Do You Trust Me?

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Do you remember the carpet riding scene from the Disney movie “Aladdin”? Jasmine inquires if the magic carpet is safe. Aladdin responds with the question, “Do you trust me?” Jasmine is surprised, and he repeats the question. “Do you trust me?” She looks up at him and firmly replies, “Yes.”

Princess Jasmine has never gone for a ride on a magic carpet, nor does she know Aladdin. Her reaction is based on a gut feeling and Hollywood wants us to believe that trust is this easy and straightforward to achieve. Is that really true? Where and how do we place our trust?

The trust expert Rachel Botsman points out how in the past trust used to flow upwards in our society by us placing trust in the people in power; today it flows sideways through our social networks. Sideways means to our collegues, friends, neighbours and so on, including strangers. In today’s world, we have lost faith in institutions, in bankers and in leaders, whether political, economic or spiritual leaders.

Does this mean we are less trusting than we used to be? Botsman says that the contrary is the case. While we are mistrustful of authorities and institutions, we are meanwhile placing our trust in our peers, including strangers on the Internet, or in technology itself. We are renting our home out to unknown guests through Airbnb, going on blind dates with people we have met on dating sites, are exchanging currency digitally and so on. Our smart phones or apps on those phones ask us on a regular basis for access to almost our entire life, our location, our photos, our microphone, our contacts and so on.

Humans are interdependent and cannot live life without making choices on who to trust. The mistrust towards anybody or anything which has a monopoly of power can be a good thing if it leads to the empowerment of the individual. The question is how the vacuum of not trusting who we used to trust in the past is filled today. Being more aware of the abuse of power, especially where there is a money trail, and for example reading the ingredient labels of food and cosmetics carefully, researching the vaccine your child is about to receive, or being cautious that our politicians are free of any hint of corruption, is certainly keeping us all safer. At the same time, we often seem to be very trusting when it comes to the convenience of technology.

As a relationship coach, I am especially interested in how trust shows up in our one-on-one relationships, especially in our primary love relationship. What components does trust have and how do they affect our relationships?

Trust is usually a process. Trusting means placing our faith or confidence in something unknown. That could be a person, a new idea, a new product and so on. There usually is a gap between what we know and what we don’t know, and we call this gap a risk. If I trust because I feel I can predict or even be certain how the other person is going to behave, that is not really trust. Having trust is the confidence in what we are not certain about. Life can hold some unpredictable magic carpet rides for us.

Trust is about being vulnerable. We cannot be sure of what is going to happen tomorrow, yet we need to approach life with trust. When we get married or start a committed relationship, we cannot ensure that we will still be together twenty years later. All we can do is to decide to do our best and trust our partner to do the same. However, during a relationship, trust is in a constant flow and must be maintained while we interact with each other.

A real issue regarding trust is poor information. From a lack of information, we often make assumptions and end up with unrealistic expectations. Have we had those tough conversations before entering into a relationship? Conversations about common future goals, about common values, about having and raising children, about money, and about other major topics which tend to lead to perpetual problems for many couples? In relationships it is of uttermost importance to have real conversations, in which we are transparent and up front about our expectations. In the euphoria of being in love, most of us skip those conversations that could provide us with necessary information. We might end up in a relationship and realize that there are trust issues due to not having gathered the necessary information.

Botmans feels it is helpful to think of trust in context, and I agree. If you are my friend, you might for example trust me to take care of your child because you believe I am a capable mother, but you might not trust me to fix your computer issue—or cook you a five-course meal—because you know I don’t have the competency to do that. However, perceived competency is only one aspect of trust.

What are the ingredients of trustworthiness? Research has shown that there are four key factors:

  1. Competence (skills, knowledge, experience)

Let’s assume you are my neighbour and you know I used to be an elementary school teacher and that I have raised my own children; those children appear to be well-adjusted and have a good relationship with me. Therefore, you might trust me to look after your child because you feel I am competent as a caregiver. You do, however, not trust me to solve your computer issue because you know I neither have the skills, knowledge nor patience required.

Applied to a love relationship, this might mean that you perhaps trust your partner to drive you somewhere because you know he hasn’t had an accident in 25 years and you believe he is a good calm driver, but you don’t trust him to balance the household budget because he never learned the skill of making ends meet.

 

  1. Reliability (time, responsiveness)

If you call me to ask if I could watch your child but I don’t respond appropriately within a reasonable time frame to your request, you will lose trust in me despite my competence.

If you have asked your partner to pay the bills but he procrastinates and only pays the bills after three more reminders and when they are past due, you also won’t trust his financial competency due to the lack of reliability. Meanwhile, you might experience that you only had to ask him once if he could drive you to a doctor’s appointment. You feel you can rely on him driving you; you trust him in that respect. You don’t trust that he is reliable as far as paying the bills.

  1. Benevolence

We also check how much the other person cares. If you have the impression that I like your child, I have learned their name and at least some details about them and I have indicated in the past that I care about you and your family, your trust in me as your child’s caregiver is also going to be higher.

If you feel your partner cares about money and is trying hard to balance the budget, pay bills or save money, you will trust him more than when you are under the impression that he does not care about money. The same applies to driving you. If you feel he cares about getting you safely to were you need to go, your trust in him as a driver increases.

 

  1. Integrity

More important than any of the other three key components, more important than honesty or authenticity are our intentions. If there is a misalignment regarding our intentions and the other person’s intentions it also feels like the other one is not trustworthy.

