Couples Counseling Articles

Couples

Creating a Place For Peace

Most relationships end up pretty far from where they start out.

Life dishes out lots of challenges, speed bumps and misunderstandings. But when partners persist and are open to change, they can create a safe space for peace and connection.

This doesn’t mean we lead a problem-free life. Rather, life’s challenges can bring us closer and allow us to share what may sometimes feel like a heavy load.

This perspective – leaning into difficult situations together and without struggle – also allows things to untangle in ways that may seem unfamiliar.

Often, the problem is how we relate to each other in everyday challenges and unknowingly step into negative cycles that disconnect us from peace and the people we love.

We humans work hard to get away from rather ordinary yet uncomfortable feelings and situations.

It could be something as simple as being annoyed or hurt by a partner’s comment and leaving the room as frustration bubbles up. Anything to get away and stop those awful feelings.

It takes only a fraction of a second for your brain to interpret the comment and weave a story around it.

In fact, your brain might weave another story around the situation…and then another, and another…making the situation in your mind even more vivid while your frustration turns to rage.

You might be able to tuck it away for a while but sometimes it’s too late and the tension boils over.

If you’re super creative, you’ll find new ways to self-soothe and try to hang in there until things blow over.

But they don’t blow over. Not really. And they don’t go away.

They go underground and linger until the next annoying comment fires up your brain and the negative cycle starts all over again.

Blame is Contagious

We may love someone but the way we talk to them (or about them) isn’t always loving.

Sometimes, we talk to people we love in ways that are largely inconsistent.

Maybe it has something to do with our limited perception.

It’s tempting to blame and believe the stories we tell.

Blame makes us feel better.

Blame allows us to zoom past our own emotions and discount accountability.

It’s so much easier to point a finger and hold the other person responsible.

Blame discharges anger quickly and doesn’t require any effort to figure out what’s really going on.

These blaming conversations are contagious. 

They’re also the fastest way to embed painful narratives in our relationships.

Space and Relationships

When I saw the NASA Webb images last month, I felt a deep sense of humility.

This new chapter of scientific exploration takes my breath away and some things came into focus….things I probably should have understood but didn’t.

Not really.

Here’s what became clear for me:

  • In the scheme of things, Earth is remarkably insignificant. (But it’s all we’ve got.)
  • In our own lives, we typically think of empty time and space as unproductive – something to be used or filled as quicky as possible.
  • By filling time and space to capacity, we lose sight of ourselves.
  • We’re on autopilot, busy and distracted.
  • On the rare occasion when we pause, we find it uncomfortable rather than delicious.

In fact, it can be unnerving and can affect our relationships deeply.

We search for something to say….something to do. Anything to avoid the emptiness.

What if, instead, we viewed empty time and space as a cauldron of creative potential…. something that deserves our attention.

Devotion.

Once we understand even the tiniest speck of emptiness contains pure potentiality…pure creativity… we could start to build a framework of value around emptiness.

It’s everywhere.

Emptiness allows us to make sense of words.

For example, there’s empty space between certain letters on the screen and….as we read, that emptiness gives birth to meaning.

Likewise, the space between musical notes and the pause between beautiful phrases allows us to enjoy a symphony or a love song.

The pure potential of empty time and space shows up in our relationships too.

Stillness reveals what’s inside us.

Sometimes, it’s spontaneous joy.

Other times unwelcome emotions and unspeakable thoughts bubble up. They launch us into behaviors we later regret.

Perhaps it’s equally important to explore our inner space.

Because when we turn away from emptiness, we turn away from co-creating our future.

Relationship Tools May Seem Important

Relationship tools seem important….

Yet, the essence of relating lies in non-judgmental curiosity.

This is a new idea for most of us and it’s simple but not easy.

It points to heart-centered listening.

When we learn to practice this approach with a heart-centered attitude, our relationship takes care of itself.

This clear concept can be written down in a few sentences and covers a lifetime.

It’s the seed for empathy, compassion and connection.

Relating is not so much about using tools to figure things out, rather it’s in how you approach the relationship itself.

When you show up curious and willing to observe with an open mind, things start to shift.

You show up moment by moment ensuring that you are not trying to change or control anyone or anything.

A little clumsy at first, you start to refine your approach and your attitude.

You withhold judgment and criticism (even the kind you consider constructive).

You observe yourself and stay present.

There will be challenges every day and some days will be easier than others.

You will have disagreeable conversations and have to work through them.

But over time, relating to your partner with curiosity becomes the new normal.

Together you explore, create new experiences, get comfortable and your relationship starts to change.

It’s Worth Considering

In a safe, intimate partnership, there is nothing more important than approaching each other with an open mind and a vulnerable heart.

The moment we seed our interactions with defenses and demands, we are no longer relating.

It’s subtle, yet over time, we can see how easily and often we project images and comparisons onto our relationships.

When we show up open, without labels or expectations, things start to shift.

The approach is simply to allow; to relax and show up as if you’ve never done it before.

You genuinely don’t know what’s going to happen.

You’re showing up as your unique and original self… willing to relate… not knowing what is going to happen in this moment… or the next.

Your mind is open and your heart is available.

You’re naturally curious and able to experience your partner.

