Restore your connection
What is a misery stabilizer? It is a behaviour or activity that helps us avoid, deny, distract or move away from pain within ourselves or in our relationships. Since pain or vulnerability is uncomfortable, we might choose a “misery stabilizer” because it is pleasurable. What is your favourite activity or pleasure that keeps you from facing a relational
issue? Is it Netflix, Facebook, your phone, shopping, kids, friends, gambling, reading, sleeping, cleaning, exercise, food, hobbies, prescription drugs, alcohol, sexual compulsivity, or “busyness”?
Why are they harmful? They may stabilize your relationship; however, keep you from the opportunity of intimacy or deep engagement. If you want more passion and connection flowing in your relationship, you and your partner need to remove the crutches that hold in you in inertia.
John and Mary have had a long term relationship. Mary likes her job a lot. In fact, she could be at her desk 24/7 doing the real estate deals that she loves. She enjoys meeting the potential buyers, taking the folks to different homes, watching their faces light up as they describe their experiences going through the homes. With all that excitement and enthusiasm, she spends her time at the office and with the other real estate agents drawing up contracts and closing deals. She is filled with fulfillment and satisfaction of happy families moving in their new homes. This is her professional life and she loves it.
Mary has been spending more and more time focusing on her work life than at home. When she is at home, she is reminded of her poor sex life. Her husband John doesn’t touch her like he used to. In fact, he has been going through some depression. He was let go a year ago due to a downsizing of his company. Unfortunately, John is overqualified for the many positions that he has applied for and feels useless in the world and at home. Unable to offer much provision for his family, he spends a few pleasurable hours a day playing tennis. He has always loved tennis and is good at it. The sport gets his endorphins ignited, while experiencing the positive feelings of something he can excel at. When focused on tennis, he is not thinking about how much he feels like a failure within himself and around his wife.
John’s tennis partner is a woman. They have known each other for years. She was married to another fellow that used to play tennis with John. They are now going through a divorce. After her and John play their usual round, they meet for coffee and she shares the updates on her divorce proceedings, all the messiness, sorrow, and confusion. John can relate to her on some level at this time of his life. Because of the basic need for human connection, they form a bond. He tells her about his innermost world and she listens and empathizes. She commiserates on her challenges and he offers support. They are connected.
So, what are the misery stabilizers in this couple? Mary’s misery stabilizer is her work. She receives numerous accolades and fulfillment with her clients and work experiences. She is avoiding the pain and loneliness of not being in a fun, positive relationship with John. His sad, morose, complaining demeanor registers as a cue for danger in her nervous system. This brings up a feeling of discomfort within. She has little tolerance for anything negative in her outer or inner environment. In her early childhood, if she were sad, her parents immediately dismissed her feelings of sadness and said, “Oh it’s not that bad”. Any negative feelings were denied or suppressed. Trying to always be positive, they claimed that pain and suffering were a ‘waste of time’ and encouraged her to focus on her achievements. High achievers themselves, she learned from them to move away from negative feelings and focus on something pleasurable.
John had a parent who was depressed, his mother. She coped with life by drinking alcohol. John grew up in home of feeling neglected and ignored. As a child, he learned from his mother to look for something on the outside to mask and soothe the pain. Craving attention as a kid, he carries this unmet need and low self-esteem into his adulthood. John’s drug of choice is an outside relationship when dealing with uncomfortable feelings. With Mary spending more time at work, his feelings of neglect, loneliness, and unworthiness are triggered. His tennis partner gives him attention, and then he feels comfortable and okay. However, it doesn’t resolve his situation with Mary, as it is a diversion from her. Not revealing to Mary all of his intimate conversations that he is having with his tennis partner is a recipe for an “emotional affair” potentially leading to a sexual affair. Ultimately, this could cause more harm, hurt and betrayal in the future.
As we can see, misery stabilizers contribute to the creation of an “Invisible Divorce”. Even though the misery stabilizers make the situation a little more bearable and comfortable, they don’t offer a great connected relationship. Taking a stance to turn around, face a partner and deal with the misery in the relationship requires courage and commitment. Talking about the truth of ones’ innermost feelings with each other in a respectful, loving and constructive way is key!
