Healthier Marriages – Lynda Chalmers

Opening your Mind to New Thoughts About Your Relationship

One of the interesting parts of our lives is the way we use our brain and how it effects how we live. In essence, we create our lives in how we think about things. When we have a very narrow criteria for something, we often make poor decisions. For instance, I find that the opinions of many people on the criteria for a good marriage is very poor. They look at their personal happiness as a criteria. They look at their challenges in the relationship as severe. They look at their differences together as insurmountable. They look at their negative feelings as proof. They “try” to talk things over and are unsuccessful and therefore they are doomed. When their partner tries to improve they say – they are only doing it for me. In fact, everything in the relationship has this double bind that in effect, their partner has no way to make the relationship better.
Think about your criteria for your partnership. How do you think about long term committed relationships? For instance, happiness is important to our health and well being as is being in a committed relationship. But happiness is a byproduct of what we are personally doing as well as what we are sharing with one another as a couple. You are responsible for your happiness. Gratitude leads to happiness. Are you grateful in your relationship? The meaning you find in your work leads to your happiness. Are you taking care of those things that are outside your relationship? Such as the balance of your life and your self care? Your challenges in your relationship are an opportunity to grow. This is the way the world of relationships works. You have parts of you that are underdeveloped and your relationship provides the opportunity to recognize those and to upgrade your life. Be open. Walk through a new door of beliefs. Differences are rarely insurmountable. Love is not about your partner being a reflection of you but about your ability to appreciate your partner’s differences and honor them. Get real about negative feelings. Oh my goodness, somehow people don’t realize that their negative feelings are a reflection of their negative thoughts and where they are focussing. I am not saying disregard your negative feelings but use that information to know what is going on inside for you. Take them as a signal to make some changes on the outside. Your feelings and thoughts come from a past that is unexamined as well as from your present circumstances. Find out what the hurts and the fears represent and make positive changes in your life towards that. When talking things over with your partner and repair attempts do not work, do not assume it is about incompatibility but it is most likely about the state of the friendship in the relationship. How have you been working on that part of the foundation of the relationship? Have you been neglecting that for busyness of children or work or? Repairing and managing conflict depends on a solid friendship. And finally (there are so many more crazy beliefs but this is it for now), let your partner do things for you out of love. When you are doing this for your children, you see this as normal. You may visit your parent in a home out of love. Acceptance of your partner’s attempts at loving you and keeping the relationship alive is part of YOUR obligation in the commitment. When couples are in a bad place they will often further sabotage their relationship by not accepting loving gestures from their partner, believing they are just doing it because it is expected or some other reason that is not helpful. Be open to the positives in your relationship and create some yourself today.  Go forth and be wonderful!

Maintaining Your Passion for Your Realtionship

“Passion is the thing that will help you to create and exhibit the highest expression of your best self in your relationship long term.” Lynda Chalmers

Without the continual renewal of your passion to your relationship, it is difficult for your best self to show up in your relationship. There is a consistent need to keep growing in your long term relationship and to take each negative experience as an opportunity for that growth. If you let your negativity outweigh your passion, you are on a downturn. Things like negative sentiment over ride, criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling begin to show up and effect your relationship negatively.

So how do people maintain passion for their relationship? It starts with their beliefs about marriage and its positive effects on them personally. Their beliefs extend to the modelling of a healthy relationship as important to their families, friendships and to the rest of the world. They have a strong belief in their personal efforts and their partner’s efforts towards the marriage as worth it, not only for the influence of others, but because it directly effects their health, happiness and longevity. These beliefs become a part of their compass point in life and determine their emotional investment and passion for their relationship. They believe in their power to change things for the better in the relationship. They believe that they have influence over the health of their relationship. They have a strong emotional drive to make the relationship succeed. Robert Greene in his book, Mastery, says that “our levels of desire, patience, persistence and confidence end up playing a much larger role in success then sheer reasoning powers. Feeling motivated and energized, we can overcome almost anything”. This set of people understand that motivation and energy are generated inside and are not
dependent on our partner or our circumstances. The passion you generate for your relationship will lead you to mastery of your relationship if you allow it to.

This is in direct contrast to those whom I see who have not made things happen in their relationship for good but have passively stood by while their relationship with their partner has become disconnected. They will have a variety of reasons for this, such as having no time because of having young kids or building a business but the reality is that whatever situations we find ourselves in in our lives, we have not maintained passion for the relationship. Some will come to know when separating that they took the relationship for granted. That they did not bring their best self to the relationship.

