Healthier Marriages – Lynda Chalmers

Enter the Gate of Possibility in Your Relationship

In our relationships, we sometimes see a door before us that we somehow know we need to walk through but we can’t seem to do it. It may be attractive to us like the one in this picture but we resist doing the walking through. Let me give you some examples that will help you to understand.

For instance, when we hear ourselves being immediately defensive when our partner is trying to tell us something that is negative. We know inside we are being unreasonably reactive but we don’t change our patterns, taking things seriously and learning a new way.

We know we need to work on some form of emotional management to conquer our anxiety that negatively impacts the relationship but we let it slide or normalize it. We have reasons for our anxiety that are from our past. We don’t conquer our feelings. We feed them.

We feel sluggish and unfit and our partner gives us hints to get healthier but we put it off. It’s not time, its too hard.

We know we are increasingly thinking and choosing in “I” terms instead of “we” terms with our partner – we may even feel guilty but we continue to do the same thing. We feel the distance we are creating but we don’t do anythng about it.

We find ourselves turning away from our partner instead of turning towards them, correcting, fixing and being negative to his/her new ideas. We know we are squashing their spirit but we continue.

We know we have an anger issue that creates insecurity in the relationship but we continue to justify our challenges. It is about justice, it is righteous anger.

We are behaving like roommates in our relationship. We rarely make love. I wait for a signal and don’t take responsibility for engagement. We become more disconnected.

We rarely look at the cost in lost opportunity to feel great and congruent within ourselves when we continue in a pattern that is less then ideal. The possibility of a loving connection that we truly long for when we do not let go of our self protection and walk through the door is lost to us. We are often steadfastly clinging to our old behaviors without examination or thoughts of change. Sometimes these patterns come from deep within our past and feel so automatic. This does not mean that we cannot move that default position we have been practicing. The first step in the practice of courage is to make the decision to make a change. Then ask your partner how it might make a difference in the relationship if you made a change in an area you feel like you need to. Don’t waste an awesome day! Consider starting today! Go forth and be wonderful!

When you have difficulty in believing you are loved

Sometimes one member of an unhappy couple that is in my office may have difficulty in believing they are loved. There are many reasons that this might be true but let’s imagine that the person is loved but they have a history of not being able to believed they are loved. Sometimes this comes from a mistrust of anyone in their world or a difficult childhood or adult life experience. There is such a cost to this misbelief in relationship. As this quote suggests love is supposed to be a mutual win on all levels. When one part of the couple relationship is not experiencing that win, it is challenging. The person who is not believed feels invalidated, not good enough for their partner and stuck as to how to make a difference in that belief. The person who does not believe they are loved feels alone and unlovable, both hurtful places to be. How might the person who does not believe themselves to be loved change this?

1. Decide you will not live the past. Your new mantra needs to be, ‘that was then, this is now”.

2. Learn all you can about love. A good place to start is to read “The 5 Languages of Love” by Chapman. Also look at your attachment style. There are lots of places on the internet to learn about attachment styles.

3. After your leanings above, examine your beliefs about love. Where did you get them from? Are they a reaction to not feeling consistently loved? Are they modeled after someone? Is feeling loved the only way to know you are loved? Etc.

4. Begin to watch out for all the small loving things that happen to you that you did not interpret as love before. Hold them inside for at least 20 seconds so that you can carve a new pattern in your brain.

5. Have a conversation about your learnings with your partner. Find out how your partner believes he or she is being loving. Declare your new intentions around feeling loved.

6. Make a habit to support your intentions by rehearsing the facts you have gathered about being loved every night while it is sinking in. Be open to feeling loved in different ways.

Hope you can begin to know you are loved through this inner work. Go forth and be wonderful!

Tips for Getting out of the Criticism Contempt Loop

Being in the middle of a criticism contempt loop is so hard on couples. Gottman’s research shows that it is a direct cause of the break up of a relationship. The party who is the “criticizer” feels so justified and will often ask friends to affirm their thoughts and feelings. They have amassed a story that makes the other person unworthy to be alive and they may make a psychological diagnosis for their partner (my favorite). Their partner in return becomes defensive and then depending on their attachment style, avoids their partner, leaves the situation or moves in to the relationship intensely to ‘prove’ they are not that person. And the loop goes on.

People have often chosen a partner that is somewhat like one of their parents  and may be triggered by this criticism defensive loop. Even if their partner is not being harsh in their criticism, they may have been triggered by both the past and the present feelings in the interaction which causes greater wounding and a bigger response. If the criticizer has grown up with criticism, they will often not understand how often they are actually criticizing and how much they are responsible for crushing their partner’s spirit. So what are some ways to get out of this loop?