If you are serious about changing a relationship, you will need to cut back altogether or stop anything that emotionally removes you from the reality of it. Putting away the diversions, turning around and facing your partner may not be easy, but you will be happy that you did.
Why do couples bicker? Why does it start in the first place? A possible short answer is expectations. Expectations are biased and subjective and can differ from person to person. One partner may expect their spouse to take the garbage out and turn the kettle on for the morning tea. They may even expect that you will have breakfast on the table every morning. The problem with these expectations is that they are subjective and each person has their own personal opinion. Thus, they often don’t match up to the other’s person’s thoughts and opinions. This can create a spiral of negativity.
What is the solution? Instead of focusing on the differences and having expectations, choose to appreciate what the other person does “right”. Conflict is inevitable in any relationship! We are different! Even though your partner cuts the vegetables in a different way from you, does it make them wrong? Of course not. Each person sees things differently, does things differently and is unique unto themselves. Thus having expectations of how your partner does something will only lead to disappointment and disillusionment. Instead move to appreciation. This will mitigate the nagging, the bickering and mounding resentment.
It is often said; what we are arguing about isn’t what we are arguing about. Let’s have a look underneath the expectations. We may have been conditioned to do something a certain way because that is the way we were taught. If we didn’t follow the rules or expectations of others, we may have been punished, shamed or rejected. Hence, we may carry this into our adult relationships, and project those same imposed expectations onto our partner. You must do it this way (or something bad will happen) is the subtext. Thus take a pause and consider: Is the way your partner is folding the towel really worth the disturbance you are experiencing? Probably not. Is something bad going to happen if the towel is not folded in the way you wish? It may be time to let go of expectations past and present? The solution again, is to move beyond this framework of expectations and appreciate the things we like in the other and honour their differences. Positive thoughts and appreciations spark a release of chemicals like serotonin and endorphins, resulting in a feeling of stability and security. On the contrary, the chemicals of bickering, disappointment and negativity are adrenalin and cortisol and result in a feeling of danger and perceived threat, triggering the flight/fight/freeze system. Your choice, which would you rather have flowing throughout your body and brain? Here’s how it may look, your partner may not have done the dishes the way you wanted, but at least they tried. You can appreciate their effort. When you train yourself to pay attention what is right and positive, you can ALWAYS find something to appreciate. Turn your expectations into appreciations and your whole relational life will change! This sentiment can put an end to the bickering in your relationship for good. Enjoy your safe holiday with all that you appreciate.
In our current culture, we live in a consumer society. If my car or outfit doesn’t meet my needs, then I discard it or trade it in for a new one. For many of us, we do the same thing in our marriages and relationships. We focus on getting our needs met and if that doesn’t work, then we conclude “We are not compatible”, “I picked the wrong person”, or “There is someone better out there for me (ie someone more like me)”. This leads us to believe that our happiness depends on our marriage and our partner and if we are not happy, there is something wrong with either of them”. With these kinds of perceptions and attitudes, we come into relationships with expectations to have our partner make us happy and fulfill our needs. We believe we are entitled to it. This is quite the set up!
Our culture also thrives on improvement and bettering our status. So when the relationship isn’t turning out the way we expect it to be, we begin to make threats and gestures to ending it, finally withdrawing our efforts.
Where does this leave us in our society?
There are many families with kids coming from divorced parents or partners who now have had the infamous “starter marriage”. Being a cultural norm, partners discard one another early, accepting the notion of divorce, and hoping for a “happier version” in their next relationship.
As a result, people are moving into more complex and challenging situations such as co-parenting from different houses, thus impacting our sense of connectedness with each other, our kids and society. With this consumer mindset, what are we teaching our kids? What kind of relationship values are we holding for ourselves and society? (Please note: if there are ongoing affairs, abuse/violence and active addictions in a marriage/relationship….I am not suggesting partners stay together. These are catastrophic conditions for a relationship and are not sustainable or possible to thrive in. They often need a supportive intervention).