If you feel I am watching your child because I am expecting you to vote for me in the next condo board president election in return, you will lose trust in me, independent of my competence, reliability or benevolence.

The same applies to your partnership. If the goal of future safety is high on your list of values and having fun in the moment is lower on your priority list, but your partner’s value system is opposite, you are dealing with a mismatch. Your partner’s intentions of living well in the present clashes with your intention of creating financial safety. That gap in intentions or expectations makes your partner untrustworthy to you in regards to financial matters.

 

Knowing all the ingredients of trustworthiness, we end up with a different level of trust in each relationship. We trust other people more or less in different areas. We all have principal areas in which we want to experience being able to trust.

In a relationship we can increase trust, by working on all four key components: our competence, our reliability, our benevolence and by being clear about our intentions and value systems. Open and honest conversations about values and priorities, combined with the willingness to meet each other’s needs, increase the trust in a relationship.

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Angelika

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

The Blind Passenger

I had been contemplating this year’s Thanksgiving blog, when I came across this beautiful story by an unknown author on Spiritual-Short-Stories.com. It is perfect the way it is written, so allow me to just share…

The passengers on the bus watched sympathetically as the attractive young woman with the white cane made her way carefully up the steps. She paid the driver, and using her hands to feel the location of the seats, walked down the aisle and found the seat he’d told her was empty. Then she settled in, placed her briefcase on her lap and rested her cane against her leg. It had been a year since Susan, thirty-four, became blind. Due to a medical misdiagnosis she had been rendered sightless, and she was suddenly thrown into a world of darkness, anger, frustration and self-pity.

Once a fiercely independent woman, Susan now felt condemned by this terrible twist of fate to become a powerless, helpless burden on everyone around her. “How could this have happened to me?” she would plead, her heart knotted with anger. But no matter how much she cried or ranted or prayed, she knew the painful truth: her sight was never going to return. A cloud of depression hung over Susan’s once optimistic spirit. Just getting through each day was an exercise in frustration and exhaustion.

 And all she had to cling to was her husband Mark. Mark was an Air Force officer and he loved Susan with all his heart. When she first lost her sight, he watched her sink into despair and was determined to help his wife gain the strength and confidence she needed to become independent again. Mark’s military background had trained him well to deal with sensitive situations, and yet he knew this was the most difficult battle he would ever face. 

bus-city

Finally, Susan felt ready to return to her job, but how would she get there? She used to take the bus, but was now too frightened to get around the city by herself. Mark volunteered to drive her to work each day, even though they worked at opposite ends of the city. At first, this comforted Susan and fulfilled Mark’s need to protect his sightless wife who was so insecure about performing the slightest task. 

Soon, however, Mark realized that this arrangement wasn’t working – it was hectic, and costly. Susan is going to have to start taking the bus again, he admitted to himself. But just the thought of mentioning it to her made him cringe. She was still so fragile, so angry. How would she react? 

Just as Mark predicted, Susan was horrified at the idea of taking the bus again. “I’m blind!” she responded bitterly. “How am I supposed to know where I’m going? I feel like you’re abandoning me.” Mark’s heart broke to hear these words, but he knew what had to be done. He promised Susan that each morning and evening he would ride the bus with her, for as long as it took, until she got the hang of it. And that is exactly what happened. For two solid weeks, Mark, military uniform and all, accompanied Susan to and from work each day. He taught her how to rely on her other senses especially her hearing, to determine where she was and how to adapt to her new environment. 

He helped her befriend the bus drivers who could watch out for her and save her a seat. He made her laugh, even on those not-so-good days when she would trip exiting the bus, or drop her briefcase. Each morning they made the journey together, and Mark would take a cab back to his office. Although this routine was even more costly and exhausting than the previous one, Mark knew it was only a matter of time before Susan would be able to ride the bus on her own. He believed in her, in the Susan he used to know before she’d lost her sight, who wasn’t afraid of any challenge and who would never, ever quit. 

Finally, Susan decided that she was ready to try the trip on her own. She said goodbye, and for the first time, they went their separate ways. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. Each day on her own went perfectly, and Susan had never felt better. She was doing it! She was going to work all by herself! 

Blind-Passenger-silouette

On Friday morning, Susan took the bus as usual. As she was paying for her fare to exit the bus, the driver said, “Boy, I sure envy you.” Susan wasn’t sure if the driver was speaking to her or not. After all who on earth would ever envy a blind woman who had struggled just to find the courage to live the past year? Curious she asked the driver, “Why do you say that you envy me?” The driver responded, “It must feel so good to be taken care of and protected like you are.” Susan had no idea what the driver was talking about, and asked again, “What do you mean?” 

The driver answered, “You know, every morning for the past week, a fine looking gentleman in a military uniform has been standing across the corner watching you when you get off the bus. He makes sure you cross the street safely and he watches you until you enter your office building. Then he blows you a kiss, and gives you a little salute and walks away. You are one lucky lady.”

Tears of happiness poured down Susan’s cheeks. For although she couldn’t physically see him, she had always felt Mark’s presence. She was lucky, so lucky, for he had given her a gift more powerful than sight, a gift she didn’t need to see to believe – the gift of love that can bring light where there had been darkness.

