How To Make Your Relationship Work Posts

Tips for Getting Unstuck

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

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

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

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

Your Best in Relationship

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

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

Defensiveness in Relationships

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

Spice Up Your Relationship

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

Jack Sprat could eat no fat…

Jack Sprat could eat no fat…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marriage Advise from Real Life Inspiration

     My friend, John Walter Wilson (Jack), who was 93 years old, died a couple of weeks ago and his funeral was on Saturday. As I reflected on his life and heard from his daughter and grandchildren who spoke of him, I was reminded of him as an example of how to live life well and fully. He was an RCMP officer and in his adult life he really paid attention to the study of who people were and how to bring out the best in them. In the story of his life, there were lots of examples of him looking for the best in people and focussing on that (even for those as extreme as murderers). He took time with people, honouring them with the patience of going at their pace. He was collaborative and culturally sensitive in his work and life. He was well known for living his values with integrity, something that is often missing these days. You could count on his values (his daughter recalled that his real life stories reflected the values in Bible stories). He lived with a compass point that was true. In his work and life he was somehow able to balance both justice and mercy. His life showed values of kindness and he liked to encourage people. He was interested in everyone he met and therefore could strike up a conversation with almost anyone. That quality of him was important to me, as he never failed to encourage me and was interested in how I was doing throughout my graduate degree studies. He knew how to make people feel cared for. He was also a practical helper to those who needed him. I was a recipient of that helping at a time when I really needed it. Those who were intimate in his life experienced him as amazingly positive. The nurses at the hospital would love him as he was filled with gratitude and humour as they cared for him through near death experiences. He loved the good things in life including good food! He relished family and friend gatherings. He loved music and had 1000’s of songs on his iPad and computer (maybe that contributed to his positive mood!). Right up to his death, he had the latest Apple products and could use them all (something I am in awe of)! 
The way that he did marriage was rather wonderful. As with all marriages, his was not always a fantasy bed of roses, but he brought out the best in both himself and his wife. He treated his wife with honour and faithfulness. He was a teaser and you could see him make her laugh even after 60 years of marriage. Whenever the opportunity presented itself, they would be holding hands. He bragged about her and her characteristics any time you would let him. He called herS  ‘Sweetie’ and during his recent years of ill health he remained grateful to her for all she did for him. He talked about his marriage in glowing terms, showing us all in his every day actions towards his wife what real love What could we learn from Jack on how to live and love well together? I believe my friend’s advice from his real life experience would be:
1. Believe the best in people – especially each other (have a positive sentiment override) – bring out the best in each other
2. Put love and relationships as your highest priority in life – Take the time and effort to be interested in each other’s lives as well as other’s in your path
3. Practice gratitude in whatever circumstances you are in
4. Enjoy every moment of life that you can – live life to the fullest together
5. Reach out to others in a helping way – don’t be insulated and inward – share yourselves
6. Take responsibility for your mood in relationships – enjoy the gifts of music – Music lifts your mood
7. Have a sense of humour in your relationship – make each other laugh – have fun
8. Brag about what you love about your partner to others – look for ways to do this
9. Touch each other often, hold hands and have pet names for each other
10. Live with integrity – be a partner that can always be counted on to be there, it makes it easier to be well loved by your partner and as well as others

My friend was such an inspiration to me and I hope he will be to you, especially in your marriage! Be inspired today and go forth and be wonderful!



Relationship Lessons from the Season of Easter

Happy Easter everyone!
I love this time of year where I live. The season really lives up to the meaning of Easter and rebirth. I got out my linen wear and am no longer going to wear the heavy black of winter. The Hyacinths that are in my kitchen are giving off their rich scent of life, helping to create an atmosphere of gratitude. It is good. There are many possible positive influences of this season for your relationship.
For instance, as I saw couples recently, there was a real need for rebirth in their relationships, both from a hope perspective and a change perspective. If this describes you, consider embracing the needed change. Consider it a gift of being in your particular relationship. Celebrate it. Decide to focus on hope, knowing that you are in control of how hopeful you feel. Consider the rich scents of the budding and blooming flowers and the fresh scent of growing grasses when you step outside in the springtime. What kind of a relationship atmosphere do you contribute to? Are you able to let go of the small stuff and give up your control issues for the richness of an environment of love? We were looking at the consequences of sacrificial love (another theme of Easter) when the timing for change is not at hand. Or the consequences of anger when we realize that the timing for change is not right now. Doing something out of love creates the environment inside and outside that we crave. Celebrate when you are able to choose something out of sacrificial love.
As I get older, I realize that the seasons are important symbols of what we need in our lives at various times. Spring is a time of planting and enjoying the fruits of last year’s labour when the bulbs come up beautifully and without much effort. What can you see in your relationship that you have been working on for a season of time that is now going more smoothly and giving you some contentment. Look at how far you have come together. Celebrate that! Look at some great things that have come out of your relationship. Maybe someone else has benefitted from your struggles and your commitment through thick and thin. Maybe you have grown some great kids together or built a home together. Celebrate your family and children. This season is a time to celebrate as well as look for ways you can rebirth your relationship! What do you need to commit to this Easter? Talk to your partner about what you might like to change and ask for his or her encouragement. Go forth and be wonderful!

