips Hwang [:

This idea of sexuality also includes a person's masculinity or their femininity. It can include our sexual desires, our intimacy needs. And I would say that our sexuality is that we are all sexual beings. I would say from a Christian viewpoint, where this is God's design, that we're made to be sexual beings. And it's not just what you do, but it's who you are, that we are all sexual people, that we all long for relationships, and at times, we will have longings. And this can include sexual longings. And I would also say this is practiced by all people, regardless of age or gender. For example, I have daughters, and maybe one of my daughters is wearing a new outfit, and I will compliment, like, hey, that looks really pretty on you.

Phillips Hwang [:

In doing so, I am affirming her sexuality. So I wanted to kind of lay this foundation of defining what sexuality is, and let me contrast that to you with the model that some of my colleagues developed. They have a model where they also define what's called erotic sexual behaviors and what they also call true sex and things that might as well be. And erotic behaviors are typically behaviors that mental and physical behaviors that are erotically stimulating, they lead up into intercourse. These are things that typically, I think, for most people, they would do in a couple relationship. For example, an erotic behavior might be, you hold someone's hand for an extended period of time. You might kiss them on the lips. You might give them a longer hug.

Phillips Hwang [:

These are typically things you don't do with, like, a stranger you meet on the street. I guess people can do that. But typically, I think folks who are in more exclusive relationships will exhibit these behaviors, and the extent of these behaviors are based on what the couple leaves, what the couple is comfortable doing with each other. And then we have this other area of what's called true sex and things that might as well be, which I'm going to define broadly as any type of sexual behaviors that result in an orgasm. So that can be sexual intercourse, oral sex, manual stimulation, orgasm, things of that sort. And how this model works is true sex and things that might as well be. If you think about a bullseye, we have three different circles. The model itself uses boxes.

Phillips Hwang [:

So boxes are circles. The inner box is true sex and things that might as well be the box. Outside of that is erotic sexual behaviors. And then the outermost box is sexuality. And I would contend, based on values and beliefs, it dictates which of these behaviors you can engage in. I would say for a person who typically has a typical Judeo Christian faith, folks who are married can practice the box, the true sex and things that might as well be the erotic sexual behaviors going outwards and practice sexuality. Those who are dating and engaged typically practice the erotic sexual behaviors and sexuality. And regardless of relationship status and age, I believe all people can practice sexuality.

Phillips Hwang [:

Again, your results may vary based on your values and beliefs, but I would say from a Christian perspective, that that fits most people's understandings of theology.

Rhoda Bangerter [:

Yeah. So anybody coming into this conversation, listening in, really, it's about sort of thinking about your own boxes, thinking, okay, if I think the broader term of sexuality, this is where I'm at, these are my values, and then this is what I'm comfortable with in the second box and then the smallest box, this is what I'm comfortable with. And I suppose if you then enter into a relationship, it's really important to be aware of those and saying, because otherwise you won't align with the other person.

Phillips Hwang [:

Correct. Yes. What you'll find in relationships, it's oftentimes important to understand and acknowledge each other's viewpoints. And I think relationships work best when there's that open communication. Ideally, you have similar or the same viewpoints. So you're operating out of places out of respect for each other. That if this is what you believe, I want to value the things that you believe and treat you in ways that are congruent with that. Again, with our own healthy sexuality, there's a congruence between what we believe and how we behave. So those are some points that I think, again, kind of reflect what's healthy.

Rhoda Bangerter [:

Yeah. Congruence. It means like an alignment. Right. An agreement.

Phillips Hwang [:

Correct.

Rhoda Bangerter [:

Yeah. The thing is, most of us arrive into a relationship with some of the boxes being damaged.

Phillips Hwang [:

Absolutely, yeah.

Rhoda Bangerter [:

Because by the people we've interacted with, people who have hurt us. Internal wounds. Shame. Violated, maybe. So how. I suppose there's a lot of internal personal work to be done, correct?

Phillips Hwang [:

Yeah. I would say that for a lot, if not most people. Life is hard. As a person develops and grows, it's often likely that a person will experience different wounds or traumas. And so it's been my experience that people enter into relationships carrying their own hurts and wounds of their past, whether it was something based on choices they made or things that were done to them. And so again, I think as we talk about sexuality, it's a very complex thing, but I would say that an assumption as we enter into relationships, we all enter in, or most of us enter in with some sort of traumas or woundings that can make healthy sexuality, obviously, a little bit more challenging to achieve.

Rhoda Bangerter [:

Do you think most people can't really pinpoint what their wounds are? Do you think it just comes out in sort of how we talk and how we behave? Do you think there are courses you can go to as a couple and everything like that? But I don't think I've ever really come across anything where you're doing your own personal work of figuring out, where have I been wounded? What's my healthy sexuality? How do you get to that place?

Phillips Hwang [:

Yes, I think for someone who's not aware of these things, let me put it this way. I think it's important to learn these things about yourself, to be aware of these things, because otherwise, what you're not aware of as you enter into relationship, from my understanding, and I would say even from my own personal experience, you know, when you enter into relationship, especially a romantic relationship, it's like putting a mirror in front of yourself.

Rhoda Bangerter [:

Yes.

Phillips Hwang [:

And I know in my experience, when I've entered into relationships, that has been my experience. And I know for myself I didn't like what I saw. And that prompted, and I remember when I started dating my future wife, there's a sense of, I didn't quite know what I was doing. What I did is I went and bought a book. I'm like, I don't know what I'm doing. I'm going to buy a book and figure out what I'm doing. And the book talked about, hey, when you're dating, it's like this idea of looking at yourself. And when I looked at myself, I'm like, oh, there are things I'm not aware of.

