Couples Counseling Articles

relationship

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

Stories That Connect Us

When we’re in a relationship, it’s easy to get stuck on the stories we tell ourselves.

When these stories are based in frustration and fear, they live inside us and are rarely spoken out loud.

We lose ourselves in them and the moment we do, we shut out the people we care about most.

Actually, we shut out everyone because once we get caught up in the story, we’re no longer present with people and the world around us.

We become overwhelmed or distracted and it’s hard to function optimally.

When these internal conversations get big enough, we can’t hold them anymore and we might feel compelled to share them with others (aka venting or gossiping).

When a relationship is in high distress, the storylines we tell ourselves are often disparaging and untrue. Because we’ve told them so many times, it’s hard to believe they could be otherwise.

Sometimes we resort to telling stories about our partner that include name-calling.

It’s a downward spiral and our brain finds it almost impossible to step out of that kind of thinking.

As long as we stay in this limited state, we miss out on authentic relationships with people…especially the ones we care about most.

It keeps us trapped and small. Of course, we can be polite, but there’s little room for the expansiveness of Love.

Recognizing and speaking our storylines out loud along with

the meaning behind them and

the emotions that fuel them

morphs into compassion, presence, and connection.

Young happy couple

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.

Working From Bed

After binge watching The Crown a while back, I read that Winston Churchill frequently ran Britain from bed.

He’d stay there till 1pm with his typewriter and Scotch, reading and firing off memos to his ministers.

I’ve always loved that idea and considering where we are these days…..I can tell you…..it’s …awesome!

It’s also luxurious and feels REALLY GOOD. (Minus the Scotch – ONLY because I can’t consume alcohol and work at the same time!)

Where is she going with this?…. you ask.

Well…..I want to remind you, that love and connection feel REALLY GOOD too!

If that feel-good sensation is missing in your relationship, consider this…..

It’s always confusing when partners experience emotional pain AND profess to love each other.

Look a little closer and you’ll notice a sense of unsafe-ness or lack of trust. It happens when we feel

  • Judged
  • Invisible
  • Unappreciated
  • Unheard
  • Rejected
  • Overwhelmed
  • Not-good enough or
  • Shamed.

It’s also there when we feel

  • Hurt
  • Abandoned
  • Unimportant
  • Unwanted
  • Isolated
  • Alone
  • Disconnected or
  • Desperate.

ALL of these emotions are real and reflect a lack of emotional safety and trust.

This is when our hearts hurt, our brains light up like Christmas trees and our central nervous system goes into overdrive.

This is a UNIVERSAL human experience….and happens automatically when we feel unsafe.

Our bodies (and our brains) respond with the Fight, Flight or Freeze response.

No matter who we are, what we do for a living or where we come from…. our brains and hearts ALWAYS want to know:

  • Are you there for me?
  • Am I safe with you?
  • How are we doing?
  • What’s next? and
  • Where do we go from here?

If the answer to any of these questions is ambiguous or a flat out ’No’…… bad things start to happen….from the inside out.

This year, more than any other, our emotions and reactions have been on steroids.

So give yourself – and those around you – a break.

Do whatever you need to do and make mental Wellness YOUR top priority for 2021.

That means committing to self-care by…

  • Getting enough sleep.
  • Eating clean food.
  • Hydrating often.
  • Moving your body.
  • Tapping into wisdom.
  • Having a spiritual connection and…. above all else
  • Cultivating relationships.

If you can’t do them all – then simply pick ONE and start.

This crazy, crisis-filled year has been a challenge for everyone – including the entire Wellness Team!

  • We’ve learned a lot and Self-Care is one of the things we’re keenly aware of – now more than ever.
  • That’s why I want to share a few important details with you before taking my own, personal long-awaited and well-deserved time off.

Our offices will have very limited coverage beginning Monday December 21 thru Friday, January 1 inclusive. We will be back at our desks Monday January 4. We will check email and return calls during that time – but on a very limited basis.

Because what we do is so important to our clients and their families, it’s a priority for the Wellness team to take some solid time to rest and celebrate with our own families.

Please plan accordingly.

We appreciate YOU more than words can say and want only the BEST for you.

We wish you a wonderful Holiday Season and encourage you to take good care of your (PRECIOUS) self and the people you care about!

Stay safe and stay healthy!