Healthier Marriages Posts

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!

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