Phillips Hwang [:

Maybe I should work on these things.

Rhoda Bangerter [:

Because they mirror back to you. They kind of mirror back the inconsistencies, the things that are hurtful. Right? Whoops, I didn't realize that I did that.

Phillips Hwang [:

Let me give you another kind of maybe an equation that we can use for healthy sexuality. This comes from, again, some of my colleagues work. He talks about this from a sexual perspective. Great love making equals a whole grown up person plus a healthy, intimate relationship.

Rhoda Bangerter [:

Or two whole grown ups, or one grown up.

Phillips Hwang [:

Ideally, two whole grown ups.

Rhoda Bangerter [:

Two whole grown ups. Okay.

Phillips Hwang [:

Two whole grown up people plus a healthy, intimate relationship equals great love making. There's a maturity, there's a willingness to work on self, to look at yourself in the mirror, to address things that you may not like what you're seeing, but I think a personal responsibility to be as healthy as you can be so you can bring that health into your relationship. I think that also helps with creating healthy sexual intimacy.

Rhoda Bangerter [:

Yes. And for people sort of starting in the middle, say, if they've had, like, 10-15 years of relationship, I always feel like conflict isn't such a bad thing. We shy away from it. But if there's repair, I think it's just us growing together, isn't it? And sort of, maybe we would have had conflict three years ago that we won't have now because we've each changed. But we got to allow for that growth. And if we stop at the first or second conflict, we'll never get to the 25 years down the line.

Phillips Hwang [:

Yes, I think conflict is inevitable from my perspective. I believe that when people enter into relationships, you have essentially two imperfect people who are trying to make something work. And I think that requires humility. I think that requires an openness to growing and changing, a flexibility to understanding that your partner and yourself will change hopefully over the years and hopefully become more mature. But I would say, too, that part of healthy relationship functioning outside of just sexual functioning is the ability to resolve conflict effectively. The analogy I use sometimes is that healthy conflict is like dancing with your partner. And when you're dancing, sometimes they step on your feet. And so you're telling them like, hey, can you dance a little bit differently? Because it hurts when you step on my feet. You're not saying, I don't want to dance with you. You're just saying, hey, can we dance a little differently? Because I want to continue enjoying dancing with you. But it hurts the way that you're dancing right now.

Rhoda Bangerter [:

Oh, that's nice. So there's two questions I want to ask you now. So whole doesn't mean perfect, correct. When you say two whole people, it doesn't mean two perfect people. And then the other one is what you do if the other person is dancing completely, radically stepping on your toes and paying no attention.

Phillips Hwang [:

Correct. I'm sorry, the second part was, did I understand that being a question?

Rhoda Bangerter [:

Yeah. What you do if the other person is stepping on your toes and you feel like they're not really listening to you, asking them to stop to dance differently.

Phillips Hwang [:

Correct. Yeah. Rhoda. We can make another podcast on this, perhaps, but in many respects, I would say that becomes like a relationship issue. If there's something about your partner that's causing you some distress, I think it's important to be able to communicate those things. And I think as a couple, being able to talk through those things and work those things out, you may be able. Some issues I would contend are resolvable as couples, and other issues may be perpetual. And in that respect, you try to resolve things when you can, and then things that are perpetual, you try to come to compromises with.

Phillips Hwang [:

Very broadly speaking. I'm sorry, go ahead.

Rhoda Bangerter [:

I'm asking a question because that will have an impact on sexuality, right. That then you won't want to enter into a physical intimacy with that person if you feel they're not respecting you.

Phillips Hwang [:

Correct. I think for most people that tends to be true, yes. Because sexuality is, in many respects, when a couple is able to be open and vulnerable and emotionally open, that leads to sexual openness. I think that's often the design of how things work. There's research that I've looked at that kind of points to that as well. So emotional intimacy kind of sets the stage for physical intimacy. It's an opening up further of what you started emotionally. In many respects, I think by design, that's, again, just an extension of the emotional connectedness that a couple has.

Phillips Hwang [:

So, yeah, it's best to try to resolve things the best you can as a couple.

Rhoda Bangerter [:

Okay, thank you. Do you want to add anything to this healthy sexuality?

Phillips Hwang [:

Yeah. One thing I'll say, too, I think as we've been talking about, to a degree, is in relationship. In marriage, changes and challenges will occur if a couple is together long enough. Sexual patterns can change during the course of a relationship, during the course of the marriage. And this is impacted by different factors, such as having children, fatigue, infidelity, whether infidelity is due to extramarital affairs or relationships, or whether that's due to pornography use or to other types of addictions. Other factors can include difficulties with communicating effectively, as we've already touched on to some degree. Another thing that can occur is health issues that a person can develop regardless, and that can occur at different ages. But for a lot of folks, as they get older, you develop more health issues.

Phillips Hwang [:

And so how do you adapt to those things as you get older as a couple and in your sexual relationship? And another issue I'll mention, which I think is a focal point of our conversation today, is what if there's separation from your partner for whatever reasons. Maybe it's due to work, maybe it's due to other obligations. That can be a very specific factor. That is another change and challenge of your relationship. And so, again, that obviously can impact your relationship, that can impact your sexual functioning.

