How To Make Your Relationship Work Posts

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!

Relationship Triggers – How to Use Them Well

We are often triggered in life and mostly we look at triggers in a negative way. When triggered negatively, we find ourselves having a quick – what feels like a negative response to something from our past that can send us spiraling downward. These triggers are often from unresolved issues in our lives. But we also have spontaneous triggers that we enjoy such as a scent or scene that reminds us of a past event that we experience as a great memory. Because we know that triggers work well in the brain, we can use this knowledge to set up triggers deliberately for good in our relationship. When we want to make a change in ourselves regarding our relationship, we can set up triggers that effectively help us to make that change. For instance, I often recommend to my clients who bring their stress home from the office to find a stop sign close to home (a trigger) to dump their stress and undone ‘to do’ lists, knowing they can pick everything up on the way back to work the next day, if necessary. You can use triggers in other positive ways. What would you like to change in your relationship? Who would you like to be as a partner? How would you like to show up for your partner? Would you like to be a better listener, more supportive, more demonstrative in your affection? Choose one characteristic that you know would make a big difference in your relationship.  You can use a trigger to remind you of that characteristic for the next month. For instance, you could use the door you walk into when you arrive home to trigger you of that word and your intention to carry out that characteristic when you walk through the door. Use that door as your trigger for the next month and see how this works. This is a great way to make a change that is easy and works well. Go forth in be wonderful in your relationship today!

Creating Roots to Keep Your Commitment Strong

Our families today are often scattered around the country and are not easily accessed. Our friends from childhood and the memories of our childhood are often distant too. It is important to our health as a couple that we find a way to touch our roots and to make new roots when we need to. When we are not connected and try to be everything to each other, it does not work well. Marriages need a social circle with rituals that we can count on. We need to keep in touch with our families by phone or skype. Make trips both ways to connect with each other. Taking this seriously affects our mental health in every way. It affects our chemistry. Research shows that touching someone you love reduces pain. With married couples, the stronger the marriage, the more powerful the positive effects on all variables. Five hugs a day for four weeks increases our happiness – do you remember that old song about 4 hugs a day? – turns out it was right. Give this a try in your relationship – be sure you are present when you are hugging. Research shows that when you put people in a stressful situation and then let them visit loved ones or talk to them on the phone or in person, they felt supported and their bodies respond at a cellular level as they reported that they felt better. And if you think that texting works, apparently not. In this research, they also had people texting their loved ones. If they texted, their bodies responded biologically as if they had no support at all. As I have blogged about before, emotionally connecting has huge health benefits all around.

Now remember that I am talking about the best case scenario. What if you come from a very dysfunctional background and after much trying you are mostly disconnected from your family? In that case, you must make as many connections with others as is possible. According to research, it seems as if you need to each have a least four good friends to have the kind of health benefits that are important. It probably holds true for the health of your marital connection as well. Having good friends that you are not biologically connected to takes time. Building the kind of memories and trust where you have a certainty that the other will be there for you – takes time. Put it in your calendar. You need to see it there and bring it about. Continue to have balance, however. Your time with your partner needs to be on the calendar as a number one priority too. Make this positive change. Go forth and be wonderful!

Own and Embrace Your Role as a Partner


I am sometimes amazed when couples come to my office and the important but extraneous parts of their lives have taken over from the vitally important relationship parts of their lives. They are very busy professionals and have agendas for their professional lives but have none for their relationship lives. They have not owned or embraced their role as a partner. There is no time set apart for a date night (no time). They have lost the element of support and empathy for each other (no energy) and sometimes no longer even make love. If that is you, it is time to prioritize your relationship role in your schedule and life. The question needs to be asked of your partner, how can I support you better? How can I love you better? The answer to that question needs to be seen on your calendar, prioritized just like the rest of your life. Life is not never ending and the value you place on your relationship role needs to be honored all the way through your life. Claim your daily agenda. Make sure it is not driven by others but by your values where you increasingly feel congruent by the way you spend your time and by how you feel you are doing in your role as a great partner. Keep on Practicing acts of love with your partner as you are growing into that role as part of becoming more of your best self.

Tips for Getting Unstuck

I wonder why people do not make goals for their relationships as they do for other parts of their lives. When you were going out together at the beginning of your relationship, you put the best of yourself forward. As time has gone on, sometimes your best is reserved for others and your partner gets the worst of you. It might be time for you to become unstuck in this area. Revitalize your relationship by deciding on how you want to be when you show up in your relationship. Use some of the knowledge gained from high performance research to make those goals happen. The first is visualizing your goals – mentally walking through the process of arriving home and being at your best. Shelley E. Taylor at the Univeristy of California found that those who actually visualize how the change will happen (what needs to happen daily) were nearly 2x more likely to succeed in their goals then those who simply looked at the end result of what they wanted (like doing a vision board with the end in mind).

