Healthier Marriages Posts

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!

Reducing Conflict by Telling Like it Really Is

Telling it like it is… used to be a saying that let us speak exactly what we were thinking, despite the consequences it might have in our relationships. It was worn like a badge of honesty. But when we are angry (mostly a secondary emotion), frustrated or blaming we are engaging in secondary emotions and this is only a part of the truth, if the truth at all. The real you is underneath in our primary emotions. When we communicate these emotions, we are really telling it like it is.
What are our primary emotions and how does this work? Researchers have found that we only have 6 primary emotions. They are sadness, surprise/excitement, disgust/shame, fear, joy and occasionally anger. Our first response when something triggers an emotion, is our primary emotion. The trigger, primary response and secondary emotion happens lightening fast. We will often find our primary emotions a place of vulnerability and openness. Our emotions are in a constant state of reappraisal and we will often cover our primary emotions over with our secondary emotions. You will notice this when you remember the last time you felt something intensely with your partner. As you think about your unmet expectation, or whatever your wound was in that moment, you will notice your emotions changing towards secondary emotions such as anger or blaming or victimization or a myriad of other emotions. You will notice that your secondary emotions close you up and you can sometimes feel more powerful but disconnected from communicating in a healthy way from your partner. This may be the conflict pattern that you and your partner have that may last a few days or weeks, where you do not communicate. You may be a person that has struggled with anger in a relationship. If that is the case, you are familiar with your defensiveness and often blaming which is disconnecting in your relationship. If you looked at your primary emotion that lies below your anger, you might find some fear or sadness. When you share your fear, sadness or shame with your partner, your partner is able to hear and connect with those emotions and your vulnerability that goes with that. They will find you open and it will be a connecting experience in your relationship rather then more fuel for conflict.

When you are learning this new way of communicating, sometimes it is difficult to get to your primary emotions. One way to begin is to guess at what might be underneath. Once you have some practice, you will find it easier to understand yourself in this regard. At first you may not do this well each time. If you don’t do this well in the moment and regret your secondary emotional response, make sure your repair with your partner includes sharing what was really going on. If you are the hearer of these emotions, you will likely relate to these deep emotions. Your response is important. Make sure you honour the gift of your partners sharing by creating emotional safety and treat the gift with a gentle and reassuring response. This creates continuing attachment security in your relationship which is what we all long for.

Letting Go to Create More Joy in Your Relationship with Your Life and Your Partner

Fall brings to mind letting go. The leaves are turning a glorious colour and the trees are letting go as the temperatures are getting cooler. It is a good time for us to evaluate what beliefs, mindsets or habits that we might need to let go of in order to live more connected and happier lives. Joy is such an important emotion in our lives and it is one that we can choose. We often get into difficulties with our patterns in life. When this occurs, we have a negative response in our lives and then we follow with a negative disconnecting behavior. You know the responses that you would like to change in your life. When I did this exercise this fall, I found that I needed to let go of my resistance to the work of attaining a goal that I really want and value. This was not obvious to me and it came to me as I was mediating, praying and doing a mandala drawing. To let go, we need to look below at what beliefs might be driving those responses (for instance what belief was driving my resistance?) and keeping you and I from joy. Increasingly we know that positive emotions impact our health and every part of our lives. Fall is a great time to make room for new thoughts and beliefs that allow for new behavior patterns and new emotions such as joy to be a part of our lives.

There might be an activity in your life that takes your time and energy and sucks the life blood from you and although it served you well before, it might be time to let it go. This can be hard. I find letting go of things that I have enjoyed in the past but are not good for today more difficult then some of my friends who do this more easily. Look at all the parts of your life and what takes your time and energy. Is it still a good idea to continue or is it time to make a change and use your energy elsewhere? Talking this out with your partner is often helpful and of course, necessary when it includes their lives too. Sometimes it takes time for you and your partner to come together on a decision to let go that involves both of you. Don’t try to come to a decision quickly. Let there be discussion, listening and understanding. Do this over time until you can come together on your decision. Your readiness may not match and your partner may need more time. Remeber the value of letting go allows us to put something else (a positive emotion or maybe a great new opportunity!) in its place. Live life fully by allowing letting go to make room for positive and life giving new moments.

Posted by Lynda in Healthier Marriages

Still Trying to Change Your Partner?