Rhoda Bangerter [:

Yeah. And that's why I think it's really useful to have laid down this groundwork of sort of what we mean by certain terms and what healthy sexuality looks like, how we live it out as a couple. Before we entered into these questions, I'm just going to the list today. Yeah, we're going to cover a few of these tips or most of these tips for intimacy when apart, dealing with using sex for power, and physical intimacy when reconnecting times are so short. I think those two go a little bit together because, well, because of the next question. Dealing with rejection of physical intimacy by one or the other partner when reconnecting times are short or used as a punishment during times when the partner is back, we look at trust, at being apart. Does being apart mean that you're in a sexless marriage? And does this lifestyle encourage addiction? So there's a lot there to cover, but essentially it's really about, maybe I'll start with a sexless marriage. When you're apart, like for a year or more, does that basically mean you're in a sexist marriage?

Phillips Hwang [:

I would say it depends on how you frame it, but for the sake of practicality, essentially, yes. A year is a long time. I tell couples I work with who are obviously not separated, like if you haven't had sexual intimacy in a month, should probably get some help. Because I think part of healthy relationship functioning, I would say part of healthy marital functioning is I tell couples, have fun as frequently as you can, have sex as frequently as you agree to, because I think those things build connectedness and they give you resilience. It helps you to weather some of the challenges that you may face as a couple. If you know, that you like each other and you join being with each other. But from a pragmatic standpoint, yeah, being apart for a year and not being sexually intimate, that can be. Obviously, I would say for most, if not many couples, or many, if not most couples, that's very challenging.

Phillips Hwang [:

Again, I think the way I would answer this question, too, may be based on values and beliefs, and if I can kind of answer it from that perspective and also kind of give some other ideas. A couple of years back, I was in a small group with my church, and I was teaching out of 1 Corinthians chapter 7. And in this book, Paul is the writer that we would attribute to writing this. He is speaking to early Christians in the city of Corinth. And Corinth was a very metropolitan place, sort of like a modern day New York city. Just a lot of culture, a lot of sexuality, a lot of different values and beliefs. And he says in one Corinthians chapter seven, do not deprive each other, except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, then come together again so Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self control. I say this as a concession and not as a command.

Phillips Hwang [:

And Paul goes on and talks about, I think what he's essentially saying is, hey, in the culture you live in, there's going to be a lot of temptations to be sexual outside of your, you know, as best you can be sexual with each other, fulfill each other in those ways, because the world around you is hard, help each other out, enjoy these things within your coupleship, because things are going to be hard. And so I feel like Paul is speaking very practically to the married couples from a Christian viewpoint, I would say best you can. It's important to have that sexual relationship as much as you can, that both of you feel comfortable to you. Now, that doesn't necessarily answer a question of what do you do if you're apart? And is that a sexless marriage? One thing, and just to kind of go further with this question, two other points I want to make is, I think what a lot of couples will find in their relationship, regardless of decided upon separation or not, is there may be periods of abstinence in your relationship for other reasons. And so for a couple, let's say a couple is experiencing a difficult pregnancy or there's medical issues that come up. Gosh, maybe you have a family member who's having a medical issue, and you go and be with them and you're that person's primary caregiver for a period of time. I mean, those things will create periods of abstinence in a couple. I think a couple can be faced with those questions for other reasons outside of work and reasons of being apart that maybe your listening audience is typically accustomed to in this respect. I remember working without giving too many details. I remember working with a couple and teaching them ways to enhance their sexuality to deal with a dysfunction that they were struggling with, with their sexual functioning. I had the opportunity to talk to this couple later on and they told me, yeah, we had this unexpected medical thing that came up, and because of this stuff that we learned with how to be sexual as a couple in healthy ways, we were able to maintain our sexual intimacy in ways outside of what was typical for us, and that helped us to maintain that part of our life and stay connected a little bit more, which they found to be very important.

Rhoda Bangerter [:

What you're saying is, if at all possible, avoid going long periods of time without physical intimacy and try and learn maybe ways of living it in a healthy way together. And when you're apart, is that what you're saying?

Phillips Hwang [:

I would say that I can't advise people of this is what you should or shouldn't do in terms of, hey, you shouldn't take this job and it'll take you far. It'll create some separation for a while. I think what I would say is, consider the pros and cons, consider the challenges and figure out as a couple, how do you face these challenges? What are things that you guys can agree to? Again, I think it very much becomes a couple decision in the realm of their relationship. Know what challenges you'll face best. You can figure out how you will face this as a couple. Maybe this is not great advice, but I think, pragmatically speaking, I usually think a lot of people can put up with a lot of things for a year, adjust that time frame. Maybe it's less for some folks, maybe it's longer for others. But a lot of people can put up for a lot of challenges for a period of time.

Phillips Hwang [:

And this may be a challenge that a couple can acknowledge and decide to best that they can meet that challenge. I don't want to tell people, hey, don't take this opportunity or this job just because I said so. But as much as a couple, think through the challenges and how you think you might face them. And as a couple, do you think you can handle this? How expensive is the decision? In many respects, not just financially, but obviously relationally, super important yeah. Another point I'll mention is I believe that disciplining sexuality is important. And so, again, this is based on your values and beliefs. But I think in general, from my values and beliefs, when I work with premarried couples who hold a christian value, you know, I talk about chastity from my understanding of when I read the Bible and my theology of sexuality, I encourage couples who are not married from a Christian viewpoint. Hey, do the best you can not to be sexually intimate with each other.