So be inspired by these thoughts. Rate yourself. Does your passion to succeed in your relationship need an upgrade? Do you need an influx of desire, patience, persistence and motivation to do the work – do you need a personal upgrade? Do something about it – if necessary, see a professional for these skills and renewed hope. Go forth and be wonderful in your relationship today.

The Relationship Gift of an Upgrade

In the journey of our lives together, it is important to really understand that things don’t stay the same. For some of us change is more difficult. We need to be resilient to meet the challenges of change. You may know some people who spend a lot of time focussing on their negative circumstances and they get stuck there. Sometimes it is because they have limited thinking and possibilities. They focus on their personal sense of justice and fairness and believe that their partner or their partner’s children should change as the only avenue for change in the relationship. What I have learned over time is that when people focus on their circumstances they miss the upgrade that they need in their own lives. When you look at your journey in the big perspective, you can see that some circumstances get repeated. When that happens and we are focussing on our circumstances, we can become less hopeful, and feel embittered about life. We can even feel victimized. If we stay there, our partners can certainly find it difficult to be attracted to that. Let me give you an example that is simple. For instance, someone may have experienced a divorce that they were not planning for. When they continue to focus on that circumstance, the unfairness of it, the fact that it was not in their plan for life, the evils of their former partner, the years pass and they are stuck. When they look at the circumstances year in and year out, they are not able to get out of their stuckness. They need to ask the deep part of themselves, what is it that I need to change or learn that upgrades me as a person because of these circumstances? One thing may be to learn to let go. Another may be to trust in the future for their lives. Another may be to practice forgiveness. Another may be to develop the skills of resilience in their lives. This makes life positive, encouraging, and hopeful as they change themselves at the invitation of the circumstances of their lives. What circumstances are you currently in that has an invitation for an upgrade in you? Get unstuck by making a needed change in you. Go forth and be wonderful today!

Forgiveness and Letting Go

“I think of the trees and how simply they let go…” Hafiz
One of the challenges of relationships is the necessity of being quick to forgive. Some of us have more difficulty with this then others. It is sometimes helpful to notice what our beliefs are about others and ourselves in this regard. Do we believe that humans make mistakes, are sometimes thoughtless or do we believe that people should be more perfect? Do we believe that we deserve to always be treated as we want to be treated? Do we believe that others should behave by our code and share our values? These different beliefs will cause us to have different reactions inside. Other tendencies, such as taking things personally, can cause us to feel more offended then others. This means that a comment made in passing by someone is taken as meant for us and we feel hurt, offended and angered. Our pack sack begins to get bigger and we become more embittered and less free to respond with our best self.
Related to this, I often meet clients who are unable to trust people. It is often because of past hurts that they feel unable to let go of. They feel a sense of betrayal by others. Their memories that they often rehearse are emotionally loaded. They continue to suffer, even though these events occurred many years ago. Again a reminder that what we focus on gets amplified in our thoughts. When we focus on our negative experiences in order to confirm our negative beliefs about people it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy and we experience the negative in people in our lives. I like the book, “Don’t sweat the small stuff”. It challenges us to do as Hafiz suggests, and to simply let go of our in the moment stuff as well as our past stuff. We do not think about the consequences of dwelling on slights and the suffering it causes us, not the other person. I am not talking about the “big stuff” here like traumatic events. I am talking about all the human experiences we go through that we could let go of, if we made that choice. Examine your beliefs – could they do with an update? Sometimes they come from our childhood of origin and are no longer useful to the way we want to live and be in the world today. Change this and make room for joy! Journal your way through this.

 

