Relationship Tips

Take Back your Marriage/Relationship

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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”.

The END




This Valentine’s Day – Be Fully Committed!

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This Valentine’s Day – instead of the standard flowers or chocolates, try on FULL COMMITMENT! We may complain an awful lot about how difficult it is to get our kids to put down their phones, but let’s face it – most adults have the same difficulty disengaging from technology. These small devices are getting in the way of our marriages and important relationships. Just notice the next time, you are out for dinner and the couples around you. They are not engaging with one another, they are interested in gazing at their phones. Robert will often say to me, why don’t you go over to them, tell them what you do, give them your business card and get them to turn towards and face each other? Like me, he knows how disconnecting it can feel when a partner is distracted and more interested in what is going on with their device. Hurt feelings can often rise which breeds discontent, anger, resentment resulting in movements of turning away. This leads to lasting problems for intimacy and connection and a decreased level of dissatisfaction in the relationship contributing to more feelings of anxiety and stress. What is more important, by not being present with one another, you are not attending to one another needs.

It is no surprise, that many people are dissatisfied in their relationships. Devices rank as high as financial problems, sex and child rearing problems. Looking at your phone, basically says, you are not important to me. So, what is the obvious solution? Put your phone down and turning it off is the best way to express your full commitment and gift your gift of presence. Some strategies to help you do this are:

ESTABLISH TECH FREE ZONES

Keep technology out of the bedroom and the dining room. Make it a hard and fast rule that there are no devices at the dinner or on our date night.

FIND THE MUTE BUTTON

Keep your phone on mute when you’re spending time with your loved ones. This can help you stay immersed in the present moment rather than distracted by an incoming text or email. Turn notifications off to help keep your attention fully present.

CHOOSE PARTNER OVER FACEBOOK FRIENDS

Getting the latest update from your social network can help you reconnect with current and former friends, but don’t forget who is number one. You may have many friends on your Facebook, but having a real loving connected partner truly gives us pleasure and helps us to feel tethered. As for those friends, keep the relationships real by having face to face interaction.

MAKE YOUR PARTNER A PRIORITY AND PUT THE TIME IN

Relationships take work and effort. Leaving a garden unattended, the weeds become overgrown and chaotic. Most couples don’t spend enough time with each other or communicate very well. Take a Relationship Retreat or spend time reading a love letter you wrote to your partner to re-ignite the spark of love. Spending real time… quality time enhances our well-being and restores our feelings and connectedness. Who wants to be an IPAD widow anyway?




Staying Connected with Your Partner When Life Gets Busy

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(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.




The Best Things in Life are not Things

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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.




Disconnection Hurts, Repair Heals

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Young couple in love outdoors

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




10 Great Reasons to Give the Gift of a Couples Weekend or Advanced Couples Weekend this Valentine’s Day!

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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. 😉




How to Get out of the Disconnection Dance

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Loving young couple embracing and kissing on a summer day outdoors. Man hugging his girlfriend. Enjoying their summer vacation.

If you want to get out of the disconnection dance, blame and withdrawal are two behaviours that won’t allow this to happen. Even though both of these coping strategies are somewhat effective in giving space and being self-protective, they both lead to distancing and can trigger the other partner making the cycle worse. Moving away from each other is not the solution. Being more exposed, vulnerable and open (ie taking risks) leads to connection.

What is difficult for partners in relationship is taking risks, being open and more vulnerable. Blaming and withdrawing are easier and self-protecting. We learned these in our early days in childhood. Most of us learned these behaviours as they served us on some level. To be invisible could avoid punishment or to blame, (ie point the fault towards a sibling) also avoided punishment or pain. Wired in to avoid pain, these strategies can have a more adverse effect in relationships. When using these avoidance patterns they don’t allow you to take responsibility for your feelings nor do they invite you to reach for your partner for closeness or connection.

To avoid pain, evolution has also wired in another reason to not risk reaching for another when there is “risk of rejection”. What if we did reach for our partner, risk and be open and vulnerable and we are rejected or abandoned. These underlying fears are the crucibles to keep the blaming and withdrawal behaviours alive in our primary and most intimate relationships. To risk and to be rejected is synonymous to “death”. Brain scans show us that rejection is registered and experienced in the brain as if we were physically hit by a 2’x4’. The pain registers the same.

Turning away or not being there for someone when they most need the comfort and closeness is also painful. For example, a woman discovers she is having a miscarriage and her partner doesn’t know what to do when he sees the blood. He freaks out when she calls him. Instead of going towards her, he leaves to calm his nerves and goes into task mode, ie calls the hospital and taxi. In her most vulnerable moment, he moves away from her, and she feels rejected. What happens next is: she makes a decision, “I will never allow myself to need you that much again” and she shuts down from her partner, pulling in to never risk exposing herself. For years this goes on. She is no longer vulnerable or open to her partner.

Ultimately, he experiences her distancing behaviour, feels her lack of warmth, comfort, also experiencing his own version of

Side view of a couple standing on forest trail and hugging

rejection/abandonment. Not ever revisiting this event in a heartfelt way, they co-exist in their marriage dancing between their defenses and lack of openness. She is nasty and nitpicky, using blame as a way to keep herself protected and distant and he does the same. They become the “Bickersons”, living a life of judging and blaming, undermining one another.

Love is Risky Business

To remove or lower the defenses of blame and withdrawal, one must be willing to feel ones’ own vulnerability, be open to sharing this vulnerability and take risks. Using vulnerable language versus blame/criticism invites a partner in…. “I feel sad when you don’t look at me”, I long for you to hold me after we make love so that I can feel connected”, “I get afraid when I don’t hear from you while you are on the business trip” Of course, there is a risk in being this open and vulnerable. What if my partner thinks I am too needy? What if he won’t come to me when I call? Will I hurt more than I do now? Love doesn’t come without intimacy and therefore the very thing we are avoiding: “intimate connection” leads to disconnection.

You cannot heal wounds that you can’t open

Everybody is afraid of intimacy. Intimacy means exposing yourself. Intimacy brings you close to another. Dropping all of your defenses makes intimacy possible. However, the fear is we drop all our defenses, who knows what the other it going to do with you. Thus we are hiding from others and ourselves. It feels safer to keep the defense because the other can take advantage of your weakness, your vulnerabilities. Intimacy is an essential need. Everybody longs for it and wants the other to be intimate versus taking the risk to become intimate first. However, to heal our wounds, they must be seen, felt and held. Exposing these long held hurts and vulnerabilities is the path to liberating oneself from the endless suffering and energy it takes to suppress our vulnerabilities. Being intimate is a scary and risky, yet a necessary part of having authentic human connection.




10 Characteristics of a Conscious Partnership

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by Harville Hendrix – taken from Getting the Love you Want

You realize that your love relationship has a hidden purpose – the healing of childhood wounds

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.

 

You create a more accurate image of your partner

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.

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Try a Valentine Appreciations Dialogue

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(Send in a card, a text, email or verbal expression!)

  1. What I appreciate about you today on Valentine’s Day is….
  2. What attracts me to you still is….
  3. What I cherish the most about you is….
  4. What I appreciate about our LOVE for each other is….
  5. Today I want to gift you with…

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.




Be a Safe Harbour for Each Other This Holiday Season

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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”.

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