This touching story has me wondering if we aren’t sometimes all like this blind woman? We feel alone, struggling to go about our life, meanwhile we are watched over, protected and held without being aware of it. We are, in fact, safe and abundant beyond our wildest imagination. There is an abundance of love and support—if we could just see it. What if we opened our hearts and looked around to notice the fullness and abundance in our life with gratitude.

Thanksgiving - Happy Thanksgiving 3

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I love you! I love you! I love you!

Energy follows attention. What you focus on, is what you get. That universal law applies to our relationships as it applies to anything else.

In the past, there was a theory that it is good to get your negative feelings out. Unfortunately, venting at our partner leaves him or her with bad memories. Over time, our brain responds with apprehension to high energy interactions. In fact, our brain starts to associate our partner with negative situations and with danger instead of with feelings of safety. Our brain goes on alert because we remember the hurt and emotional pain. Instead of triggering endorphins (feel good chemicals), the stress hormone cortisol is triggered. Our main job in our relationship is to be a source of safety for our partner, instead of another source of stress.

Our brain has, as Rick Hansen calls it, “a negativity bias”. We remember negative events more easily than positive ones. For our ancestors that negativity bias was important for survival. Drs. John and Julie Gottman state that five positive exchanges or comments are required to override one negative one. If we hear more critical comments than affirmations or appreciations, we are often left feeling defensive and uneasy with our partner.

Another reason why venting is not beneficial is that whatever you express, you also experience. Whatever you do to others, you do to yourself. When you yell at your partner, it is as if you are yelling at yourself. Your brain reacts to your own negative yelling in the same way your partner reacts. It triggers danger cues and the release of cortisol.

What would happen if we flooded each other with positive emotions and we were able to connect intensity with positive exchanges? Hendrix and Hunt suggest the following couple’s exercise.

3 Minute Exercise That Re-Patterns Our Brain

In preparation for the exercise, make a list of

  1. your partner’s physical characteristics which you like
  2. their personality traits which you admire
  3. some of their recent behaviours you appreciate, and
  4. come up with a global affirmation, e.g. they are terrific, thoughtful, fantastic, amazing, wonderful etc.

positive flooding

One partner sits in a chair and the other one circles him or her and floods the partner with positive adjectives. The first minute is focused on the physical characteristics. The circling partner identifies and appreciates all of the physical features of their partner in a normal tone or volume, e.g. I love your smile. I really like your silky hair. I love your soft hands.

During the second minute, the circling partner focuses on appreciating traits in a more excited tone, while raising the volume of their voice, e.g. I appreciate your warmth. I appreciate your kindness. I appreciate your intelligence.

During the last minute, the circling partner values and affirms behaviours the partner has displayed. This time they are raising their voice even more, e.g. I appreciate that you picked the kids up from school yesterday. I am thankful for your advice in regards to my boss. I am so grateful for you sending Aunt Edna a gift.

At the end, the circling partner comes around and stands in front of the sitting partner. He or she yells, “I can’t believe I am in a relationship with (married to) a person as amazing as you. I love you! I love you! I love you! You are wonderful/amazing/fantastic” etc.

Then both partners stand and give each other a full minute long hug to calm down.

 

The rationales behind this exercise are

  1. This interaction exercises, first, the sympathetic nervous system, and during the hug at the end, the parasympathetic nervous system. It activates the bonding hormone oxitocin.
  2. It creates new safe memories of our partner. Intensity is now connected to positive memories.
  3. It also takes us out of the resentful part of our brain where we have kept a list of the things our partner has done to frustrate or hurt us. It moves us into the part of the brain that wakes us up to how wonderful our partner is. Our perpetual issues or relationship problems have, of course, not disappeared. However, the shift into our prefrontal neo-cortex opens up the option to deal with them in a more civilized and calm manner than our primitive brain is capable of. From that part of our brain, we can be more curious about why our partner is the way they are, instead of being judgmental with each other.

 

If you are hesitant to try this dynamic exercise, consider cutting out negativity and shifting into appreciation with a different ritual. Drs. Gottman for example suggest a weekly “State of the Union Meeting”. The couple sets aside one hour a week to reconnect. The State of the Union meeting begins with giving each other affirmations and appreciations. Harville Hendrix and Helen Hunt propose to end each day by sharing three things we appreciate about our partner and vice versa. This conscious practice of appreciation requires us to pay attention to what we enjoy about each other.

positive flooding - joy

Re-patterning our brain, as well as other activities of shifting into appreciation, give us the opportunity to revive the love we have for each other. Gratitude and appreciation foster a secure bond and allow us to continually build a sound relationship house.

Contact

Belief Change and Relationship Coach Angelika,

905-286-9466,

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

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How to Stop Telling Lies & How to Stop Inviting Lies

“That’s a nice top you are wearing. Is that new?” inquires my dad. “Oh, no! I’ve had that for weeks”, replies my mom. What she does not say is that the blouse has been hanging in her closet for three weeks and that it is the first time she is wearing it.

I have heard this and similar conversations unfold repeatedly while growing up. Once she got married at the age of 35, my mom was a homemaker; she did not have her own money anymore and she was married to a man who was thrifty. She liked to spend money, he liked to save it. At some point, she learned that his question often was loaded. He had a tendency to respond with “Did you really need another top? Your closet is full!” or he would at least give her “the look”. He literally would bite his lips together, fold his hands, look down and not say anything. It triggered her shame, and she made the choice not to lie directly but to conceal the full truth to avoid these unpleasant feelings.