Appreciating the Journey of Your Relationship

Appreciating your partnership journey is an important part of being a great partner. Focussing on the good times helps us to remain grateful for our relationship over time. Remembering the truth that whatever we focus on gets amplified. We have a part in our brain that easily focuses on the negative in our lives and it sticks like Velcro and goes deep. The positive is like egg in a teflon pan and slips right on by. We need to work to change this in our brain for our relationship. When we focus on the positive in our partnership and hold it for 20 seconds and let it go deep, over time the Velcro becomes available to the positive and the negative becomes like an egg in a teflon pan and zips by. How can you best change this? Put a positive trigger for yourself in your environment or on your phone that will remind you to think of a positive memory of your partnership daily. Look at your journey milestones that you have created together. Having kids and bringing them up. Growing together as a couple. What are you most proud of that you have accomplished together. What do you do well now that you did not do well at before? How have you successfully managed your challenges and differences? How have you influenced each other for change towards the good? Before I used to… Now I … As a couple, how have you balanced each other out? If your negative filter keeps getting in the way when you are asking yourself these questions, take that seriously. You could undermine your entire connection. Develop a new mindset that sees the positive in your relationship journey. Find ways to develop new memories on your journey. Make plans on your calendar for novel events that you can do together. Focus on appreciating the values and the character traits that you share together. Develop gratitude for those and all that is good in your relationship. Gratitude leads to joy and joy to strength. If you are still finding difficulty, connect with a therapist to help you along your way. Go forth and be wonderful today!

Overwhelmed by the Challenges in Your Relationship?

I sometimes get couples in my office that have gone a long way down the road towards practicing the predictors of divorce. They are discouraged and maybe one person in the partnership has got their foot out the door. It can seem overwhelming to consider what would need to be done in order to put things back together so that they can connect and be a couple. I want to give you hope today. It is not over until it is over. Slow everything down. There is so much at stake for now and in the future riding on this decision. I like the illustration that John Gottman gives when asked whether these couples can really change and put things back on track. He likens it to sending a rocket to the moon. If you are off by just a minute amount in the trajectory, you will miss the moon. By correcting just a small amount, you will hit the moon.
That is why he wrote, “The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work” (if you have not read it – it would be a good place to start). You do not have to overhaul the whole relationship but just use some correction tools that are meaningful. Sue Johnson’s research shows that you do not have to be perfect in your relationship but you do have to connect enough to have a secure attachment. By this time, you likely have viewed not just the present but have revised the whole relationship history to be negative. You believe you have “tried” everything. You believe your problems are severe – you are a total mismatch. You may experience loneliness. At this point do not try to solve things on your own. Go and see a marriage counsellor. Find a way inside yourself to make this a total necessity in your life to make the changes needed. Anytime we have a circumstance in our lives, we need to see it as an opportunity to upgrade ourselves and make the necessary changes inside of us. While you are waiting for professional help, you can get ready by:
1. Looking at memories that were positive in your relationship. Be willing to see the positive.
2. Talk together about what it has been like for each of you, focussing on yourself (not blaming) in the telling and focussing on the other in the listening (empathetic understanding). Share your heart. This is not for the feint – it takes courage. Find it within. It is there.
3. Apologize for what you are able to apologize for.
4. Commit to your partner to do what it takes to make things work between you. Not just for today but a new way of being together.
5. Read Chapman’s book, The 5 Love Languages, and start practicing this to bring the walls down.
6. Read Sue Johnson’s book, “Hold Me Tight” or “Love Sense”. This helps you to know what is at stake for you and helps to give you permission to want more from your relationship.
7. Read John Gottman’s book, “Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work”
Attend your marriage Counselling with an open heart and mind and do the changes necessary to course correct. Part of being a healthy human being is being able to pivot in life when necessary without ditching everything. Go forth and be wonderful today!

Repair Attempts

Repair attempts are so important in a relationship and are difficult for us to do. What Gottman found in in his 40 some years of couple research is that what most distinguished couples who were masters of relationships and those who were disasters of relationship was the way they handled conflict and repair attempts. Those who were masters at their relationship could deescalate the negative emotion in the conversation when the conversation went off track they could quickly make repairs. I remember years ago when I was in training watching hours of couples who were arguing (interesting pastime…). I remember how some couples were so good at deescalating by using humour or by distraction. I particularly remember one couple who were having an argument and right in the middle of it, the guy said to his partner, “Oh I really like your shoes – are they new?”. She responded that she really like them too and that yes they were new. When they continued their argument, the heat had gone out of their battle. So, if you are having difficulties in the area of arguing where might you look in order to grow this part of your relationship?