Phillips Hwang [:

And then when couples get married, and I tell this to premarried couples, when you get married, do the best you can to have sex as frequently as you would like to as a couple. And sometimes premarried couples will be like, oh, no, we'll be fine. Don't worry about that. I'm like, if you're like most couples, you're going to face some challenges. You're probably going to get busy. You may give attention to kids or your career or other things that come up. And if you're like a lot of other couples, having sex frequently may be something you put on the back burner versus something that you discipline yourselves to have. That's a healthy part of your relationship.

Phillips Hwang [:

I think for most people, brushing their teeth twice a day is a healthy part of their dental hygiene. I would say having frequent sexual intimacy is a part of healthy marriage, part of healthy relationship. But again, there's a discipline that's involved with that. So there's an aspect of sexuality that when you're apart from your spouse, whether that's for a couple of hours or maybe longer, of course, that there's an aspect of discipline that can be really healthy, that's also part of your healthy functioning as an individual, but also as.

Rhoda Bangerter [:

A couple and, like, discipline and making it a priority and not letting it kind of gradually creep out of your relationship kind of thing.

Phillips Hwang [:

Correct Yeah. Going back to the, hey, if you haven't had sex in a while, a month is just kind of a rough number. But if it's been a while, you should probably talk about that, probably attend to it.

Rhoda Bangerter [:

And for couples who've been apart for a long time, that's sometimes the tricky part is when the person comes back is taking the time to recreate that emotional intimacy. When you're under the same roof, that sometimes can. And getting back, like thinking a bit, synchronizing a bit can sometimes take some time.

Phillips Hwang [:

Oh, yes.

Rhoda Bangerter [:

But sometimes having physical intimacy can actually help. So it's like you can start with one or the other, but sometimes actually having physical intimacy can then help to get back in some sort of a synchronization of being under the same roof again, correct?

Phillips Hwang [:

Yes. In many respects. You can use physical sexual intimacy to help create some of that connectedness with your partner, with your spouse.

Rhoda Bangerter [:

So you don't necessarily have to feel like, oh, my word, okay, he's back or she's back, and I don't feel completely connected because we haven't seen each other for a long time. You don't have to think like, oh, my word, I have to wait till I feel completely connected. You can actually say, no, physical intimacy is part of that connection, and we can get to the emotional feeling connected.

Phillips Hwang [:

Yes, that's definitely an option. And I would say do that out of respect for your partner. Understand what works best for them. If you guys can do that as a couple and then kind of proceed with that transition period of getting adjusted to each other, then, yeah, by all means, do that and enjoy it. If there's a little bit of emotional connectedness that helps, that precedes the physical sexual connectedness, then be respectful to that, too. One thing I want to point out with what we're talking about, too, is this idea of transitions. If you've been apart for a while, just being very attentive, being self aware of that transition period, coming back together as a couple, and I would contend it's okay to have whatever feelings you have in that space. And I would also say that it's important to create some space so you can give your partner time and attention to help ease that transition.

Phillips Hwang [:

I recall I had a friend, and he was doing some graduate school studies, and so was his wife. And he talked about. So they would be apart for periods of time just because of their studies. And when they came back together, he would get really anxious. Just prior to meeting with his wife, it wasn't because he didn't want to see her. It was just because I just think straight up anxiety, and I think attending to those things can be real important. I know for myself my work situation is different now, but when I would be driving home at the end of the day, I know for me sometimes I would be very attentive to just even that transition, like heading back into my family. Like, I hadn't seen them all day.

Phillips Hwang [:

I'm coming in with this very focused, very controlled environment where I'm kind of in charge of my whole day, and I'm entering back into this family environment where I want to be attentive to my wife and my kids and what they're up to. And there's many times where, even with that short separation, I would pray for that transition period, pray that I would be able to adjust well and things of that sort. I'm sorry. Go ahead.

Rhoda Bangerter [:

I have spoken to people who have said, like, I'm going to the airport to get my husband. I'm anxious. Right. How is the reconnection going to be? Are we going to be the same as before? They've changed. I've changed. Are we going to be able to reconnect? And sometimes, I suppose the fear is bigger than the actual happening sometimes. Right. Sometimes we make all sorts of scenarios, but how can we deal with that anxiety of the reunion?

Phillips Hwang [:

Yeah, I think starting with acknowledging the anxiety is important. And when I talk about anxiety, I know we're kind of going on a tangent here, but anxiety, I kind of frame anxiety as, like, it's not necessarily a bad emotion. Anxiety is like your body getting ready for what's at hand in front of you. So there are situations where anxiety, I think can be helpful if you're heading into certain performance type situations. You want to be a little bit anxious. You want to be a little mentally more alert, your heart's pumping faster, you're physiologically more ready for what's at hand. Some of that may be just excitement. Like, you're excited to see your spouse, so you're excited and you're feeling a little bit nervous.

Phillips Hwang [:

So I think acknowledging that and then essentially maybe doing things to calm it down. One thing I work on with clients is doing a lot of diaphragmatic breathing or relaxed breathing. And that's a behavioral exercise that just working on taking some voluntary, intentional, deep breaths to kind of just calm yourself down a little bit. And so that may not eliminate the anxiety, but it may help to manage it a little bit, enough that you can head into this reunion with your partner and manage that a little bit better than if you're just letting the.

Rhoda Bangerter [:

Anxiety overtake you and probably telling your partner. Right. Would that help? Because then maybe they're anxious, too.

