Healthier Marriages – Lynda Chalmers

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!

Commitment ‘Lifers’

  I recently heard a guy (Bo Eason) speak about commitment in an interesting way. He was talking about commitment in general (and in particular rising in the sports world) but he used his analogy to refer to marriage as well. He talked about prison inmates and the difference between those who were in for a period of time and those who were ‘lifers’. Those who are in for a certain period of time are not interested in their current space. They are looking to get out. The difference is that those who are lifers, as soon as the door slams on their cell, they have accepted their sentence and immediately start to decorate their space. They are there for life and it effects their commitment to their space and their life inside. Sometimes I hear couples talk about their relationship in a way that says, “if we make it” or “providing we are still together”. These are not people who have fully accepted their commitment. They are still looking outward and therefore find it difficult to begin to ‘decorate’ their marriage, so to speak. They are not yet ‘lifers’. Where are you in that? Do you hear yourself reflecting your lifer status and do you see yourself ‘decorating’ the space of your marriage or are you reflecting your ‘non lifer’ status in your language and behaviour? Pay attention to that as it makes all the difference as to whether your relationship is going to go the distance or not. It makes all the difference as to whether you have the kind of stable attachment relationship that will allow you to flourish in your life or not. It makes a difference as to where you prioritize your relationship skill building. Make a change where it is needed today.

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!

Pets that Add Meaning to Our Couple and Family Bonding

It is fall and I am missing the family dog Kirby. It has been awhile since she has been gone, dying of old age. Kirby was a lovely chocolate brown lab that belonged to my son and his family. I was privileged to be the sitter when the family was away and the sanctuary cabin when Kirby got older and the company and their lively puppies became too much for her. We were all, including lots of friends and other family – very attached to her – she had that way about her. We have all been grieving some time over the loss of her. I have many clients who are struggling with the grief of their pet and they can be quite surprised by the depth of emotion evoked by the loss of their pet. It is a shared experience and very real for many of us.

You have probably read pieces titled, “10 things my cat or my dog or my rabbit or whomever taught me”. I was thinking about my relationship with Kirby and all of her characteristics that enriched me. I think that these memories and characteristics do have meaning for our lives and relationships. As with all labs, water was very attractive to Kirby. One of her favourite places was the cabin right on the ocean. She had the idea that when I drove up to her house for any reason, that there could be a chance that she would be hitching a ride to the cabin. She quickly made her desires known that she would be more then glad to join me by jumping into the car and settling where she could, between the packing. On hot days, I would open the window for her and she loved the smells of the journey and the wind on her face. As soon as we arrived at the marina, her tail would be wagging like crazy and she would reacquaint herself with the scents of the paths that other animals had taken, while I unpacked to go to the boat. Kirby was not so fond of the boat ride over to the island as she had some motion sickness. However, she was not going to let a little thing like that stop her and she quickly made her way on to the boat. She often jumped off the boat before it had been securely tied and was looking in the water for any sticks that she might dive into the water for. Fun was her priority. When we arrived at the cabin, and after she had made sure we were staying, she sniffed out all her favourite haunts and then she found a warm place to stretch out and have a little nap.

One of Kirby’s greatest joys and appreciation was food. She knew how to celebrate feasting. I had such fun planning for, purchasing and cooking for Kirby. She loved the giant Christmas bone waiting for her each Christmas. She was very adept at unwrapping the Christmas treats awaiting her. She loved the steak I packed for her for the cabin and the treats in between. When her food ran out next door, she was very happy to have people food cooked for her. Apparently even after I left and went home, Kirby would bark at my cabin door, hoping she would find some gourmet food instead of boring old kibble she had at her cabin.

I remember when the kids were little, how much patience Kirby had with them. One of my favourite memories is of my granddaughter Clara sitting on the floor with her legs apart(she was not of walking age). Kirby would get a ball and pass it back and forth just the few inches that Clara would roll the ball to her. Kirby was happy to do this forever, way past when Clara was done! I remember Kirby’s patience as both my next grandsons would lay all over her and love her and she took it all in. She was very very responsive to compliments and patting and rubs on her back. She would have conversations with you where you would talk and she would answer. You would be sure that she knew what you were talking about together. She was very attached to my son and his family. Her security rested in their presence and relationship. Even though she was happy to be with me she was really connected to my son’s family, her owners. When they left her with me she was very diligent in her watching for the vision and sound of their boat. She did not leave her spot under the trees where she would watch and wait for hours. She knew how to be loyal and loving.

As mentioned, Kirby loved any kind of water play. Even at a very advanced age where she had difficulty walking, she did not let that stop her enjoyment of water. She would still swim for balls and sticks and would follow behind the rowboat as the kids went out for the crab trap and to visit other islands. She knew how to take the time for fun and to engage anyone else she could to join her. I think we all engaged at some point or another, in Kirby’s obsession with flying sticks. I remember when she was a pup that she was fearless in her cliff jumping in the water and would end the day with red rimmed eyes and a wildly wagging tail.

Like the rest of us, she did have some fears. She was very afraid of thunder and lightening and would be very restless and try to find a spot that would enclose her and be close to me when she was visiting me. During the actual storm (which I loved) she would wake me up and dive under my legs between the bed and me, making a cozy nest while she rode out the storm comforted by another. She knew where to find comfort and safety in the presence of those who cared for her.

It was so good to have Kirby as part of my life and I feel blessed by what she added to me by being a part of my life journey. I loved who she was to me and to her family and I miss her today. I know there are others who are also grieving their pets as I speak with you often. I hope this sparks your memories and that you will celebrate the memories as I do of Kirby.

Posted by Lynda in Healthier Marriages, How to Love Well and tagged with , ,

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!