“The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image. If in loving them we do not love what they are, but only their potential likeness to ourselves, then we do not love them: we only love the reflection of ourselves we find in them”
― Thomas Merton, No Man Is an Island

What a great truth! Loving well can be difficult for us to do. I notice that in sitting with couples that one or both partners want their partner to change in some way and have let their partners know over and over regarding this change. I am not talking about major issues such as violence or addictions which must change in order to have a marriage. I am talking about the everyday issues that can add up and distance us if we let them. A small example might be that one partner believes that the shoes belong in the closet where they do not trip over them when they walk in the door or that when their partner has finished with their tea, they need to put their cup in the dishwasher. This may happen for years as it becomes a power struggle between the couple and interferes with their view of their partner and their love connection. We forget that our partner is not us and that they do not necessarily share our values about shoes and cups in dishwashers etc. Yes, we do need to work some of these issues out satisfactorily but they cannot come between us in a way that we are trying to have our partner become who we are. Spending constant time trying to change our partner over years begins to erode the love that we have together. Spending time problem solving over these issues or getting some of what we may want can be helpful. For instance, purchasing a basket by the door that your partner can throw his or her shoes in might be a partial solution. Picking them up yourself in a spirit of love can work. Acceptance of your partner’s differences is the key. These issues become even more difficult when there are kids from another relationship and you are trying to set some boundaries that they are not used to. Spending more time affirming and enjoying who are partner is (or our partner’s kids) helps to cement attachment. Changing the way we frame our partner and enjoying their quirks and differences as separate from the way we are, increases the satisfaction in our relationships. It creates the kind of safety that over time, helps our partner want to change those very small details of our lives together. Write out the above quote and see where you might make a difference in this area of your loving.

Restorative Vacations

Lots of families are heading out on vacations over the next month or so. Sometimes these vacations turn out well and sometimes they don’t. Most of the challenges are about hidden expectations. One person wants to have mostly a relaxing time, with unplanned adventures. The other person wants a planned vacation where the most is made of the time available. Unfortunately, they do not voice their expectations to each other in a way and at a time that they can hear each other. Set aside the time to talk together and don’t just talk about the logistics of the vacation, when you are leaving and returning etc. – we are good at that. At the minimum explore what each of you are thinking and feeling in the following ways.

  • What do you want from this vacation that is very important to you?
  • How do you want to feel when you return home?
  • How much alone time do you want – how much connection time do you want?
  • How much effort do you want to put out? Ie. How often to eat out or eat in or?
  • How much money do you want to spend?

If you have kids:

  • What were you thinking might be good for the kids?
  • How much travelling time at once?
  • How can we make the vacation a time that meets their needs as well?
  • How will we help each other with the kids?

 

The other part of vacation time is your relationship. Decide together:

  • Will we set aside some time to talk about issues we have difficulty making time for in our regular life? If so, how can we block that time out and make sure any negativity does not bleed into the rest of the holiday?
  • Will we commit together to make all efforts to be positive on the holiday in order to create a wonderful holiday memory? For instance, don’t sweat the small stuff, let things go.
  • Will we commit to not becoming the Bickerson’s on the holiday and leaving arguments for another time?
  • Will we make efforts to connect with each other? Touching, handholding, checking in, meeting each other’s eyes while listening, making love etc.
  • Will we commit to sharing our gratitude for what our day holds every day?
  • Will we create moments of shared laughter together?

 

You can think of lots more. Planning for success means you are much more likely to have it! Talk about these things together and more that pertain to who you are on holidays. Have fun, take time to nurture your soul. Go forth and be wonderful!

Sending you love and encouragement – Lynda

Becoming a Great Partner

In this blog, I am usually talking about concrete skills to create a healthier marriage. These are based on research and if you learn them and practice them, I am confident your marital relationship will become one that works well for both you and your partner. Today I want to write a short note about the softer parts of what makes a great partner. I find these show up in my counselling office and create some great moments between couples. What are some of them?

1. Let me know I am your hero/ heroine. I want to be that for you and when you let me know in those moments that I am that for you, I feel great about myself and us.
2. Let me know that I am attractive to you sexually. Not just when we are going to make love but during the day when you are thinking of me. When you do this, I feel connected to you biologically, emotionally and in every way.
3. Let me know you are thinking about me during the day when we are apart. Give me a quick call to connect. I will put you on a special ring on my phone and answering your call will be a priority for me.
4. Let me see that I am on your calendar as you are on mine for our special times in the year together. Making us a priority in this concrete way raises my sense of being important to you and my sense of security in the relationship.
5. Let me know that my thoughts and feelings are honoured by you, by turning towards me and looking at me when I talk to you. When I feel listened to in this way, I feel loved.
6. Let me know that I am important and that we are is important to you by remembering our special occasions together and marking them with celebration. As a way to help you remember, having them programmed into your iPhone is okay with me. When you do this, it draws me towards you and makes the we in our relationship more intimate.
7. Let me know that you remember the good times when we are having a rough patch in the context of our lives or in our relationship. Hearing my partner remembering when… in a positive way, reduces my sense of loneliness in those times and reinforces my sense of belonging to you and my hope for the future.
8. Let me see that you are working on yourself and our relationship in an ongoing way. We are not perfect but our changing provides a great model for our family and gives me ongoing hope that 2 imperfect people can create an amazing loving life together.
9. Let me know often when I am doing something right. I want to be a good partner and when you reinforce me by telling me I am doing something right it makes me want to strive for more.
10. Let me see the softer side of you, not just your anger but the hurt that lies below. Not just your assertiveness or aggression but your uncertainty and your vulnerability. This really draws me to you and meets my longing to know the whole of you.

