Healthier Marriages – Lynda Chalmers

81 Year Long Study

This is amazing to me. That we actually have an 81 year long study! Most of the subjects are in their 90’s. The Harvard study began in 1938. There were 724 men in the study originally. The object of this longitudinal study was to find out what makes us happy as we go through our lives?

As you can imagine, over time there were a number of directors in the study and a recent TED TALK by the fourth director of the study, Robert Waldinger, gave an analysis of the data. The conclusions are important to us. The core point is that good relationships keep us healthier and happier.

What does healthier and happier mean? It does mean that you need quality and longevity in your relationships for this to affect the promised health benefits of having a better and clearer memory longer and to have less anxiety and to report being happy. These are the kind of relationships that Sue Johnson (marriage researcher) talks about where you know that your partner will always have your back. Conversely, if you are lonely in the relationships in your life, your brain function declines sooner, you are less happy and you die sooner.

I think that many of us understand that relationships are what matter in life. Unfortunately, quality relationships are not that easy to maintain. It takes changing and negotiating and sacrificial love. We have some good models that have things to say about the how to’s. You can join me in my new “Happy Marriages Guide” closed group if you have something to gain or to offer others. See you at https://www.facebook.com/groups/happymarriageguide/

Providing De-Stressing for our Partner

Sometimes de-stressing conversations are difficult because one or both partner’s are uncomfortable hearing negative emotions, even when they are not directed at them. I find this tendency a lot in my practice. Not being able to hear our partner’s negative feelings feels as if our partner is turning away from us. It is immensely helpful to be there for your partner when they are upset. In fact, it is one of unwritten expectations of marriage. I often hear, if only he/she could just understand me. A book i often recommend for couples is the 7 principles for Making Marriage Work and this book has a great quote for this ideal that says, “when you are in pain, The world stops and I listen”.
Usually the common tendency to avoid negative feelings is rooted in childhood. Often someone will say they knew their parents loved them even though they did not say much. Their parents may have offered little or no comforting. Expressing sadness or fear meant you were weak or a wimp or some other negative connotation. A child’s expression of anger was viewed as disrespectful. Growing up in families where emotions are viewed like this, teaches the child to deal with their emotions on their own, typically by adopting a self – reliant problem solving style which ignores feelings. Learning self-reliance and good problem solving skills is certainly helpful in life but in order to become truly intimate, you also need to learn how to share and support your partner emotionally.

If either of you find this type of challenge for yourself, the following recommendations will help.
*Acknowledge the difficulty. Admitting that you are willing to work on changing this is a powerful start.
*Self soothe if you feel overwhelmed by your partner’s feelings.
*Remember the goal is understanding. Listen without solving or minimizing their feelings.
* Use explanatory statements and open-ended questions. Examples of that are:
Tell me the story of that
Tell me all of your feelings
What are your concerns?
What do you need from me right now?
Help me understand this from your perspective
what else is there?

Some clients get overwhelmed when their Partner cries and want to try and fix whatever it is as fast as possible. Some tips for listening to sadness and crying:
* Ask what is missing. Sadness often comes form a loss, which may or may not be obvious.

Examples of questions to ask:
You seem so sad. What’s going on?
Do you feel you have lost something?
Don’t try to cheer up your partner. It is usually more helpful to listen to their sadness then to try to relieve it. Avoid minimizing or trying to shut down their feelings.

Tips for listening to anger:

*Wait until your partners anger is no longer at its height before saying anything. No one can listen when their emotions are at their height.
*Try not to take it personally. Their anger may not be about you. Even if it is, becoming defensive only makes it worse.
*Don’t tell your partner to calm down. They will likely feel that you believe their anger is unjustified or unacceptable for some reason. Asking questions and empathizing is the way to help them to manage their anger even if it is directed at you.

Don’t minimize your partner’s feelings. Be there with them in their feelings -listen for understanding. Your partner wants to be known by you. Go forth and Be wonderful! Try this today.

Posted by Lynda in Healthier Marriages and tagged with ,

Ask Great Questions

Learning to ask great questions:
One of the most important parts of being a partner is to be in tune with your partner. this means that you need to know them. This is an ongoing process. Do you notice that when you first met until now that both you and your partner have changed over time. You may have adjusted your roles together, you may have re-thought your priorities or your values, you may have become more sensitive in different areas of your relationship and you may have developed one part of your personality compared to others, resulting in a change. We are continually influenced by our experiences in life which means we are constantly changing. Our current challenges in our circumstances change us. What we focus on, changes our thinking. And on I could go. Some couples believe they “know” each other and cease to have a sense of curiosity. The above reasons means that knowing our partner is an ongoing project. To do this well, you need to be able to ask good questions.

