How To Make Your Relationship Work 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!

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!