Phillips Hwang [:

Oh, absolutely. Yeah. In some respects, that can be a shared experience, like, hey, I'm anxious to see you. I'm anxious to see you, too. I would contend that's an opportunity for a sweet time of reunion. Just kind of having that time with. With your partner again and catching up on maybe what you've missed out on. Maybe you've been keeping in touch during this time, but it's obviously nice to see someone face to face and have that person in your presence again.

Rhoda Bangerter [:

Um, I wanted to just talk a little bit. I wanted to come back to the discipline you were talking about. Discipline of having sexual intimacy, but also times a pot when maybe you're dealing with sort of longings and desires that can't be fulfilled. And something that you mentioned in a podcast I listened to where you were being interviewed. You mentioned a couple of practices that really help with that, and I wanted to just mention them. One of them was stillness and quiet, having a day of Sabbath, a day of rest, attending to the body, sleep, nutrition, exercise, having a rule of life, like getting up at a certain time or having some sort of boundary about something. And then you had a worksheet, and then you had other things on the list which you didn't get to speak to. So I'll put those in the show notes because I think that's part of sort of being attending to oneself and one's own needs, which I think are important.

Rhoda Bangerter [:

Coming back to what we were talking about, is there anything you wanted to add to that, to those?

Phillips Hwang [:

Yeah, if I can comment on what you're referencing. So this was a conversation I had about use of spiritual disciplines. I believe it was to deal with sexually addicted behaviors or sexual addiction recovery. I think I just listed some spiritual disciplines that can be helpful for recovery, of course. But again, this comes from a Christian traditions viewpoint, and they're essentially spiritual ways of coping. And so whether one is a Christian or not, some of these things may be helpful. But the broad picture of what we're talking about is this idea of just having self care activities, having coping activities to engage in. These happen to be very spiritually based.

Phillips Hwang [:

For example, practicing silence and solitude or practicing a sabbath. Again, these are just spiritual disciplines. And again, for your listeners, they may just be disciplines or coping strategies that they use to address yourself individually, if that makes sense.

Rhoda Bangerter [:

Yeah. So they can use these whether they sort of want to use them as spiritual disciplines or not, correct?

Phillips Hwang [:

Yeah. They are coming from a christian perspective. So someone of that background might find them more useful because they know where it's coming from. But again, I think some of the effects of them can be helpful. For example, silence and solitude is a discipline. They often go together. I was talking with someone recently about application of silence and solitude. They're going on a trip and looking for just for some time to reflect on things.

Phillips Hwang [:

I mentioned this discipline of, hey, I know that between this point and this point when you're driving, you can use that time as maybe practicing silence and solitude. You can sit in your car, maybe not have the radio on and just be attentive to just to your heart and what God might be speaking to you in this time, and you can use that space to kind of think about what's going on. I may be oversimplifying this.

Rhoda Bangerter [:

I'm an extrovert, so I'm working my way up to it.

Phillips Hwang [:

Oh, yes. And that's why it's a discipline. I think the first time someone proposed this to me, it was like, hey, sit in silence for five minutes. And I set like an alarm. And I sat in this room for silence. It was like the longest five minutes. But I know for myself as I practice that over time, it's become something that, like any other skill, you practice it and it can become more useful.

Rhoda Bangerter [:

And what you're saying is that it helps with sort of turmoil. Right. Whether it's just thoughts or whether it's sexual turmoil or any other kind of inner turmoil. Right. Because it helps you to kind of still yourself and stillness. And then if you believe in God, then you enter into this conversation with God, and God can actually speak to you in the stillness, correct?

Phillips Hwang [:

Yeah. I think for a christian, oftentimes I'll tell people a prayer that you might have is, Lord, I'm your servant, and I'm listening to you. So you're entering in with a posture of, sometimes when we pray, we can talk too much, and in this instance, it can be like, God, I'm going to enter into the space of silence. Let me just listen to what you have to say.

Rhoda Bangerter [:

Yeah.

Phillips Hwang [:

In that respect, for if we apply to other practices, I mean, it very much takes on the practice of mindfulness and meditation. Those are things that I teach as well. The whole idea of mindfulness is being self aware of what's going on in your present and not fretting about your past or being too worried too much about your future. But mindfulness practices can include something like meditation, where maybe you have some guided breathing and you're just focusing on what's your environment and your own breathing. There's different ways of practicing meditation, of course, but mindfulness meditation, silence and solitude, they in many ways kind of overlap or they may have kind of similar intended outcomes.

Rhoda Bangerter [:

Yeah. Hearing God's voice is a whole other topic because I find that I hear him more when I'm busy, which is odd, because normally people say, oh, well, you hear him in the silence, but I'm learning to hear him in the stillness at the beginning. It's like I don't hear anything. And it's been 25 minutes, and I've been really good, but I think it comes afterwards, once you really get still. So I'm practicing that. It's a practice. Right. It's not kind of a one off kind of thing.

Phillips Hwang [:

Correct. We don't necessarily need to be silent. It could just be helpful to that if you're trying to listen to God, I would say, because I think it's more our attentiveness rather than just our environment of silence. I think that can foster your ability to listen, if that makes sense.

Rhoda Bangerter [:

Yes. Okay, so this is coming all the way back to sort of two whole people and sort of working on your own stuff.

Phillips Hwang [:

How do you attend to yourself? Where are you at outside of your relationship? Can you bring yourself fully into your relationship? Yeah, it's obviously ideal when we can.