In order to understand the nature of lying, we have to be aware that it exists on a continuum. At one end of the spectrum is the deliberate lie or the making up of information. Equivocations are also lies. They are more indirect, ambiguous or contradictory statements that do not offer the entire truth. Concealments are next on the continuum. Omitting important or relevant information is lying. And finally, exaggerations or understatements also don’t paint an accurate picture and are, therefore, not the whole truth.

Truth - Oscar Wilde 2

 

Let’s face it, everybody lies. Lies between spouses or relationship partners have on one hand the possibility to nurture, but they also of course have tremendous potential to destroy a relationship.

You might wonder if it is always bad to lie in a relationship. “Loving lies” actually help to solidify the bond and make the couple feel closer. An example would be to say, “That was a great dinner you made for me,” when we perhaps didn’t quite like the food, but we appreciate the effort. Or, “You look very good,” when our partner just got a bad haircut, because we are happy to look past any flaws in physical appearance, since we love them. A loving lie is not destructive, but actually strengthening.

As it is, people have different motivations for lying. Most people lie to avoid something. We might want to avoid conflict or tension in social interactions, or hurt feelings, or to stay out of trouble or conflict. Some lies are for personal gain: to get out of trouble or to enhance an image.

We lie to others, but we also lie to ourselves. There is an amount of self-deception going on in every relationship. For a relationship, it is important to know ourselves and to honestly and congruently express to our partner what we know about ourselves, our feelings and needs.

In their book, “Tell Me No Lies”, Ellyn Bader and Peter Pearson explore different stages of relationships and how to invite truths rather than lies.

 

Honeymoon Stage

At this point of the “game”, it is, according to Bader and Pearson, normal to focus on the similarities and not pay attention as much to our own wishes and desires. We can slip into lies of omission, exaggeration and understatement, in order to prove our compatibility to each other. Trying to be the same is an important step of aligning and minimizing the ways in which we are different. If I know my partner is neat or loves opera, I might not point out to them that without my cleaning help, I am quite messy, or that I prefer musicals to operas. I might think that I could try harder to be neat, or start to like the opera.

“The dark side of the honeymoon” occurs when couples refuse to acknowledge problems. Conflict avoidant people have the biggest issues. They avoid honest talks for fear of rupture of the relationship. They are seeking security over having their own needs met. Unfortunately, this means giving up parts of themselves that matter. When we always compromise and adapt, it catches up with us over time. We might end up being depressed, or silently angry and resentful.

shame-letters-cropped

“Part of the capacity to tell the truth comes from an ability to handle shame and guilt. Sometimes people keep things to themselves because they know what the truth would do to their partner. This is guilt. Others remain silent because of what they’re going to feel about themselves. This is shame.” (Bader & Pearson, Tell Me No Lies, 224)

 

Emerging Differences 

When couples evolve well, each partner begins to actively differentiate after the honeymoon period and speak up about things which are important to them and matter to them. They both risk moving into areas of disagreement and they learn how to deal with tension. It takes courage for both partners. Clearly, we need to be brave to tell the truth, and also to listen to our partner telling the truth.

 

The Lie Invitee

We don’t always like to hear the truth and might respond with anger towards our partner. It’s easy to villainize the liar, but has the person who is being lied to help create this dynamic? Bader and Pearson call the other person the “lie invitee”. Have I been a lie invitee in my relationships? You bet I have! When we respond with anger, or go into attack mode, or act like martyrs, we are not helping a conflict avoidant partner to be truthful.

angry-smoke

“Some people are completely unaware of the fact that they’re invoking lies, while others understand what they are doing but feel helpless to do otherwise. On the unconscious end, someone may say, ‘I am only expressing my feelings as a reaction to what my partner is telling me’… Someone more aware may think, I know I overreact to things I don’t want to hear or I know this is a leading question.” (Bader & Pearson, Tell Me No Lies, 37)

 

How to Hear the Truth and How to Respond

I can only guess what went on in my dad’s head each time my mom spent money, but I am quite sure it was something like this, “Here we go again! She just doesn’t appreciate that I am trying to keep our money together and guarantee our security for old age. She is just so impulsive and wasteful. Why did she need another piece of clothing? I wish I had a wife with the same values when it comes to money. A wife who is thrifty and asks my advice on spending money…”

Don’t make what your partner is telling you personal. It is not about you, but about them. Don’t listen with the goal to confirm a negative view about yourself or your partner. Instead, listen accurately. Listen more than halfway. Listen compassionately and patiently. Ask neutral questions to understand properly.

curious instead of furious)

Bader’s and Pearson’s most important advice is: Be curious instead of furious! You invite the truth by responding, for example, with, “I am glad you are telling me the truth about what happened! I’d rather know what happened than not know it. Now we need to discuss our different values / this situation / what to do about this problem…”

As the person who has to find the courage to be honest, it is helpful to tell your partner when expressing the truth that what you are about to say is not easy for you. Your partner can then be more aware of their response and make sure they listen calmly, say thank you for your honesty, and rationally solve the problem.

One of the biggest acts of self-deception in a relationship is the belief that one is the victim of what is going on but not a contributor. If you have been at the receiving end of lies or half-truths, examine how you might have contributed to this cycle. With that new clarity, you might want to go back to your partner and tell them, “This is what I have been doing that makes it hard for you to be honest with me. Let’s change it together. I would like to create an atmosphere that is conducive to telling the truth. You need the courage to speak up, and I need the courage to listen to what is really going on.”