Asking good questions goes back to our school days with the open ended questions using how, what, who and why. The why is kind of iffy as it will often provoke defensiveness in your partner if they become triggered about the topic. So rather then asking why are you thinking that, you can ask, how did you come to think that or better yet, Tell me how you got there. Using stems of sentences such as tell me or share with me are good ones for couples. Make sure you are focussing on their experience and not just the facts of the matter so that they can share deeply with you. For instance if you are having a dialogue about a work issue, there are facts to share and then there is your experience or how it made you feel. People who ask great questions know they need to ask follow-up questions to flesh out what is really going on. Even the phrase- tell me more works. When you don’t really get what is going on – don’t just nod but ask a follow up question or paraphrase what you think you heard and then listen as they correct you or add to what they originally said. Make sure you are not fixing the situation – that is not the object of the dialogue most of the time. It is about being known and understood by the other. Masters of relationships know how to course correct when they begin to get off track in a dialogue. Develop the skills of being able to do this. Have statements at the ready such as “I wish I had not said that because it took away from what you were trying to tell me – can we go back?” Some use humour as a distraction and are able to go back and ask another question that works to course correct. Of course we know from research that holding your partner’s hand works to bring down your negative physiological responses and creates some safety. This too can help you course correct. Also be okay with silence, especially if your partner is more introverted. They will sometimes need to go inside and figure out what is going on. Be there with them and wait until they are able to express an answer. Another good question when you can see there is something distressing your partner but they can’t quite pin point the reason, asking “if you had to guess” can sometimes help them to find their answer to the distress. You need to get good at this. Go forth and be wonderful today!

Connecting with Your Partner

Do you notice that some couples really have a wonderful connection with each other? They are attuned to the nuances of each other’s moods and have a level of tolerance for their partner’s emotions that others who grew up in an emotional dismissing home may not have. As the outsider in this couple bubble, you feel very comfortable in their presence and for me, it is a delight to experience.

Other couples may come in to my office and long for this securely attached model of relationship where there is a close bonding but they end up feeling as if they are roommates over time. They feel a sense of loneliness which can be quite profound when you are in a relationship. Research lets us know that a felt sense of loneliness is experienced in the body as physical pain.

It is interesting to me that individuals or couples tolerate this state in their relationship for a long time – often for years before doing something about it. We have so much great reserach that gives us some simple skills to make changes for the better in our connection with one another. You can do this as an individual or as a couple. You can seek out counselling or you can learn these skills online. I have put together a researched based set of connections skills that I know can make a big difference, if you consistently use them. Give your relationship the kind of care that it needs, or at least as much as you do your car care! You can find more information on this site for the “Relationship Reboot” Course. I hope it serves you well.

What Will Your Legacy Say About You?

Remember the story of Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol”? For a brief time, he was able to see the end of his life and see the consequences of his living. And then he miraculously was able to come back to his present and make changes in his today, in order to make the ending of his life what he wanted it to be. Although we may not be able to do that, it is important for us to consider what we want to have done in our lives and who we want to have been at the end of our lives. How we live in those small daily increments makes the ending happen one way or another. Doing this exercise helps to provide a compass point to where we are going at all times. This is not only important to do as individuals but also as a couple.  As a couple, it is good to look at who you want to have been at the end of your lives. Some possible questions to tease out 2 or 3 words that might represent your words to live by might be the following. What do you want to be able to say about how you were with each other? What do you want to say about how well you loved each other? What do you want to say about how you treated others that you connected with as a couple? How were you with your family? How did you honour your differences? What do you want to say about your legacy or your service to others as a couple? What do you want to say about how you lived each day? Take some couple time to choose 2 or 3 words that represent how you will live your life together this year. If your words are different, find a way to incorporate both because as you know, through synergy, you are better together then apart. Put your words in a prominent place and commit to looking at them daily and checking in with each other. It is the way to transform your life as Scrooge did. Go forth and be wonderful!

Posted by Lynda in Healthier Marriages and tagged with ,

Gift suggestions

In my family we are looking at gift lists for Christmas 2018. I just got one today. You might look at this list of meaningful gifts that will open your heart to being a better partner!

Christmas Gift suggestions:

To your Partner: renewed commitment to love well.    
To a Child: Good modelling
To a Friend – your heart
To your Enemy – forgiveness
To God – gratitude
To Yourself- respect

Today’s Challenge:

How can you show a renewed commitment to loving your partner? What actions will show this? How will you feel differently because of these actions?

How can you be a good example this day for your child or another (Teach, have more patience, be a good model, love well)? How will you feel after taking action?

How can you show your heart in words or actions to a friend (send a supportive text, buy a small gift that says you were thinking of them – take some time to connect with where they are in their life)? How will you feel after taking these actions?

Who do you need to forgive and let go of the baggage of 2018 as we move into 2019? Look at a previous blog about forgiveness and how to let go well. How will you feel when you have forgiven?

How can you put the habit of gratitude in your life in 2018 and moving forward into 2019? How do you feel when you are grateful?

How can you respect yourself (self care, more sleep time, meeting your goals…). How will you make the change in your calendar to do this self care? How will you feel when you do this?

Enjoy this exercise. Go forth and be wonderful!

Book Review of The 5 Languages of Love by Gary Chapman

What are the Five Love Languages? This is a quick summary of the book, The 5 Languages of Love, by Gary Chapman. The information in this book is important to everyone who loves and from my perspective, the book needs to be purchased and put on your bookshelf to reread over time. It is a simple read and a skinny book, which works well for busy couples. I cannot recommend it enough.