For the more common situations in marriages and relationships, there are many resources for partners/families to get help before calling it quits. Counselling in this era is much more prevalent and available. As well, there is an abundance of relationship educational and experiential workshops and retreats. Decades before, one would stay married or together because of financial reasons or dependency reasons. Staying together for the kids was another common reason. All the while, knowing that the parents were staying together for the kids, the house was full of resentment and tension. Today many parents remember these feelings they felt growing up in their tension-filled family homes, and want nothing to do with this. So, with the first sign of discontent, adults quit early as they are capable of having their own careers and managing their finances.
So, back to getting married. “Why do we get married”? For many of us, it is the Consumer Attitude. We get married to have someone make us happy! When folks have this mindset, they give up when the going gets tough, often done prematurely without seeking appropriate help. Research says that people will call a divorce lawyer before speaking to a marriage counsellor and will typically not go to a marriage counsellor for an average of 6 years. They utilize their own angles and strategies on their own with its inherent defaults. For some, they might get the courage to enter into individual counselling. Now, having someone who is biased for them and receiving validation for their feelings, it confirms their desire to leave and the status quo, “I should be happy”.
What is often necessary and scarier for couples is admitting the pain in the marriage and entering into a marriage counselling office. Many will do when they are “one foot” out the door, thus boasting “we tried marriage counselling”. Being a short lived experience, the results are of little benefit due to the lack of commitment at looking at their own perceptions of marriage and changing themselves.
So what are some of reasons that people give for the downfall of their marriage. We grew further and further apart! Well, I see this as a consequence of society and our misguided focus. We put more effort into our kids’ activities, our job performance and success, our fitness and bodies, ipads and smartphones, Facebook and Instagram; all at a cost of having less time and focus on our relationship. When we do show up at the end of all it, we are exhausted after giving so much to our jobs and kids, outside endeavours, and have little for the other. Then the stance: “what can you do for me”? Frustration in both partners builds. Both feeling unfulfilled in having their needs met in conjunction with the expectations on the other to fulfill those needs, we turn towards “outside” pleasures: Netflix, Facebook or an attractive member of the opposite sex. Thoughts may stir towards leaving the relationship…“Surely there is someone else who wants to fulfill my needs” or “I will focus on getting my own needs met ….at least I can make myself happy”.
In other situations, couples create “in house separations” or “invisible divorces”. Their relationships lack emotional connection, understanding and empathy of each other. On the outside, they look like they are playing the part of togetherness while inside both parties are resentful and demoralized.
Could there be a remedy for all this unhappiness? Yes, take back your marriage or relationship”. Put the focus on: “what does your relationship need from each of you vs. what are we are not getting”.
One of the most difficult things for humans is change. To look at ourselves and change ourselves. Changing the other is futile and impossible. However, changing ourselves may include changing the perception of the situation/other, and our attitude and behaviours. If one takes the focus off what the other is doing or not doing and looks inward at our own contribution to the demise or care of relationship, we might discover something. How safe of a partner am I? Do I turn away from my partner when they are in distress? How loved/cared do I make my partner feel? Do I look for things wrong with my partner versus what is right? Do I offer my love and appreciation in the form of declarations and affection or do I keep protected and guarded waiting for them to show up and initiate a bid for connection? Do I reveal what is really important or do I shove it under the carpet?
I often see couples falling into a dynamic that is easily treatable with awareness and change. The pursuer-distancer dynamic is very common in couples. When either party becomes distressed, one may retreat to soothing themselves and protecting their vulnerability and the other may pursue with demands, hoping to have their contact needs met – also covering up their vulnerability. In order to be in relationship, focusing on what we can change is the key to success, versus waiting for the other to change. Perhaps taking an emotional risk and verbalize, “I feel sacred when you move away from me” or “I feel overwhelmed and ashamed when you criticize me”. If the other is invested and committed to looking at what they bring to relationship and offering a safe, secure base, then he or she will respond with compassionate engagement. This correction in the dance of intimacy can be the crucible moment for a couple to return to a place of connection and safety.
Hence, learning about oneself and discovering each other in relationship is what marriage and relationship provides. Becoming a safe place for each other to grow into maturity without threats of leaving and divorce can foster a place of learning and growth. Moving from expectation and entitlement to curiosity of what your relationship needs is the first step to seeing what is possible. Take back your marriage or relationship means to look at it with “new eyes”, moving from the “Me to We”.