 

Felony Lies

More extreme lies are what Bader and Pearson call “felony lies”, for example when a partner looks at the other claiming, “No, I am not having an affair! You are crazy for thinking I have an affair” or “No, I don’t have a gambling problem. That’s ridiculous,” when they have an affair or have gambled away the couple’s retirement money. With felony lies, relationships start to disintegrate. The trust is so violated and the honesty so absent that usually these couples end up separating or divorcing.

However, it is possible to heal from felony lies. It requires new honesty. The liar is usually in a big hurry to be done with the situation, and is not sensitive to creating space for their partner to ask a lot of questions, to re-establish what is actually true, and to express some of their feelings about what happened. The process of how people discuss a conversation is very crucial to whether they get over the betrayal or not. A lot of small moments daily over a long period of time are required to regain the trust, instead of trying to rush it and expecting the partner to be over it right away. The absolute foundation of a relationship is not love, it is trust. As Peter Pearson likes to say, “It takes teamwork to make your dream work.”

It takes teamwork

Would you like to make your dream work? You can take a workshop or book individual coaching sessions.

Contact

Belief Change and Relationship Coach Angelika,

905-286-9466,

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

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What Makes a Happy Life?

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Every year, at the end of the summer, when I have returned from our trip home to visit family, usually combined with a little holiday somewhere else in Europe, I am in a contemplative mood. I wonder what creates the happy and content feeling of the summer and how to keep it going the rest of the year. In previous years, I have written about vacations being a Vacation Away From My Planner Self, about Our Vacation Self and whether Vacations Make Us Happier.

As uncovered in previous years, the link is not a direct link between holiday time and happiness. There is, however, a correlation of happiness and spending time with family or close friends. The level of happiness is not dependent on the fact whether I can afford to go on vacation, but it is dependent on what I do during my time off. Deep nurturing connections, love, laughter, support, and acceptance are all factors in our experience of happiness. Spending time with a loving partner, or having fun with your family members or people who you feel close to, have the effect to increase your happiness.

One of the longest studies on happiness is the Harvard Study of Adult Development. For 75 years, several generations of researchers tracked the lives of 724 men from two very different walks of life. 60 of those 724 men are still alive today. Perhaps a bit gender biased in the original set-up when first started in 1938, the study at a later point included their wives as well. One group of the participants in the study started out as Harvard sophomores who almost all went to serve in WWII after college. The second group consisted of boys from one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Boston, young men from some of the most troubled and disadvantaged families.

Harvard Study+of+Adult+Development

Robert Waldinger, the 4th director of this study, reports about the findings and lessons on happiness in his excellent TED Talk “What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness.”

The one main lesson that stands out in this 75-year-long study is that happiness is “not about wealth or fame or working harder” (Waldinger). Instead, the one important insight not to miss is that “good relationships keep us happier and healthier” (Waldinger).

Mark Twain - The Good Life 2

 The Harvard researchers have learned three important facts:

  1. Social connections with our family, our friends, and our community are extremely beneficial for us. They keep us physically healthier and allow us to live longer.
  2. It is not enough to have relationships, for example to be married or have family, but the quality of our close relationships matters. High conflict marriages in which we feel lonely and unsupported are detrimental to our health. When we are in a relationship with little affection or with toxic interactions, the stress and loneliness shorten our lives. Living in the midst of good warm relationships, on the other hand, is protective.The Harvard researchers found that they could predict—based on the relationships people were in during their 50ties—how healthy they would be at age 80. The men who were the most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80. In addition, most happily married men and women reported that on days when they had most physical pain, their mood still stayed positive. Men and women in unhappy relationships, on the other hand, experienced that their physical pain was magnified by their emotional pain.

couple, old, happy

  1. The study also showed that good relationships do not just protect our physical bodies, but they also protect our brains from decline. There was a clear correlation about being in a securely attached relationship in your 80ties and memory loss. Happily married people experienced that their memories stayed sharper longer. Those people who were in relationships wherein they felt unloved and felt that they couldn’t count on their partner experienced greater memory decline.

This does not mean that we have to always get along well. Relationships don’t have to be smooth all the time to be healthy. Waldinger reports that some couples could bicker day in and day out, but as long as they felt that they could count on one another when the going got tough, those arguments didn’t take a toll. That is in line with John Gottman‘s research findings. He showed that marriages don’t suffer because of arguments, but that it depends on how a couple argues and what basis the relationship has.

As humans, we like a quick fix, but as Walding points out, “relationships are complicated, messy and hard work” and that this work never ends. I would like to add that relationships are also full of moments which are simple, joyful and easy. However, relationships always require attention and effort.

Harvard Study, old couple

The people in the study who were the happiest in their 80ties were the ones who had “leaned into relationships with family, friends and community”. What does it mean to lean into your relationships?

It starts with making time for family and friends, or doing something new together with a loved one, or reaching out to that family member you haven’t spoken to in years. Forgiveness, letting go, healing our own wounds, opening our hearts, reaching out to have difficult conversations, and communicating successfully are all part of building relationships which keep us healthy and happy.

Relationship Energetics provides you with tools and opportunities to build a good long life by building better relationships. Join Dhebi DeWitz and myself for the three day

Relationship Energetics Training

from Sept. 29 – Oct. 1, 2017

EARLY BIRD ($150 down by Sept. 8) $595

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905-286-9466

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“Good night, John Boy!” – What is Family?