1. When your partner has spoken and you feel a big response to their words, assume that you have been triggered by something in your past as well as the present. Take responsibility for your big reaction. Do not blame or hold your partner responsible.

2. Take a time out for approximately 25 minutes in order to calm your physiology. It takes that long to calm emotional flooding. Make sure that you have let your partner know that you will return to your discussion after the time out. Do not think about the comments during that time.

3. Come back into the discussion with an attitude of curiosity. What is your partner trying to say to you? What is their message? Check it out. Let them correct you so that you can gain a much better understanding of what they are trying to say.

4. After understanding your partner well, let them know what you are thinking and feeling. Let them know of your vulnerability to criticism and thank them for helping you with a time out so that you could avoid defensiveness.

5. Have a discussion about trigger words for you both and areas of conversation that can lead to defensiveness. Do not avoid these areas but understand each other’s vulnerabilities and how you can speak more carefully. Download the pithy little rule book for satisfying marital conversations on the right side of this website in order to understand words that are more sensitive.

Do the above diligently, until you can successfully mange conversations that are sensitive. The rewards are that you will feel understood, that you will feel you can understand your partner and that your connection will feel strengthened.

 

 

Making Roots to Keep Your Relationship Strong

Our families of origin are often scattered around the country today 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. Touching someone you love reduces pain. With married couples, the stronger the marriage, the more powerful the effect. There is so much research to help us take this seriously. For instance, five hugs a day for four weeks increases our happiness. When researchers 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 responded as they reported that they felt better. And if you think that texting works the same, 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, 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. Having 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 and loyalty to your partner needs to be on the calendar as a number one priority too. To your healthy life.  Go forth and be wonderful!

Learning to be Attuned with Your Partner

So many challenges occur in relationships when couples are not attuned to each other. John Gottman has used the beginning letters of the word attunement to describe attunement itself. The first letter stands for awareness. Being aware when there is tension between you and taking the time to work it out. Being aware of your partner’s vulnerabilities to being triggered by you is important. Being aware of the way you speak to your partner, softening your approach and re-interpreting your partner’s harsher approach to their feelings of need or wishes in the relationship. The letter “T” stands for tolerance. This is a mindset that says that there is value in my partner’s perspective even if i don’t see it. I will respect his/her perspective. The next “T” stands for transforming criticism into wishes. Look for the need your partner is trying to express when you feel criticized. The “U” stands for using understanding rather then a problem solving mindset. It is so important that your partner is able to express their experience without you trying to fix it. The “N” stands for non defensive listening. If this is a challenge you came with from your life experience – you may need to take a time out or do some deep breathing in the moment. Good self talk is also helpful here such as “we are in this together – we care about each other “etc. And finally the “E” stands for empathy. This is a mindset that sets aside one’s own world view to become curious about your partner’s world view and experience (like taking off your glasses and putting their glasses on and looking at their world) and to be able to articulate an understanding of that experience. Where do you think you are in your attunement to one another? Rate yourself and ask your partner to rate you. Have a great discussion about how you can improve in each of these areas to boost your attunement to each other. Take each of these areas as a challenge for change and Go forth and be wonderful!

The Benefits of Romance in Relationships

Happy Valentines Day! I really love the ritual of Valentine’s Day! I hope you will make the most of it yourself today! How is the romance in your couple relationship these days? After some years, some couples believe that it is natural to settle into a companionship kind of love. Although that is comforting, it can also lead to some discontent, as couples feel as if they are just roommates. They want more and wish that they had what they remember as the spark in their relationship. Well, it turns out that romantic love can endure. Bianca P. Acevedo et al did a study published in, Review of General Psychology. The team reviewed 25 studies with 6,070 individuals in short and long term relationships. They found that romantic love can endure and is associated with greater happiness and higher self esteem. And I say that it adds fun and color and the possibility of the novelty we need in life and a wonderful spark to life period, never mind just long term relationships. Acevedo said, “Couples should strive for love with all the trimmings, and couples who’ve been together a long time and wish to get back their romantic edge should know it is an attainable goal that, life most good thing in life, requires energy and devotion.”. How great is that! For those of you who say, that is not me, just know this is not about genetics or personality. It is about skill and mindset. If you want more in your relationship (and who wouldn’t?) then take more romance in your relationship as a personal challenge. The benefits are big. Your partner may have been hinting along these lines or maybe you have started a date night and failed to keep it up for any number of reasons. But as Acevedo has said, “it is an attainable goal… [that] requires energy and devotion,”. So how to do this? First have a conversation together, or if it is a sensitive topic in your relationship, you be the person to begin by putting your date nights in your calendar (in ink). In an optimal world, you would take turns in making date nights happen. It has benefits for both of you to do this. And then how do I do it? You may have some great ideas – go for it. Just make sure when it is your turn that you are considering what your partner feels is romantic. If you don’t have ideas or feel as if you could use a few more ideas to spark your creativity, I am giving you a valentine gift that will do just that. It is entitled, Romance Refresher and is on this web site. If you really feel lost, or you are the type that aims high in life, I do have a course on romance that goes in depth for you to make deeper connections with your partner. You can contact me for more information. Go forth and strive for love with all the trimmings!