These are just a few, but a powerful few when you put them into practice. If you need any of these attributes in your relationship, put each on a sticky until you have practiced it well and then move on to the next. Go forth and be Wonderful!

Sending you my love and encouragement! Lynda

 

Becoming a Great Team in Your Marriage

 

We have just come out of one of the busiest months for families – the month of June. I wanted to write a bit about what I am finding couples struggling with recently. Couples are so amazingly busy with so many obligations and roles today. It is hard to stay connected and to find a way to work as a team. Fortunately, I have so many examples of couples who have been succesful at this in their lives to make me keep my own hope up. I wish I could have them give their wisdom in person to my suffering couples. Suffering couples have more feelings of frustration and feeling victimized by their partner and feeling as if they are doing more of the load then their partner. They feel alone in the life they are trying to create. They feel either unsupported or engulfed by the other person. So how do these successful couples create team in their relationship?
First is their mindset. You have to start here. You know you have personal vulnerabilities and patterns from your past and your present mindset. You are operating on beliefs that won’t get you what you want. So start here. What are some examples of vulnerabities that get in the way of team?

Here is a small collection of vulnerabilities that get in the way:
*you believe that you always need to feel in control or in charge
*you believe that at any moment your partner is going to abandon you
*you believe that you must assert your rights or you will lose, you must say no first, you must defend
*you believe that if your partner is not meeting your immediate need that they do not love or support you
*you operate on your feelings; you FEEL alone, therefore it must be true
*you believe that your partner is the problem so you spend time analyzing and blaming them, having thoughts of  “if they didn’t”
*lots more… know your own

So first you need to make a decision. Do you want to live like a successful team together where you each know the other has their back? Where you know your partner is with you in the day to day challenges? Where you know you can do more together then you can apart? That you feel safe when you are together, knowing you will both support your mutual goals? That you feel securely loved?

If so, you will need to make a decision to challenge your vulnerabilities. How will you manage your automatic response when it is bubbling up quickly in response to a pattern in your relationship?

1. Stop -notice your response, both the feelings and what you are saying to yourself.
2. Grey out the emotional reasoning, the black and white thinking and the defensiveness. No -your partner does not always do that (black and white thinking) and no that is not what your partner said, that you don’t know how to take the garbage out, I can’t do anything right (emotional reasoning) but what he/she actually said was, could you pick up the pieces of garbage that fell out under the sink?
3. Believe your partner has good intentions towards you.
4. Self sooth. Replace your negative self talk with talk that reminds you that this is just an issue, that you will come through this, that everything will be okay.
5. Let your partner know about your feelings in a non-blaming way. Ask your partner for reassurance that you can work this out together.

Try this out together. Partners can do this. If you continue to struggle, go get some therapy so that you can begin a new pattern together!

Go forth and be wonderful!

Partners with a Dismissing Emotions Style

I see lots of mismatches in emotional attunement between partners in my practice. Without understanding, this mismatch can really get in the way of creating a secure attachment relationship together. Many partnerships have one partner that is intolerant of negative emotions or is emotion dismissive. When their partner is upset, they can feel impatient and want their partner to “get over it”. They may offer constructive criticism or a well meaning fix it solution when their partner has a negative emotion about a life event. They would prefer that their partner put on a happy face or lighten up.  If this is you and you were brought up in a household that could not manage negative emotions, it is difficult to change this way of being. However, the rewards of making a change in this area of your relationship are great. Some of the benefits are greater connection and intimacy, your partner does not have to escalate their emotions to get noticed (did your partner ever say to you – I feel like I could die and you would not pay attention to me?), you would come to know your partner more deeply, providing the opportunity to love more deeply, you would create an opportunity to problem solve as a team, and many more benefits. So how do you make this change?