(Adapted from Stan Tatkin)
Summer is over, and it’s back to the regular routines. This can mean scrambling to get out the door in the morning. Heavier traffic with longer times to get where you need to. Juggling kids activities including getting their homework done. Doing things at the same time, like multitasking while making dinner. Life can certainly get busy with the change of season. During these hectic times, it’s especially important to stay connected to your partner and experience the connection between you. We suggest staying connected throughout your busy day-to-day life by creating rituals you and your partner can do together throughout the day.
“In the course of daily life, romantic relationships tend to pivot around separations and reunions. How you handle these transitions can have a big impact on your relationship! The rituals for connection can give a sense of stability, predictability, and purpose in these hectic times.
For example, in the morning when you wake up, spend a minute gazing into your partner’s eyes before you start your day.
When leaving for the day, say “Goodbye” in a heartfelt way. This may include: “I love you”, a hug and a kiss or “You mean a lot to me, and I look forward to seeing you tonight”.
In the evening, after a long day, do the “Welcome Home” reunion ritual: When one of you comes home, the other partner puts aside whatever he or she is doing and takes the time to fully greet the returning person. Look into each other’s eyes, embrace, and don’t let go until you feel the other fully relax.
Fun bedtime rituals include reading to each other, telling each other the story of your day, or sharing daily gratitude. These are things we often do with our children and as adults, we need them to.
These rituals may take only a few minutes…How long? Maybe a minimum of 10 minutes in total.
They can reinforce your sense of feeling connected to your partner, especially when life gets busy.
As I reflect on this carved wood inscription in my living room, I am viscerally reminded of what this really means. My best girl friend is leaving her body after a having a diagnosis of cancer that has metastasized to her organs. Sitting in the grief for the past while has informed me – “that the best things in life are not things”….they are Relationships. As I do a review of our friendship, the places I messed up, the things I did or not do, the regrets I have, I am able to find a place of sacredness and peace within because of our ‘eternal love’ for one another. I am very aware that her process of giving away her material possessions, ie clothing, jewelry, car etc. – those things that she will no longer need on the other side have lessened their importance. Things are just not that important on this level or perspective. What is important is what is left in my heart.
Facing this day has been hard and not easy at times. Accepting and letting go is never easy, however, when I do arrive at the place of acceptance of what is….. something emerges in me – that greater love, the greatness of our friendship and the gratitude for what we have shared together. All purposeful, timely and meaningful. She was my maid of honour at my wedding to Robert and her vitality and aliveness at our wedding showed her true essence – all that love she emanates from her soul. Thank you sweetheart for all you have brought to my life. You will be missed and always loved. Your imminent death is moving me towards an appreciation for this life and all that it offers like never before.
When we can’t repair or reconnect with our partner, we feel alone and isolated and unable to feel safe and secure. Lasting love and togetherness is a process in which individuals and couples connect, go through disconnection and then find each other again through the reconnection. When we don’t respond to a partners’ emotional hurts, we can get stuck in an angry response or shutting down, resulting in persistent unresolved conflicts that can lead to divorce or separation.
The moments of disconnects are palpable and painful. Recall a time when you reached for your partner or friend and they weren’t available or responsive to you. What did you do? What did you feel? How did you react? What did you tell yourself about you and the relationship? How did your reactions and dance moves then trigger your partner to be angry or turn away from you? There is a predictable dance that humans go through at the moment of disconnection, whether we are coming from a young age just out of the cradle or approaching end of life. This response comes from the mammalian part of the brain and invokes each of us to reach and protest the disconnection through blame or criticism or withdrawing or turning away. Much of this dysregulation in the system occurs when the brain is flooded or hijacked by the triggered “panic alarm”, located in the amygdala. This panic invokes a reaction (ie flight, fight or freeze) with associative thoughts “Where are you? “I am alone”. “I must get back into connection or I will die”. Infants or partners left alone in isolation perceive this pain equal to DEATH and without touch, security and comfort will eventually die. Whether you are an infant or an adult, what is most important following the distressful, disconnections is an attuned response, in other words a REPAIR! Turning back towards one another, engaging, smiling, giving a hug or speaking in a soft voice: “I am here”, “I love you” are examples. The benefits are high as this makes a huge difference to the “panicked” brain. It can now settle and restore its equilibrium returning to a calm relaxed state. Nature designed it this way. We need each other to co-regulate our nervous systems.