Do you remember the television show “The Waltons”? I know it’s a rather old show, which launched in 1972. It was one of the few TV shows I was allowed to watch as a child. I loved the family support the characters extended to each other and it really touched my heart how each episode ended. You saw their house in the dark, the Walton family with their seven kids and two grandparents went to bed, one light after the next was turned off, and they all said “Good night” to each other. “Good night, Mama,” “Good night, Daddy,” Good night, children!” “Good night, John Boy!”

Over the last six weeks, I have been contemplating the question of what “family” really means. What constitutes family and how do families cope with things?

Waltons 1

There is, of course, the ideal of the “picture book perfect family,” like the Waltons. We probably all carry that family archetype around in our mind. But let’s get real. It is 2017, not the 1930’s, and the reality is that there are more and more blended families. We are faced with more complicated family dynamics, other challenges, and different conflicts than the Waltons would have ever dreamed of. In today’s world, family set-ups change constantly. Separations and divorces occur and new unions, for example second or third marriages, are formed. Custody arrangements change, or children get older and move out. With each stage in life, energetic dynamics are transformed. Families even change temporarily, as we have experienced this summer.

For the last six weeks, my 16-year-old daughter has been living and working in Quebec. Meanwhile, we had a 17-year-old exchange student from Quebec staying with us. Just like our daughter in Quebec, he had to adapt to a completely new environment, a different language, his summer job in English, and many new impressions and events each day. They both impressed us tremendously with their openness and courage.

We also had to adapt as a family and understand cultural differences and differences in communication styles. Within the first weekend, our “exchange son” had captured both our hearts with his awareness and sensitivity. A bass guitar major for the last six years, he brought music into our house and many interesting conversations. He wanted to get to know both of us and made the effort to connect right from the start. Very observant and mature in his communication skills—despite the language challenges—we felt from the first moment on that we “lucked out” with this amazing summer guest.

Sounds like the “honeymoon”? It was. Ten days into his stay, the first challenges naturally arose which we had to work through together. Just as in a blended family, there were different values, other rituals and new ways of doing things. From home, he was used to coming and going spontaneously, unaware that over here in his host family, everybody else had adjusted their schedule to his to spend some quality time together. He was not used to communicating when plans that he had made were changing, or accustomed to keeping each other informed by text. The curfew put in place by the exchange program was initially looked upon by him and other French students as a suggestion, and the concept that parents might worry until the young people are back home safely did not occur to the students.

Having grown up in an all-girls household and having only parented girls, I was expecting that familiar communication of sharing your experiences and feelings, and expressing appreciation for each other on a daily basis. I read one syllable answers to questions and his lack of planning as a lack of consideration and lack of appreciation. He read our questions, responses to his behaviour and different rules as overprotection and judgement. The more he felt “not good enough” and “wrong,” the less he wanted to communicate. When we feel blamed, we sometimes just want to run and avoid an unpleasant talk. That is a human response. It took a change in approach—a “tough love” tone—for him to wake up.

Good Night, John Boy 0

We are so extremely proud of this young man for taking responsibility for his side of the misunderstandings and for being open to hear our explanations and apologies where we had made him feel judged as “wrong”. After this talk, we gained a tremendous understanding for each other. Our communication improved greatly, and we were able to see each other’s dissimilarity as just different instead of wrong or rude. We were able to focus on the similarities and the efforts made by everybody and express more appreciation towards each other.

Now, almost at the end of his stay, we are truly sad to see him go. There is no question in our minds and hearts that we will stay in touch with him, just as my daughter will continue the connection with her loving and truly amazing host family.

This exchange experience had me contemplating the question, “What is family”? What is it that the Waltons have that can be still found—or be missing—today in our modern families?

For me, it boils down to the wisdom that as a family you are stronger. What is good for one member of the family is good for all. You don’t give up on each other, but you talk through challenges and you grow from sharing your feelings and thoughts. You learn about the feelings, experiences and triggers the other family members have. From that place of greater understanding, you take responsibility for your part in a regretful interaction and create compromises together. Or, as a friend of mine said a few weeks ago when we spoke about issues with her step-son, “Shit happens in families, but as a family you work through this shit together!”

Good night, John Boy 1

Unfortunately, in her case, the mother of my friend’s teenage step-son is sheltering him from having to take responsibility for a big screw-up. She is depriving the father and his family from having the opportunity to work through things together as a family unit. Instead of trusting her son that he is old enough at 17 to work through a conflict to which he contributed, she is doing him a disservice by letting him hide behind her apron. Wanting to be the more beloved parent can leave us very short-sighted in terms of what beliefs and coping strategies we teach our children.

A family unit can only function if our feelings and needs are not swept under the carpet but rather are processed. Without the willingness to be vulnerable and discover what is going on underneath the feelings of irritation or anger we might be experiencing, we can’t move out of a stuck state. By not working through things as a family, we are making a choice to carry anger, resentment and blame with us. Sometimes it is the parent generation who is not willing to communicate openly and honestly, at other times it’s the young generation feeling unable to express themselves. Often the unsuccessful communication goes both ways. However, only when we take responsibility for our feelings, words and actions, can we grow as individuals as well as families.

Good night, John Boy 2

If you are enjoying my articles, you can follow Greendoor to receive an e-mail notification whenever I post a new blog. All you need to do is to click the “follow” button in the right-hand corner of your screen.