Peace as a Choice for Your Relationship

I agree with Michelle Weiner-Davis (author of “Divorce Busting” and many other relationship books) that telling everything in a relationship in the name of honesty does not work well. Sometimes choosing to keep the peace or to let something go is a good idea. This is related to John Gottman’s research which says that there needs to be a 5 to 1 ratio of positive interactions to negative in a healthy relationship. If your mindset (particularly in these dark months of winter) is more negative, making the choice to keep back some of that negativity is a good thing. We tend to focus on the negative when our lives are out of balance. For instance, the brain processes positive and negative differently. Positive things are processed through the hippocampus while negative things are processed through the amygdala. When we are sleep deprived (an astounding number of North American’s are sleep deprived) the hippocampus is directly affected. Therefore, the brain recalls more of the negative in our lives. So there are lots of reasons including the dark winter months that have us accessing the negative in our relationships.

When I am suggesting that you don’t share everything that you are thinking, I don’t mean that you will stop sharing your thoughts or yourself with each other but that you will keep things in balance. I am also not saying that you will perseverate on the negative and just keep simmering quietly about the issue. This really defeats the whole purpose. You might consider focussing on the positive in your relationship because where you focus WILL get amplified. You might consider turning your eyes on yourself, instead of your partner and look at the kind of partner you aspire to be. This may be helpful in “letting go” of the issue. A relationship is a living thing and needs to experience happiness. It is a journey and you will have other opportunities to make the same complaint. Balance is the key.

So where might you find some difficulties with doing this? For some couples who have challenges with emotional management skills, this idea is difficult to carry out. When they feel emotion, they also feel compelled to share the reasons for the intensity of their emotions. I have experienced some couples, who despite the consequences and repeated promises to manage their emotions before dumping them into the couple relationship, continue to do so, to the point the relationship breaks down permanently. If you find yourself in this category, and you have been consistently acting this out in your relationship, find a way that works for you to manage your emotions. If you consider that you have tried and tried to manage your emotions, consulting with a therapist to work through a change is a good idea.

Another helpful strategy is becoming aware of your vulnerabilities from the past that tend to make the present more intense. For instance, if your early childhood included circumstances where you were not listened to, this can spill into your relationship today. So when your partner is not fully focussed on you, you may experience today’s challenge with your partner in light of your early experience as well and feel more intensely negative then if you did not have that early experience. Being able to understand your vulnerabilities and being able to self soothe will be helpful when you are aiming to have some peace in your relationship. There will certainly be other opportunities to share your wish for your partner to change in this regard. Balance would mean that you will consider waiting for another opportunity, not that you will bury it and simmer. For those of you that regularly avoid confrontation, knowing your vulnerabilities will mean that you will balance by promising yourself a specific day that you will bring up your thoughts and desires regarding the relationship, negative or positive. When that day comes, you will follow through.

What are the benefits of “keeping the peace”? There are so many. Crowding out the negative leaves room for joy and playfulness. Connection and bonding together becomes so much easier when there is peace between you. Making positive memories becomes easier. Meeting each others needs becomes easier. Your attachment feels more secure. And all of these benefits translate into wonderful biological benefits as well. It is worth it to grow into this behaviour. Go forth and be wonderful in your relationship today!




Making Relationship Goals Successfully for 2014

Christmas is over and you are now likely looking at some goals for the year. You may have made and broken some New Years Resolutions already. Yikes! It is true that for most people, New Years Resolutions don’t have any staying power. An alternative way to mark the fact that we would like to have a new start in 2014 and to mark our growth is to have a 3 month project rather then a resolution for the year. Because a great relationship is our theme for this blog, having a 3 month project for your relationship is a great idea. What is it that you need to be or do differently that would make a big difference in your lives together? We often know exactly what that something is, but if not, ask your partner what he or she believes would make the biggest difference in your lives, if you worked on it for the next 3 months. Then together see what you could work on as a team in order to improve your relationship for the better this year. After you have set these goals for the next 3 months, imagine how you each could sabotage your goals over the next 3 months and what you might do about helping that not to happen? How can you support each other in your goals? Ask for what you might need. And depending on the level of the security in your attachment together, you may also help to keep each other accountable. There is one more part of goal setting that turns out to be very important. That is to change the goal from a good idea or wish to an understanding of the meaning of the goal and why you would work hard at making the goal happen. The way you do this is to separately write down why you would carry out these goals – what does it mean to you? How would you be different in your relationship and how would your relationship be different then it is now? And what would that mean to you? Once you have had some thinking time and have a good picture of that, share this with each other. Write your goals down and the why beside it. The writing down is an important step in the process. Find a place to post this that will remind you what you are trying to achieve. Checking in with each other in order to support each other in your goals is a great way to make a connection with each other. Don’t offer advice unless asked but do give support for what your partner is trying to achieve. Go forth and be wonderful in 2014!