Dr. Chapman explains how important it is for couples to understand how they each both give and receive love. I have found that couples have come to my office who actually love each other but one or the others “feels” unloved. Dr. Chapman’s research showed that this occurs when couples are missing the mark with each others language of love. They do not think the same or feel the same about giving and receiving love. One part of the couple might be quite astounded at the information that their partner feels unloved, believing that they have been doing this and doing that consistently in the name of love. Unfortunately, although their partner likely felt appreciation, they did not feel loved by these actions. You can see that knowing your partner’s language of love is important information to be able to love your partner well and have a solid foundation for the partnership to go forward and to keep each other’s “love tank” filled.


The Book Describes the Following Five Love Languages:

1. Words of Affirmation

If this is your primary love language, you feel well loved when your partner uses words of affirmation, love, and appreciation consistently in your relationship.

2. Acts of Service

If this is your primary love language, you feel well loved when your partner takes the time and effort to do something for you. Whatever your regular role is in the relationship does not count in the same way. So if your partner normally cooks and you normally clean the kitchen and dishes, that is not it. But if you offer to watch the kids while your partner goes to the gym or you fill up the gas in your partner’s car or other acts that are not part of your role, that feels like love to you.

3. Affection

If this is your primary love language, you feel well loved when your partner uses affectionate touching on a consistent basis. Snuggling on the couch, Holding hands and connecting in every way physically reassures you that you are loved.

4. Quality Time

If this is your primary love language, you feel most loved when you are spending time together, connecting. Your partner is fully present and engaged with you in whatever activity you are sharing, no matter how trivial. This confirms your connection and you feel especially loved.

5. Gifts

If this is your primary love language, you feel most loved when your partner gives you a gift. It is not about the size of the gift. It could be as simple as a card or your favorite chocolate bar. The meaning is that while you were away from me, you were thinking of me and that makes me feel especially loved.

It is important that if you do not have the book edition that has the test within it, that you go online and take the test at www.5lovelanguages.com/profile. It is sometimes hard for us to decipher our partner’s language of love as well as our own and so this assessment is helpful. Remember that we often appreciate all the gestures of love but we will often have a primary language with a secondary language that goes straight to our heart and says, “you are loved”. Remember too that your partner’s language of love might be quite foreign to your language of love and you may need to program your phone to remember to use that language of love until it becomes a habit.

If your relationship is in trouble, this information is one of the most important pieces of information to help repair the relationship and restore the security of the love relationship. It also helps a relationship that is pretty good to become great. Get the book, read it and apply it in all kinds of places in your life. But in the meantime, you can start to practice being a great lover with the brief information offered here. Go Forth and BE Wonderful!

Overwhelmed by the Challeges 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 in the telling (not blaming) 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!

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? These different beliefs will cause us to have different reactions inside. Other tendencies such as taking things personally when others are reacting 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 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 They continue to suffer even though these events occurred many years ago. Again, a reminder that what we focus on gets amplified. When we focus on our negative experiences in order to confirm our negative beliefs about people it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. I like the book, “Don’t sweat the small stuff”. It challenges us to do as Hafiz suggests and to simply let go. We often 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. Let go – make room for more joy! Journal your way through this.

 

Posted by Lynda in Healthier Marriages and tagged with , ,

Creating We-ness

It is important to your partnership that you pay attention to the level of your we-ness. Some couples have difficulty with differentiation and others have difficulty with we-ness. If you have difficulty with we-ness, it is important to attend to this in your partnership. There are always transitions in relationships and when you are having a transition and you are distant with each other, your relationship can become troubled. So if you do not naturally have interests in common, what do you do? You create interests that you can both connect with. You may need to be sacrificial in this when your partner is into something that is very important to him or her and you are not interested in the least in that area. Couples who do not pay attention to this can find themselves separating and then the person who is not wanting the separation suddenly understands that they needed to attend to what was important to their partner. Many times it is too late for their relationship. Do whatever it takes to be interested in things together.

Remember that being known is akin to being loved. When a friend is interested in what we love, it makes us feel cared for. If you have been a parent, you may have watched many a baseball game or other game that you did not necessarily enjoy. I am a grandmother and I am on my second round of baseball, knowing that when I go, it is important to my grandson and my love for him, that I am there. There is a child in all of us that needs the validation of what we do and the knowledge that our interests are important to our partner just because they are important to us. Cheering us on, telling others how great we are at whatever it is, cements our partnership at any age.
Then if we are fortunate enough to genuinely love things together, we are blessed. Rather then looking at the circumstances that suggest that we are so opposite, look at all the things that you do enjoy together. For instance, a good roasted coffee, enjoying a sunset, having dinner out. Sometimes it will be necessary to compromise. For instance, when one person is an active outdoor bike person and the other is a walker, planning a holiday can be a challenge. One has to get creative. Perhaps a walking European holiday with bike rentals when you stop at a town or village you take time to ride around exploring on your bike. You can think of lots of possibilities if you never give up. The couples who have lost their we-ness have given up looking for possibilities. Remember I am not saying that you must convert to being your partner, just that you find ways to increase the we-ness in your relationship. Choose something today to move towards we-ness. Go forth and be wonderful!