Rhoda Bangerter [:

Yeah. And that sort of helps with that question about dealing with rejection of physical intimacy or being the rejector. I think there's what you mentioned earlier, when there are external circumstances, there might be illness, there might be a death, you're dealing with grief and understanding that at those times it might be, but it might not be a time where your partner is available or kind of is in that mindset, and they may just be too overwhelmed. Right?

Phillips Hwang [:

Correct. Yes.

Rhoda Bangerter [:

But then there are times when you're the person rejecting or you're being rejected. How do you deal with that?

Phillips Hwang [:

Yes. Just for me to understand, how do you deal with rejection of sexual intimacy with your partner? And so I would say some of these questions we may pose can be variations of a theme in this respect. It's like, how do you handle having a different perspective, being in a different place as your spouse? And I would contend, like, this is a relationship issue that can be expressed sexually, if that makes sense. Yes, it's a sexual issue, but at the core of it, I believe it's a relational issue. I would deal with it as a relational issue in terms of. Because behind that question of dealing with rejection from your spouse, that may tap some what I would call some hidden issues. And hidden issues are typically things that are close to our heart, that may be harder to express, and they may be harder to talk about in a relationship. These things may include things like how much you feel cared for, a sense of love, a sense of power, a sense of control that you may struggle with in the relationship. And so I think being able to deal with a hidden issue of what's going on, looking at it not as the event of what's going on. Like, oh, this person's rejecting me, but how does this rejection make me feel? Oh, I feel not cared for. So being able to address with your partner the sex is important. Yes, but I feel cared for when we are sexually intimate. I felt like you were rejecting me. I feel uncared for. And being able to express that as an individual to your spouse or to your partner, and then as a couple, figuring out ways to address that again, out of a place of love, out of a place of grace, out of a place of kindness, how do we tend to our partner who is struggling with these things? Does that sort of make sense?

Rhoda Bangerter [:

Yeah. Waiting if necessary. Right. I mean, if the other person is in a place where they're not ready or there's something going on, then having the grace to say, okay, well, I'll help you along and we'll get there together and I'll wait. That's part of grace in a relationship, right? As well, correct?

Phillips Hwang [:

Yeah. I think grace is so important in relationship that we can look out for the other, that we can give them the benefit of the doubt, that we can positively interpret that what's going on with them, the way that they're acting or the things that they're saying may not necessarily be due to us. I mean, sometimes they are, and it's good to work through those things, but they may be having a hard time for whatever reasons and how do we intend to them and care for them. So it's kind of looking out for the other person can be important.

Rhoda Bangerter [:

Yeah. I mean, it's the reality. Right. And we hurt each other in the past as well. Right. And then sometimes it has repercussions on our present and on our present, the condition of our present relationship, whether we're under the same roof or not. And so addressing those as well, I mean, for us, sometimes it's taken us a few years to address it. So I don't know if it's really important to always be addressing everything all the time, the minute it happens, because sometimes it does sort of work itself out through the years as we kind of grow and mature and sort of change and heal parts of us as well.

Rhoda Bangerter [:

I don't know. Have we covered most of the things about being apart? It's not an easy thing. Sometimes I do wonder, like, am I sort of condoning or encouraging a lifestyle that is really unhealthy? But I think what I found is that there are really good reasons for couples to choose this. Like you said, there's maybe aging parents to take care of. There's kids education, so you can't be in the same country as the other person. As your partner, there could be dual careers. There could be security in the country your partner's in. My husband was in Kabul. There was no way I was going to live there. But we felt that it was part of his skills, his calling was to be there, and we were going to support him. And so we were going to live apart for a while. And I think couples usually have good reasons to do it. I don't know what your final words as we wrap up.

Phillips Hwang [:

Yeah. Again, that decision whether to live apart from each other or not, that will be a decision that each couple makes, I would contend. Maybe there's no right answer, as much as there are better answers that each couple can kind of figure out. Again, I think I would advise each couple to honestly talk about the things that the pros of what they're doing, the cons of what they're doing, and to make an informed decision out of those places. For some folks, maybe they have an opportunity to have a trial of being apart. So maybe you live apart for a month, and then that gives you a taste of, hey, this thing we're looking at, it may require us to live apart for a year, and you have this work thing for, like, a month. So let's try it for a month and see how it feels to us as a couple. Maybe you agreed to do it for a season.

Phillips Hwang [:

Maybe your kids are older and they're out of the home, and that gives you an opportunity where you can maybe handle that a little bit better. And so maybe it's a different season of your life. So I think there's different again for each couple. I think it's important for them to discern what will work best for them. If I can attend to you a little bit, there's a question about. Oh, can you hear me okay?

Rhoda Bangerter [:

Yes.

Phillips Hwang [:

Okay. My apologies. My.

Rhoda Bangerter [:

Tips for intimacy went apart. Was it that one?

Phillips Hwang [:

Yes. I have my backup computer, so I am looking at that real quickly. I'm sorry. My screen.

Rhoda Bangerter [:

No worries. We found that actually, we'd been married, I think, 15 years when this situation came up, where he was going to. I mean, he traveled a lot in the previously years, but we hadn't lived apart. And we said we would never do it. But then there were good reasons. But actually what came out was that we were in kind of ruts. We were in roles that had developed, and what it helped. It actually helped us to get out of those roles, to each grow separately and to sort of have space a little bit outside of our normal sort of way.