Secondly, the Hope theory by Charles Richard Snyder of the University of Kansas is helpful. I find that those who are stuck in relationship will often lose hope and begin to think perhaps they are not meant to be. Hope is something you need to generate. Snyder found that  hopeful thinking has 3 parts. One is setting goals. A second is creating a pathway to reach your goals. And thirdly you need to believe you can achieve those goals. So do not just depend on your will power because I am sure you have done that before. But think about the way power.

The last tip I will leave you with is that the goal must be a deeply held value. When you committed to your relationship, what were the values involved in that? Was connection, love, relationship, service to those you love all there? If so, recommit to those values and do the above to find some way power to get unstuck.

We are fighting  our brain when we begin a new habit but as you keep practicing your new behavior a new neural pathway forms and it becomes more your default position. The more you practice the more deeply ingrained that pathway becomes. Go forth and be Wonderful Today!

Your Best in Relationship

Would your partner say that you show up in the relationship feeling engaged, energetic and enthusiastic? We could say that your emotions are experienced by your partner in at least 2 ways. One is the quality of the emotions you bring. Are they positive or negative? When you come together as a couple are you communicating your affection, your love and your gladness at being together again? Or do you come together with the day’s cares and grumpiness from work events? If you were honest, would you say that you are not communicating your attachment and connection for your partner in a way that increases the security of the relationship together in the quality of your emotional engagement?

 The other quality of emotional experience that your partner registers is the intensity of the emotions you bring to the relationship. This too can range from barely there to a high intensity. You know the old cartoon where there is a newspaper propped up at a table and the female partner is talking to the back of the newspaper not even realizing there is no one there. The relationship pattern is so lacking in intensity of emotion that the person is not there period and the partner is not noticing the difference.  The updated version to that is that our partners are glued to their phone or computer and ‘not there’ as well. This communication of low intensity does not communicate your love and affection effectively, in fact not at all. I find in my practice that couples argue about this a great deal. It is most often both of the partners that experience this lack of intensity and will bring it up as an issue for change. Remember that our attachment experience needs the reassurance of our partner’s affection and connection daily. It needs to be “you can count on me to be there for you”. It has to be a commitment on our part especially when we are coming and going from each other. You may understand that magic 20 minutes that you and your partner need together to communicate but you may not have thought about how you were showing up to these times in terms of emotional quality and intensity. Become aware today and make this small change that makes a big difference. Communicate your love and attachment to your partner well. Go forth and be wonderful!

Defensiveness in Relationships

John Gottman’s research found that defensiveness was one of 4 important ways that relationships break down. If you are the person in the relationship that is defensive, it is so important that you take care of this in yourself so that the relationship is not damaged. Often when one person in the relationship brings up something negative, (more…)

Spice Up Your Relationship

I love September. Maybe it is a leftover from having kids going back to school but it seems to me it is like New Years. A time of opportunity and change. I get re-enthused about my blogging and want to start some new courses for the fall and develop new programs to help you. One of the coming programs is an on line course based on John Gottman’s research and his book called ‘Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work’ that I am currently putting together. More to come on that. This morning it was foggy for the first time, a sure sign of fall where I live. It adds a bit of mystery to the morning world and I was thinking how fun that was. Variety is important to us as humans and keeps our brain healthy. I wondered what newness, mystery or opportunity you can facilitate in your relationship and your life for this season? Sit down together and pull out the calendar. Without this step it is not likely to happen. Brainstorm some possibities that you might like to do together this fall. Perhaps you can go away for the weekend or join a class together. You are really only limited by your brainstorming so go for it! Use the momentum of the natural change in the season to spice up your relationship and tune up the connection between you! Do something different and add some health and mystery to your relationship. Mark it in the calendar! Go forth and be wonderful!

Jack Sprat could eat no fat…

Jack Sprat could eat no fat…

Jack SpratToday’s blog is about differences and how to handle them in long term relationships. At first most differences are delightful in our partner. Those we don’t find so delightful we are able to put aside. It may not be long, however, when those differences loom up in a negative way and we start to let them separate us. Or perhaps we begin a long campaign to change the other person, creating difficult dynamics in the relationship. When I am talking about differences here, I am not talking about issues such as drugs alcohol, affairs, violence, or other issues that will threaten or betray the attachment that you have. I am talking about the everyday differences that can be irritating. One of the best ways to think about differences between you is to decide to honour them and to make sure they do not play a part in disconnecting you. Let’s take an example that can certainly become disconnecting for some couples. John is a meat lover and Jen is a vegetarian. At first they managed by each making their own dinner and doing their own grocery shopping. It was disconnecting in that they were not a team while doing this. Soon, Jen started making disparaging, in fact, remarks of disgust when John’s meal was being prepared (gagging over the smell of the food). John came back with as good as he got and they each became more isolated and hurt. They were now preparing their meals at different times, not eating together and/or eating out a lot.