A great quote from John Gottman’s book, 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work, is “Whether a repair succeeds or fails has very little to do with how eloquent it is and everything to do with the state of the marriage.” (P41) What that means to you is that if your repair attempts are not working, look to the foundations in the marriage first, rather then the repair attempt structure itself. The foundations include all that would come under friendship. Do you take the date night in your relationship seriously? Do you know your partner’s struggles and wishes for life? Do you know and empathize with their daily work life either away or at home? Do you know what they worry about especially at night? What hurts them in the world? Do you provide a place of safety for them? Are they able to talk to you and be understood – not fixed. Do you touch them often to reassure them – you are there for them? It is in these circumstances that we are able to make better repairs. The reason for this is that the conflict does not have the same importance as the relationship does. It becomes “just an issue”, not a threat to the relationship. Remembering that sometimes issues get resolved right away and sometimes they evolve and change over time or we change and the issue changes. Think on this in your relationship today. Go forth and Be Wonderful!

Facing 2018 Together

At its best, we can use this closing of the year and the beginning of 2018 to see ourselves and our partner with new eyes, and to meet the we-ness that we have travelled the year together with. To face our challenges and regrets together and our joys and gains together with a sense of love and compassion and curiosity in the face of all that did or didn’t transpire in the year 2017. Take some time together to look at the wisdom you gained by living your lives side by side and individually. Honour the sense of growing wiser, learning the lessons of life and relationship and gaining solid new insights as a result of living your lives together. Become more humble as you reflect on the things you believed or bought into that weren’t true, and the pain and rewards of finally letting go of those. Face the regrettable times when you weren’t there and did not show up when love called you to do so for your partner. Bring to your awareness the times you did show up for each other and the deepening of connection that brought to you. Spend time in gratitude for all you have experienced and have in your lives together. Reflect on the potential expansiveness and graciousness that deliberate love has to begin anew in 2018. Reflect on the beauty of the imperfect that represents you and your partner in relationship and what light those imperfections make in a call towards your personal and relationship change in the year 2018.

New Years Opportunity

New Years Blog

Life and its inevitable circle of opportunity and loss and can be challenging to embrace, especially at Christmas. I lost a family member this season and am in the place of grieving right now. I am reminded once again that every circumstance can move us forward and today I came across something from John O’Donahue, a writer whom I love. It is a great New Year’s message and I pass the challenge on to you. It comes from his book, To Bless the Space Between Us.

May I have the courage today
To live the life that I would love
To postpone my dream no longer,
But do at last what I came here for
And waste my heart on fear no more.

There are so many that I see in my office who are afraid of what life might bring. They are even afraid of declaring a purpose or a goal for their life in case it is hard to do or that they may not do it perfectly. Right now our world needs people with courage who can bring joy, love and to live out the gifts they were given. Give this some thought as a couple and as individuals as to how you might create some habits that really make your purpose and passion happen this year. Put this on your calendar. Talk about how you might support each other in making 2018 a significant year for you. Go forth with courage and be wonderful today.

Posted by Lynda in Healthier Marriages

Baggage versus Luggage – How will you live?

I have had lots of clients just recently struggling with their relationships because of past hurts and issues. They may be living in the shadow of their childhood injuries or a separation or divorce. It is so present for them that they can easily recite chapter and verse of their injuries as they come to see me. It is hard to have a vision of your life that is clear when it is packed with past baggage. It is also hard to access our own part in our present lives when we are focused on our partner’s injuries towards us. It is particularly difficult when there is a second marriage, for instance, and there are children that each have. When I was in university I was part of a huge research project for this particular group of people. We were looking at the issues they had a hard time with and the effect on their stress levels and health. It was not good news. Differences around kids that are not our own yet we live with them, are so close to our heart and can easily become issues that separate us and become a part of the baggage in the relationship. People will also get stuck in their childhood wounds that they carry into adulthood. This can be challenging when you still have relationship with your parents and they trigger you to your past with their continuing behaviour. However, there comes a time when it is important to empty our filled knapsack that we are carrying around on our backs and pick up a great piece of new luggage and pack it up with new skills and new choices for positive emotions.We get to choose our emotions and to effect our emotions towards the positive. Many adults still haven’t worked that out. They focus on their circumstance and how bad they are and were. They listen to the news and get more proof of how bad life is. They listen to the group opinion on social media and gain more proof of how bad life is. How might you change this? First make the decision you would like to live without your baggage. You make up your mind to choose some great luggage to travel with into the future. Next you do all the things I have talked to you about before. You make a choice in the morning to look for things to be grateful for. You make a choice to bring good into your world today (can be something small like letting people in for a lane change in the traffic). You choose to bring joy into your life and into the lives of those you love (you generate this joy by your thoughts). You choose to be accountable to yourself as you review your day each night for these things. These three ideas belong in that new luggage. Best wishes for a life of new fullness!