1. Practice noticing a change in emotion for you and your partner.

2. Approach your partner with an attitude of curiosity. I notice a change in you – Is something going on for you?

3. Listen for understanding only. What does this emotion indicate for your partner? Why is it there and what does it mean for them?

4. Reflect the emotions you hear and the reason for them to your partner. What if you are wrong about the emotion you reflect? Your partner will be able to correct you, thereby helping you and them to understand what is going on for them. Keep reflecting until your partner feels fully understood. You will find their emotional intensity lowers as they feel more understood by you.

5. If the issue is about the relationship, ask your partner to tell you what they need from you (in positive terms). Continue to listen non defensively and with understanding. If the issue is something outside of the relationship, your partner may want you to help them problem solve the issue or they may not. Perhaps understanding was exactly what they needed. Do not attempt to problem solve unless your partner asks for it. Don’t even let it sneak in!

Find a way to have your styles fit together and work towards a more secure attachment. This        effort is hugely worth it and you
can take this skill with you to connect with
your kids and your coworkers, when appropriate.
Practice it this week. Keep practicing!
Go forth and be wonderful!

Bids for Connection Re-Visited

Bids for connection are so important for couples
to understand and attend to in their relationship. I have written about this before and it is well described in John Gottman’s book, “the Relationship Cure”. I am drawn to write about this again for 2 reasons. One is not just because of the importance of the habit but the amount that I notice couples making disconnections in this regard. Second is the newer research by John Gottman’s student who sets out a hierarchy of bids that I think are also important to know. First, let’s review what bids for connection are. As people who want to connect, we are continuously making bids for connection that are actually “trust tests”, according to Gottman. We respond to these bids either by turning towards our partner, thereby making connection, or turning away from our partner by ignoring, or against our partners by anger or other negative responses, thereby losing the connection. This loss of connection has great meaning in the overall status of the health of our human need for secure attachment as well as the health of our everyday lives together. Apparently, Janice Driver, using the Gottman study research (remember the love labs that gave us the great information found in the book, Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work?) found that  couples who had divorced 6 years after their marriage had turned towards each other 33% of the time versus those who were not divorced after 6 years turned towards each other 86% of the time. A big difference and such crucial information if you care about your relationship. So how does the hierarchy of bids work? At the bottom of the hierarchy are the little trust tests, a small bid for attention, for instance. They are not so costly for us and just need a nod, a touch or some kind of acknowledgement. Another couple of examples are a bid for help at 3 and  sharing events of the day is an 8 on the scale. Halfway is problem solving at a 10. The last 4 up to 20 (the end of the scale) are the ones that couples  can have difficulties with. They are intimate conversation, emotional support, understanding (compassion, empathy) and sexual intimacy.  As couples are successful at lower levels where there is less risk, they are willing to move higher up the ladder to more vulnerability where the benefits get bigger. Another huge benefit was found by another student (Kim Ryan) who studied conflict and bids for connection. It was found that changing to more turning towards causes positive affect during conflict (the ability to have humor and affection – right in the middle of conflict!). This kind of positive affect in turn causes stability in relationship. I say learning the skill of meeting your partner’s bids for connection is worth doing! Go forth and Be Wonderful in your Relationship!

Use the Symptoms of Inner Peace to Become a Better Partner

I am hearing lots of client’s anxieties right now and seeing the tyranny that this has in people’s lives. I am also remembering a segment from Wayne Dyer’s audio, “It’s Never Crowded Alnong the Extra Mile.” He was talking about a Peace Pilgrim who had inspired him. Here are the 10 symptoms of inner peace that you can look at and measure your life against. If you find yourself lacking in an area, choose one or two to work on. As usual put them in your calendar and on stickies around your life (mirrors, speed indicator in your car etc.). Evaluate yourself daily – how did I do in making this happen from one (in a puddle on the floor to ten (the best you can imagine). If this resonates with you, make the change happen for real. You will impact not only yourself and your relationships but have a positive influence on your whole world. 

10 Symptoms of Inner Peace
1. A tendency to think and act spontaneously rather than on fears based on past experiences
2. An unmistakable ability to enjoy each moment
3. A loss of interest in judging other people
4. A loss of interest in interpreting the actions of others
5. A loss of interest in conflict
6. A loss of the ability to worry
7. Frequent, overwhelming episodes of appreciation
8. Contented feelings of connectedness with others and nature
9. Frequent attacks of smiling
10. An increased susceptibility to the love extended by others as well as the uncontrollable urge to extend it

Be this person. Go forth and be wonderful!