Rhoda Bangerter [:

Of functioning that we developed. And then when we came back together, it actually helped us as a couple because we'd both grown, we'd both had space. Not in a bad way, but just because when you're together under the same roof, sometimes you just get into habits.

Phillips Hwang [:

Correct Yeah. So, like you're saying in the case of your husband and yourself, that time of separation helped you to self examine the patterns and routines you guys had as a couple. I think, in many respects, positively figure out different routines and different ways of interacting that, for you guys, is beneficial.

Rhoda Bangerter [:

Yeah. What was funny I'll just add this, and then I'll let you say some tips, and then I know you need to go. But it was so funny because when we got back together, after two years, we got back into the same ruts. It was pretty immediate. We hadn't been apart two years completely. He'd come back a few times, but it was so funny. Like, even in physical intimacy, we just went straight back into our old habits. But we had both changed.

Phillips Hwang [:

Yes.

Rhoda Bangerter [:

And so we immediately kind of went, this isn't what I want anymore. This isn't going to work. So we readjusted because actually we had both grown. So I just wanted to kind of put that in as personal experience. But if you have any tips on being a part, that would be great.

Phillips Hwang [:

Yeah, absolutely. Kind of two ways I'll kind of conceptualize this is tips for being apart and then tips for being apart specific to sexual intimacy. I had listened to your previous episode. I believe it was episode five with Vivian. Some of the things I wanted to share were mentioned in that podcast. So I would advise your listeners to maybe if they haven't listened to that, to go back and listen to that episode. And again, a lot of things that I had thought about were things that she shared, or, frankly, you had shared in your book. So I found that to be kind of fun and confirming, but just some tips that I have in terms of being apart, generally as a couple, promoting ways to connect emotionally when you're apart.

Phillips Hwang [:

And again, I think the podcast, your book, kind of goes into those things. Some things I'll talk about with couples is like having regularly scheduled check in times where they have these predetermined meetings where they can talk with each other. You can do so through, I would say, methods that are synchronous or asynchronous. So synchronous might be things where you're on at the same time, like a phone call or video call or asynchronous methods might be things like text messaging, writing letters. If people know how to write letters nowadays, I guess emails fall under that same place. There's an app that I've recommended people use at times. I don't know if it's international available, if it's available internationally, but there's an app called Marco Polo. Essentially record a video, and then the person can choose when they listen to it, and then they can record a video back.

Phillips Hwang [:

And so that's kind of asynchronous. And then just kind of promoting creative things to do or creating things to do to promote thinking of each other. I think there is this idea mentioned of having this teddy bear, and each person has a teddy bear and you can take pictures of it, you can hug the teddy bear, things of that sort, or you have this shared object. Each of you have a different teddy bear, of course, but it's this thing that kind of links you together. Two other ideas is using the time apart to foster other parts of your life while you're staying connected with each other. So this might be if you have children, creating meaningful time with them, connecting with friends or family that you might not necessarily connect with. If you're spending that time with your spouse or partner, engaging in some hobby or activity or some kind of project, maybe doing some kind of project that will require some more concentrated time that works well during the separation. At times with separation, I will even have couples read a book about sexual intimacy to kind of grow their understanding of that while they're apart.

Phillips Hwang [:

And then the last thing we mentioned.

Rhoda Bangerter [:

Can they do some healing work, some personal healing work while they're apart, or is that not really? Yeah.

Phillips Hwang [:

So whether that's maybe some work that they're doing on their own or whether they're meeting with a counselor or a therapist or they're doing it through some other means. Yeah, definitely. Maybe you can use some of that separation time to kind of work on your own personal growth, personal issues per se.

Rhoda Bangerter [:

Then what was the last one?

Phillips Hwang [:

The last one was what we talked about previous, which was easing into transitions when you're coming back together. And so those are just some quick things that I wanted to mention in terms of ways to stay connected when you're apart. In terms of sexual connectedness, I would say for a couple that they define what level of sexual connectedness promotes a sense of love and connectedness with each other. And this may range depending on the couple. They may be okay with sexual abstinence, they may be okay with some sort of sexual activity together, even though there's a distance means. So think about it as a continuum, and that will vary based on couple. So again, make that decision collaboratively as a couple. In regards to that, as a couple, I would encourage a couple to again, collaboratively agree upon practices, sexual practices that reflect your values and beliefs that can help you maintain your sexual intimacy, even though there's distance, even though there's separation.

Phillips Hwang [:

One thing I talk about when I work with couples with sexual issues is I think a good rule is to do what the least comfortable person is comfortable doing. And I think that sets up a boundary of respect to your partner. So if there's some kind of sexual activity that you would like to do but they don't feel quite comfortable with, I think it's kind, I think it's respectful to adhere to their boundaries, and you can make decisions based on that. So as a couple decides upon maybe agreed upon activities, using that principle to guide that. As we go back to terms we talked about earlier in the podcast, what erotic sexual behaviors, what true sex behaviors are okay with the couple. And I would say use these things to build a sense of relationship unity and do so in a place, I would advise, that's open and transparent. I think those lend to better relationship functioning when things are open and honest and transparent. And again, using your sexuality to build unity, not to build disunity.