Angelika, Belief Change & Relationship Coach

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

905-286-9466

One way of working on your relationships is the Relationship Energetics Workshop coming up this fall.  For more course information please click here.

Should I Come With My Partner, Or Alone? – Couples Coaching Versus Individual Coaching

Sometimes people say to me, “That belief change work that you do is so different/weird/unusual that the only way I can get my partner to see you is if we come in together for a couple session.” I usually reply, “That is fine”, knowing that once the partner has met me, they will feel more comfortable to try out something new and different.

Whether someone comes alone or for a couple’s session, relationship work requires making individual changes. We are all human and most people hope their partner will do most of the learning and changing in problem areas in the relationship. However, we can never change our partner; we can only change ourselves. You have the choice between different formats of working on your relationship: in individual sessions, in couple’s session, or in a workshop. What they all have in common is that we need to take responsibility for changing ourselves.

In an individual coaching session, we will assess the situation, determine the goals of where you want to be in regards to you relationship, and then begin the work on the subconscious level to create the desired shifts. Even if just one participant in a relationship changes, the relationship itself is changed, and any change in the relationship ultimately changes both participants. If you wish to change the way you interact with your partner, the first thing you must do is discover the underlying subconscious causes for destructive patterns.

couple-beach cropped

In a couple’s session, we will also asses the situation your relationship is in, look ahead to the future and begin the work on understanding each other more and interacting differently with your partner. A couple’s session is not so much the place to do deeper individual work but to work on the third entity, your relationship, together. A relationship is a team effort. What is good for your partner is also good for you and your relationship.

During couples coaching, we will be focusing on the team. You can expect to learn more successful skills for interacting. I believe my primary role is to coach you to improve your responses to each other and to assist you in creating a solid foundation or, as Drs Gottman call it, a sound “relationship house”.

Most of the ineffective things we do in relationships fall under the “Four Horsemen”:

  • Criticism
  • Defensiveness
  • Stonewalling
  • Contempt

My goal is to provide you with the knowledge and the tools to shift out of those destructive patterns and to practice a more successful communication and more productive ways of interacting with each other.

four-horsemen-and-their-antidotesYour job is to create your own individual goals for your relationship. As a coach, my job is to help you reach them. The tools I can offer you become more effective when you are clear about how you aspire to be. The major aim of couple’s coaching is to increase your knowledge about yourself, your partner, and the patterns of interaction between you.

The key tasks of couples coaching are increasing your clarity about:

  • The kind of life you want to build together
  • The kind of partner you aspire to be in order to build the kind of life and relationship you want to create
  • Your individual blocks to becoming the kind of partner you aspire to be
  • The skills, knowledge and tools necessary to achieve the above tasks

To create the relationship you really desire, there are some investments and choices for each person to make. The first investment will be time. It takes time to create a relationship that flourishes: making the time to come for sessions, time to be together on a regular basis to have fun together as well as time to work on the state of your union. This time might conflict with your personal or professional time and it is easy to “forget” to schedule that time in. However, in order to improve your relationship, you need to make the relationship your first priority.

time investment.jpg

The second necessary choice is to step out of your emotional comfort zone. Be prepared to be open to try new ways of listening and speaking, for example listening from your heart and being curious instead of interrupting or closing down, speaking up instead of becoming resentfully compliant or withdrawing. You need to take emotional risks and allow yourself to be vulnerable in order to move forward with your relationship.

The third investment is one of energy and persistency. It takes effort to sustain improvement over time: staying conscious, remembering to be more in tune with each other, more respectful, more giving, more appreciative, speaking each others love languages more, etc. It takes effort to remember what you have learned and to act upon it when you have left my office. For example, if one person is hypersensitive to criticism, and his/her partner is hypersensitive to feeling ignored or shut out, it will take effort to improve their sensitivity instead of hoping the partner will stop criticizing or withdrawing.

When it comes to improving your relationship, your attitude toward change is more important than what action to take. Identifying what to do and how to do it is often easy. The bigger challenge is learning why you don’t do it. We are all often quite limited in our ability to respond to our love partner, and he or she is quite limited in their ability to respond to us, due to our childhood experiences, old triggers, and subconscious beliefs. The more you learn about yourself and your partner and make the subconscious shifts, the more you are able to increase your repertoire of responses. You can then shift from impossible to possible.

possible-street-sign.jpg

Problems occur when reality departs sharply from our expectations, hopes, desires and concerns. It’s human nature to try and change one’s partner instead of adjusting our responses. Coaching gives you the best results if you focus on changing yourself. The hardest part of couples coaching is accepting that you will need to improve your response to a problem, how you think about it, how you feel about it, or what to do about it. You can’t change your partner. Your partner can’t change you. Your feelings, needs and requests will be acknowledged and met, as you are prepared to meet your partners.

When a problem shows up, it’s natural to think “What should I do about it?” A much more productive question is. “How do I aspire to be or act in this situation?” Becoming the best you that you can be, means becoming a more effective partner, and that in turn is the most efficient way to change a relationship.

You can learn a lot about yourself by understanding what annoys you and what you judge in your partner. The people closest to us naturally mirror shadow traits to us that we have learned to disown as “bad” or “wrong”. When shadows show up in a couple’s session, we can integrate those disowned shadows or personality parts in an individual session. That shadow work allows you to take a step towards each other instead of judging each other for your differences.

shadow-couple-archway

All significant growth comes from disagreements, dissatisfaction with the current status, or the desire to make things better. Paradoxically, accepting that conflict produces growth and learning that is the key to more harmonious relationships. In each relationship, there are perpetual problems. You will be introduced to tools to process conflicts more successfully, to find compromises for perpetual problems, and to build a more solid foundation for your relationship.