As I write this, I am often reminded of scenes in movies that portray an individual that goes mad in isolation after time spent in “solitary confinement”. This makes so much sense. We are social creatures that are wired for connection. With the other, we feel relaxed, and cared for. Thus we will do much better and get along easier in the world when we are confident that “one” person has our back. Going against nature and trying to live in isolation or independently can be the basis or foundation for crime, poverty, and violence. The solution is responsiveness and attentiveness towards someone’s distress and their need for security and comfort. Relationships are the source, the root and the strength of our happiness. May you find relaxed joyfulness in a close connection with a primary partner, lover, a good friend or family member. We are wired for it. The END
1. Giving the gift of a Couples Weekend says more than flowers or chocolates. Inviting your “beloved” to a weekend to enhance your relationship tells you that you value one other and your relationship and want to maintain its longevity and aliveness.
2. Get away from the everyday distractions and life at home. A weekend away is a great opportunity and provides a change in pace and perspective, opening the energy for something new to transpire. You are not bombarded with work, kids, household chores and duties, thus focusing on each other is a gift for your connection.
3. Provides a structure/intent for your weekend. Doing a couples retreat helps you focus and tend to your relationship – more meaningful than just another weekend away.
4. Be with other couples. Being in the company of other couples, couples realize that they are not alone. This accelerates the growth process. A new perspective of not being alone helps couples face and normalize their struggles.
5. You learn about relationships and what it takes to be connected. Our culture and our caregivers are not always the best examples of relationships. To overcome other life challenges, we hire business, athletic coaches and financial analysts to learn new skills. Attending a Couples Weekend Retreat helps you to become skilled with each other – the most important relationship.
6. Experience true relational transformation in a safe, compelling learning environment. The weekend retreat teaches that a relationship is not a problem to be solved but an adventure to be lived and that every frustration in the relationship is a launching pad for growth. Couples get equipped for being successful in this adventure called “our relationship.”
7. Be inspired to dream the “wildest dream” for your relationship…. together. “When we dream alone a dream is but a dream, but when we dream together, it is the beginning of reality.” says a Brazilian proverb. At the end of the weekend retreat, every couple is prepared and keen to put on the horizon their biggest dream for the relationship.
8. Be motivated to live and renew your vows. The weekend retreat provides couples an atmosphere that rekindles their passion and gives joy, laughter and play; a new place in the relationship.
9. Learn guiding principles that empower you to have the “mightiest” bond ever. The weekend retreat teaches ritualsfor connection that when embraced and practiced, empower each couple not only to be a solid couple, lasting couple but also a creative and collaborative couple.
10. Have fun, sharing laughs and improve the space between you. Attending a Couples weekend offers many belly laughs and connecting moments. This translates in the “off” hours away from the program. Couples share with each other more than they have for years and the weekend becomes their aphrodisiac. 😉
by Harville Hendrix – taken from Getting the Love you Want
Instead of focusing entirely on surface needs and desires, you learn to recognize the unresolved childhood issues that under-lie them. When you look at relationships with this x-ray vision, your daily interactions take on more meaning. Puzzling aspects of your relationship begin to make sense to you, and you have a greater sense of control.
At the very moment of attraction, you began fusing your lover with your primary caretakers. Later you projected your negative traits onto your partner, further obscuring your partner’s essential reality. As you move toward a conscious relationship, you gradually let go of these illusions and begin to see more of your partner’s truth. You see your partner not as your saviour but as another wounded human being, struggling to be healed.
Celebrate Valentine’s every day of the year by putting into practice Imago Dialogue and Appreciations daily. Gift yourselves with a Getting the Love You Want Weekend Retreat (Refresher) or an Advanced Couples Weekend Retreat that I offer periodically. Most of all enjoy each other as each day together is truly a blessing.
With the season upon us, the experience can be alive with energy as well as overwhelming for many. There are those who love the Holiday season and those who don’t.
Depending on memories from our past – unresolved family feelings may arise and occur.
So, what can you do as a couple to maintain the integrity of your relationship when the “going gets tough”.