Phillips Hwang [:

Again, as we've been alluding to, allowing these things to be guided by your values and beliefs. For example, I would say for most couples, like infidelity is something that most couples aren't comfortable with, whether that's with the person face to, you know, with the person doing that with a person physically or doing that virtually. Fidelity is important given that also being mindful of any activities that can be negatively impactful to a spouse. And so, for example, you may agree as a couple to engage in certain sexual activities together. Is that triggering to a spouse who may have a history of sexually addictive behaviors? Is that harder for one spouse than the other? And again, I think out of a place of respect and care, being attentive to those things, you guys may agree to do things over video. For some couples, that's okay. For other folks, that may be triggering, being mindful of some of those risks that are involved. I would say, too, if you're engaging in sexual activities, maybe virtually with each other, being mindful of security risks and privacy concerns.

Phillips Hwang [:

And so what platforms are you using? Are you recording things? If you are, I would really make that as confidential as you can make it.

Rhoda Bangerter [:

Oh, yes.

Phillips Hwang [:

Again, that each person is attentive that they know what's going on. It's not like done in secrets.

Rhoda Bangerter [:

Yeah, good point. That could be bad.

Phillips Hwang [:

So things like that. One other maybe final point is foster other forms of intimacy with your spouse. Maybe the sexual intimacy is somewhat limited when you guys are separated. Maybe there are certain practices that you agree to that kind of perpetuate the sexual relationship to a certain degree, that's okay. But also focus on other forms of intimacy, like building the emotional intimacy, for example. So being attentive to other forms of intimacy outside of just what's sexual. But one thing I'll say broadly, too, is I think sometimes when I work with people and they're wanting to improve their sexual life, I think they're looking for things that are like tips or positions. Again, I think a lot of the things that I'm talking about, especially in this podcast today, are here are some principles to guide you by, and then agree upon the principles as a couple.

Phillips Hwang [:

And then out of that, you can kind of insert the sexual behaviors. So I think I'm very focused on. Here are the principles, again, to attend to. And as long as the principles are aligned, the sexual behaviors kind of fall under that umbrella. How do you promote connectedness? How do you promote respect? When you're doing those things, you can enjoy the sexual experience more, and you're.

Rhoda Bangerter [:

Not going to be perfect. I was thinking this afternoon, we're two very imperfect people in a very imperfect marriage. Right. But I think it's coming back to what you were saying at the beginning. It's about personal healing, wholeness, growing as a person, and then as the other person grows, too, and you kind of stick with it. Sometimes it's about that. Then things do change. I think things do change and relationships mature over the years.

Rhoda Bangerter [:

And I think it is beautiful to get to that point where you're more. Where you have that true intimacy, correct?

Phillips Hwang [:

Yes.

Rhoda Bangerter [:

It's a beautiful thing. And I think we're getting to it. We're getting to it after like 18 years of kind of understanding each other, giving each other grace, knowing the other person, correct?

Phillips Hwang [:

Yes.

Rhoda Bangerter [:

At a very different level than it was 18 years ago. It's beautiful. It's a beautiful thing. And then I think being under the same roof or not being under the same roof doesn't have as much of an impact. But I think what I've seen in families and couples who make it work is they have a sense of unity, whether they're under the same roof or not. That's what I've seen. And then I think the physical intimacy then kind of fits within that broadness because nobody has it perfect. There are things to be worked out because it might be fine last month, but this month is not great.

Rhoda Bangerter [:

So it's okay. There's going to be variations. Right. Thank you so much for the time that you've given us. You have a list of resources. I'll put it in the show notes as well so people can go. You've got books that you recommend. You're taking clients but from certain state, right? Do you take clients from outside of the US or outside of your state?

Phillips Hwang [:

Yeah. Or are you booked up a little bit of both? The limitations of my profession. So I've been doing distance counseling for like eight. And so I understand some of the ethics and the things involved with it. In the United States at least, my profession is very bound. So I practice within state lines of Indiana. So it's very limiting in that respects. And that's just kind of the limitations in my profession, unfortunately.

Phillips Hwang [:

So I'd love to work with people outside of that. But unfortunately, at least at this point of this recording, I'm ethically legally bound to work with clients just within my small state of Indiana.

Rhoda Bangerter [:

Thank you for the insights that you've brought. And if any listeners, I hope you've enjoyed it. I hope you feel encouraged, definitely. I hope you feel not sort of judged or criticized or discouraged in any way. And if you have any comments to share, please do that so that we can have some feedback as well and hear what your concerns are, what you found encouraging, what you found helpful. So thank you very much PHILLIPs oh, did you want to add something?

Phillips Hwang [:

Yes, if wanted to. Again, Rhoda, I appreciate your invitation to come and share some of these things with your listeners. I wanted to, if I can just comment on what you said previously, you had mentioned being married 18 years and just a growth and a richness that's developing in your own relationship and in the field that I'm in sometimes. And I don't want people to just be bound by numbers, but we say kind of anecdotally like, hey, it can take 20 years to develop a good sex life, and that doesn't mean it takes 20 years to enjoy it. But what that means is that as you grow as a couple, as you learn to love each other in these deeper ways and feel comfortable and appreciate each other, your coupleship grows, you grow as an individual. There's a richness that occurs, and sex is just a reflection of that richness in your relationship. And so I just want to encourage people to continue seeking out ways of growing individually and as a couple and to enjoy sex in your relationship. In my understanding, for my values and beliefs, that's God's design, and I would even say worshipful to enjoy that in the context of your relationship.

Phillips Hwang [:

So just want to leave you and your listeners with, hey, sex is a great thing. It's by design. And enjoy it as much as you can.

Rhoda Bangerter [:

Thank you. Thank you so much. It's been lovely talking to you.

Phillips Hwang [:

Same here. Thank you so much.

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