What would honouring their differences look like?
• Accepting what is important to each of you. In this case, John and Jen would need to ​accept each other’s values around food. Part of that acceptance is to know that your opinion is not superior to your partners and that many different bodies need different nutrition and over many millennium people have had different preferences.
• Begin to become a team in your differences. Shop together or shop for each other. Watch out for special foods your partner might like. This act says I accept you and care about what you like.
• Cook together. Chop and dice for each other. Try out recipes that can have meat or vegetables added to the dish so that you are sharing some tastes together. Have an attitude of curiosity about the other’s preferences. This says we are in this together.
• Be grateful for the many parts of the food that you are sharing. For the farmers, the soil, the animals – all that go into your meal together. Gratitude and criticism cannot share the same space together.

This example (although very difficult for some couples) is just one example that you can use to find ways to honour each other’s differences. Remember the example of Jack Sprat…

Jack Sprat could eat no fat
His wife could eat no lean
And so betwixt them both you see
They licked the platter clean

Take this as a great metaphor on how you can manage your differences in a way that the whole is greater then the sum of the parts. Go forth and be wonderful!

Yikes – What Happened to Your Sex Life After Kids? What Can You Do About It?

You remember in a kind of distant way that you used to enjoy making love to each other and you had the energy and drive to do so. Now, you barely have your bed to yourselves without another young child in with you. I remember times when I could not even escape to have a private moment in the bathroom – I am sure you are experiencing that too if you are reading this. When you do have a moment to yourselves, you often just collapse and fall asleep with sex being at the bottom of your priority list. It is not that your love or commitment to each other has left the relationship. It is the context of your life that is getting in the way. At this time in your life, you must rearrange the way that you think of making love. It needs to become not so much about the orgasm between you (only a few seconds) but the way you lovingly, deeply and romantically connect with each other. So what can you do about it?

1. Always be responsive to making a love connection all day. Become more attuned to each other so this responsiveness adds to your emotional zest rather then taking it away. For instance, something as simple as when you leave each other, make sure to look in each other’s eyes and give each other a satisfying kiss and hug. Do the same when you and your partner reconnect. This simple connection has been shown by research to have a profound effect on your relationship.
2. Keep positive loving thoughts about your partner close to the surface of your mind. If possible, connect during the day by phone or text, letting your partner know you love them.
3. Use touch way more often then you have done so before. As you pass each other, a light touch on your shoulder or hand is important and affirms your physical connection together. Have more spontaneous hugs.
4. Purchase a book that you can write what you like/love about your partner once a day or every other day. This simple habit is really helpful to keep remembering the positives about your partner and your relationship when your kids take a lot of your attention and emotional energy. It is fun to go back on this book over time and relish what you each loved about each other. So the stems of the sentences you use could be: I like it when you…. I love that part of you… etc. It is one book that you each write in, passing it back and forth.
5. Plan for an extended time to make love. Don’t even try for spontaneity in making love at this time of your life. Put lovemaking on the calendar. If possible, have a friend or family member look after the kids, even for an hour and a half. If you are fortunate to have longer, have some romance and a simple dinner together. A movie is not recommended. You can do that when your kids are asleep and at home. Watching a movie does not take full advantage of the intimate connection between you. When this planned date occurs, relax, play and enjoy each other and the fun of making love.
6. If your child is sleeping with you every night, at the expense of your sexual intimacy, begin to help your child into their own bed. There is a whole theory about the advantages of the ‘family bed’ but I believe that there are more advantages for kids to be securely attached and able to self soothe in their own bed, knowing that their parents are still there for them when needed. Invite your kids into your bed for a cuddle in the morning when they wake up, but do give them and your partnership intimacy the advantages of moving them into their own bed.
7. When you finally do have time to make love, do not allow the little irritations and annoyances of life to keep you apart. Remember that marriage is a journey and you will have time to sort out those annoyances on another day. They will appear again and today is for romance. Remember, for women especially, making love begins in our mind so you really need to put the annoyances on the shelf in order to come to this precious time together in a frame of mind that will allow you both to enjoy each other.

Really! These 7 ideas will work to help you continue to romantically and lovingly connect during this time. Put these ‘must do’s’ in a prominent place where you are able to weave them into your relationship to create something wonderful!