Use these Symptoms of Inner Peace to be 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 Pigrim 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). 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

Go forth and be wonderful!

Sacred Time in Marriage

Sue Johnson, one of my favourite authors, talks about the importance of sacred time in relationships. Our culture no longer has the norm of family and and sacred ritual time built in. Before (I remember this time) businesses and shops were closed on Sundays signifiying a time for important activities other then work. Now work is a 7 day, 24 hour possibility and many people use their allotment of life ‘time’ to put their energies into their work.Because of this, relationships really suffer. I get very annoyed when one partner is committed to work and keeps their intimate partner waiting in continuing loneliness because of the demands of work. Any fool can make money if they work 7 days a week and 12 hours a day. This is not the definition of a successful life. Anxiety and depression are the highest diagnosis that walk into my office today and in the last decade. Long ago, Bowlby (the famous researcher for attachment in children) understood that anxiety and depression was related to emotional disconnection. In fact, these diagnosis in woman are correlated to dysfunctional relationships. Our emotional well being, our health, our longevity, all depend on our successful emotional attachment in intimacy. Again and again I see relationships and love die due to lack of time and attention. Individuals seem to “hope” their partner will manage themselves during their building years where they spend more and more work time away from their partner. Sacred (worthy of devotion) time gets turned upside down. Emotional affairs occur, sometimes bringing extreme attention and a re-negotiation of the relationship and sometimes couples cannot recover, having lost all hope. What a painful way to lose a relationship. It is time for individuals to make decisions that go against our cultural norms. It is time to re-prioritize what is worthy of our devotion and have our values match our actions. Successful attachment takes time and connection. there is no way around it. Look at your calendar for this past week. Did you prioritize your intimate relationships in your time and energy allotment? Be successful in all the areas of your life. Go forth and be wonderful!

Make a Great Spouse Day

Oops did not get this posted in time! If you missed spouse day on January 26th – it is not too late. Give both of your days a lift and celebrate your spouse. It is all about appreciation! Some possibilities. Surprise them with their favourite meal. Have a long written list that you will read to them that lets them know how much you appreciate who they are. Add in some thoughts of gratitude about your role as a spouse and their’s too. Appreciate your commitment together. Appreciate both of your willingness to be married together. Many people are so hurt in their relationships these days when one partner refuses to be married. Look at the roles that each of you have – maybe as a father or mother and appreciate how much that means to you to be married to a great mother or father. Look at how you partner together and find some ways to appreciate that in each other. Do this for this week. Your relationship will improve and is worth the effort. Go forth and be wonderful!

Who will you be as a couple in 2017?

Many people are considering who they will be in 2017. Many are setting goals that unfortunately, are rarely sustained past January. But there are few people who are making commitments about how they will show up in the world as an example of a couple who loves well and are trying to have a positive influence on their world. There has probably never been a time as important as now where who you are as a couple will make such a difference in your world. When couples show up in their world at their best, it brings such hope to others. When they see a couple who have a secure attachment relationship, others are drawn to that love and support that they sense in that couple. They respond in a biologically positive way. When you are showing up at your best in the relationship where your partner can count on you, it leaves you with emotional energy to give back to the world. That gives you meaning and gives others much needed hope for our world. This circle of positive influence is both wide and ripples outward and narrowed right into your home with your children or other intimates. How would you go about doing this as a couple this season?

1. Sit together and see what values you share. From this place of togetherness,  see where your heart leads you as you put together some possible projects that you would like to contribute together this year. There should be a sense of excitement and energy around these ideas. This might be something that you would like to change in yourself that would benefit the relationship; something that you would like to change in the relationship that would have you showing up more positively in the world; or something that you could contribute as a couple to your community.

2. Have times of reflection and renewal to keep your desires alive together over the next weeks and months. This needs to be built into your calendar together. You will show up together to evaluate how you are doing and to support and encourage each other in your projects together.

Take time to think of the end of your long life and imagine how the decisions to be a great partner and couple in 2017 will make a difference to how you feel you lived your life. Enjoy the process. As usual go forth and be wonderful!