Letting go of all those thoughts of what your relationship should be, is a radical idea.

One worth considering.

Tis the Season: Love, Resentment and Happiness

We all have decisions to make around careers, love, and partnerships.

And making good decisions makes us happy.

It’s a simple concept, but not easy.

Because when life is stressful, it’s hard to know where to begin. Good decisions can seem out of reach.

We might doubt ourselves or think of others as the source of our confusion and unhappiness.

Take a closer look and we can see why.

We are social creatures who are hard-wired to connect, and our happiness depends largely on our relationship with others.

Without love, friends, and community, it’s hard to be happy.

Continue Reading Tis the Season: Love, Resentment and Happiness

Communication, Creativity and Contradictions

Reading any news headline makes me think deeply about the source of turmoil.

We can pretend things will get back to normal soon.

We can tell ourselves that our lives and the world are not forever changed. 

We can continue the exhausting human habit of resisting pain and bracing ourselves for (mostly) imaginary disaster.

We can even continue to relate to each other as before; tiptoeing around the under-currents of anger and tension. 

We have a choice; we can hold back or we can speak up. 

What keeps us from speaking up at home AND in the world, I believe, is fear. 

It also prevents us from loving well.

The moment we recognize our emotions as the organizing principle of truth and we’re willing to speak them out loud…..

We’re inclined to take more risks and make a ruckus.

That’s when our relationships are transformed.

Spoiler alert – speaking our emotions is not the same as venting, blaming, criticizing or acting out.

Rather, it’s a courageous and messy process brimming with creativity, communication and contradiction. 

One way or another, it seems we’re all headed in the direction of more truth-telling.

Either we embrace the shift or we keep doing things the old way.

Isn’t it good to know we have a choice?

How Do We Make Things Better?

We don’t think of it often but, culture defines nations, neighborhoods, families …and corporate entities.

Starbucks and Dunkin’ have different cultures, for example.

Families differ culturally too…

And, every marriage merges two cultures.

When we spent Thanksgiving with one of my relatives, my dad would grumble all the way home.

It makes no sense,” he would say with an eye-roll, “Why would anyone serve Jello at a holiday meal?”

Culture is a set of ideas that affect our behavior in certain ways.

It’s shared information and values….stored mostly in our brains.

(Yes, it’s also stored in libraries and museums.)

Some of these stored ideas are clear and explicit. Others, not so much.

They’re vague and few ideas last for long.

Most simply disappear.

But when an idea is exceptional (good or bad) it gets embedded and resistant to change.

Like long-lasting relationships, long-lived ideas start to shift too.

When the shift happens…and it always does…perhaps the most important question to ask is,

How do we make things better?

Couples, Communication and Confusion

It can happen while sitting around sipping an extraordinary Australian cabernet….

Or between episodes of Bridgerton…..

Or even while giving simple directions to someone you love.

Things can get awkward and frustrating because communication is fundamentally flawed.

Even the best communication involves abstraction and guesswork on the part of both people.

It’s filled with errors on the part of the communicator and misunderstandings by the recipient.

Messages shared and messages received are rarely the same.

And, over time…patterns develop.

Communicating with any human being depends on putting an abstraction, or thought, into words as precisely as possible.

At first glance the recipient thinks s/he understands….but take a closer look… and you’ll see that they have to guess.

Does s/he mean exactly this? OR Does s/he mean exactly THIS?

The brain gets confused and it happens so fast that we don’t notice.

Even if we do….we rarely take time to check things out …because we’re not doing scientific research here…right? Instead, we move on.

The brain makes a quick interpretation and we make our decision from there.

Seems simple enough, right? But hold on.

We also ‘make meaning’ out of these new interpretations.

If there’s a meaning or interpretation we don’t like….well….the brain can take us on a harrowing roller coaster ride full of emotional ups and downs.

That’s when we develop a false sense of certainty….and the brain makes up even MORE stories we believe to be true.

It all happens in seconds and when the stories fit our narratives and beliefs…

…we get frustrated… rarely show mercy….and find someone to blame.

Sometimes, we even blame ourselves.

Perhaps…these self-created interpretations get in the way for all of us.

These Essentials Are The Solution… But They’re Not For Everyone

Problems are conflicts of ideas and perception.

I may have an idea and see things one way. That means something to me.

My partner sees things another way….. that means something to him.

There’s a good possibility we’ll fuss over it.

This kind of conflict happens to all couples and most often…..we move on.

Because most problems are uninteresting and work themselves out.

But there are times when a couple gets stuck in a conversation that goes around in circles.

It’s a never ending cycle and can be about something major….or seemingly insignificant.

A negative pattern can develop in the relationship that is so profound, it brings up dread.

Oh, no. Here we go again!

Once embedded in the relationship, this cyclical pattern can go on for years, even decades.

Try deflecting it with silence or politeness and it works for a while.

Then comes the inevitable jab.

It hurts.

For lots of people, it’s easier to just take the jab; stay quiet and wait.

It keeps things tidy. It also keeps things from getting better.

The ultimate solution requires courage; taking off the mask and stepping into possibility.

It involves taking risks and speaking up….simply….creatively.

These are the essentials that get us UNSTUCK and move things forward.

And this is where we find passion, connection, emotional safety and trust.