The most important qualities for effective communication are trust, respect, openness and persistence. Successful communication expresses how I feel and what my values and needs are. Productive communication avoids blame and requires taking responsibility. It requires both people to speak from the heart about what really matters to each.

 

If you’d like help with your relationship, contact me for a free phone consultation. Before you come for a session please read the blog “How To Get Most Out Of Couples Coaching”.

From September 29 to October 1, 2017 you can take part in the

“Relationship Energetics” Workshop.

This three day workshop uncovers hidden subconscious dynamics and helps you to create healthy, empowered and fulfilling relationships. For more information please click here.

Angelika, Relationship Coaching

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

905-286-9466

 

If you are enjoying my articles, you can follow Greendoor to receive an e-mail notification whenever I post a new blog. All you need to do is to click the “follow” button in the right-hand corner of your screen.

 

 

How To Get Most out of Couples Coaching

Couple's Coaching 1 - white letters

It takes courage to make changes in our life and in our relationships. Taking the step to work on your relationship means you believe your relationship is more important than any resistance or fear you are experiencing. Coming for a session to see a coach is the first step in initiating changes. Let’s make sure your experience is as beneficial and efficient as possible.

Before you come in for a couples session, I would like you to reflect on a few goal-oriented questions so that you and your partner are able to get the most out of the coaching session.

The first thing to acknowledge and to remember is that you cannot change your partner; you can only change yourself. Coaching gives you the best results if you take responsibility, and if you commit to learning to understand your partner at a deeper level. Focus on changing yourself and your responses to each other to create together what you both desire.

Couple's Coaching 2

In a couple’s session, we will assess the situation your relationship is in, look ahead to the future and to the relationship you want to have, and begin the work of interacting differently with your partner. A relationship is a team effort. Being a TEAM means “Together Each Accomplishes More”. Or in other words, what is good for your partner, is also good for you and your relationship.

To begin the work together as a team, we need a target, the motivation to work on the relationship, and the willingness to change. Ask yourself the following questions before you come in for a session.

  1. What kind of marriage or relationship do I want to be in?

Answering that question provides you and your partner with a target.

  1. Why is that kind of relationship important to me?

This is the motivation you have to do this work.

  1. What is going to be required of ME to create this?

This will help you shift from the natural tendency of wanting to change your partner to taking responsibility for your part of the relationship.

 

I look forward to hearing your answers to those questions during your first coaching session with me.

Angelika, Relationship Coaching

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

905-286-9466

If you are enjoying my articles, you can follow Greendoor to receive an e-mail notification whenever I post a new blog. All you need to do is to click the “follow” button in the right-hand corner of your screen.

 

Groundhog Day – Communication Styles

“Just tell me right out what is wrong!” says our exchange student. And I can’t help but feel that this situation is quite surreal. I came to Canada from Germany 16 years ago and have since adapted to the Anglo-American indirect communication style. I can still feel that need to blurt right out what I am feeling bubble up at times but I dutifully squelch it—most of the time—because I have learned such uninhibited “vomiting” of thoughts or feelings will not be well received.

So for almost three weeks I have been saying things like, “Your dishes can go into the dishwasher. The frying pan needs to be washed in the sink,” and I assumed, based on my current social environment, this would translate into, “Please put your dishes into the dishwasher and clean the frying pan after you have used it.” I have also been saying, “Do you have an alarm on your phone you can set for in the mornings?” instead of “Please set your alarm for 6:30 and get up by yourself.” And “Please text us your plans,” instead of “We are having dinner at 8:00. If you are not planning to be home for dinner, please let us know ahead of time.”

It is not that this direct way of speech is unfamiliar to me. Had I been speaking in German, I would have automatically slipped into those phrases in German. But with the language and cultural context, I had made assumptions. I expected the receiver of my communication to be capable of inferring from my words to the meta-message.

communication - responsibility lies with sender

We make assumptions all the time. Do you have a family member or co-worker who is not responding to what you are trying to convey? Does it feel like they don’t hear you? We can feel so alone and get really frustrated when that occurs. However, we need to keep in mind that the responsibility for communication always lies with the sender.  Communication is successful when the sender’s message is correctly received and understood. Therefore, it is the sender’s responsibility to communicate clearly and effectively and to check the understanding of the delivered message.

I had not done that. I had found myself in a rendition of Groundhog Day, where each morning the almost 18-year-old man needed to be kicked out of bed after oversleeping, and where each morning, after his departure, the dirty frying pan and spatula were sitting on top of the stove and the unwashed plate and cup in the sink. What does Bill Murray do in Groundhog Day? He first goes crazy until he decides to let go and enjoy himself in the ever repeating reality.

Groundhog-Day

If you are feeling like it’s Groundhog Day, you neither have to go crazy, nor just let it go. You have the key to ending the miscommunication by changing your end of it. That might be the content of your messages, the tone of your voice, the non-verbal signals, or all of the above. When communication is not working, it’s not the receiver’s fault. Too often, we make people wrong in the process of not being able to get through to them. Their communication style is not wrong, just different.

Sometimes when communication is frustrating we feel irritated and annoyed. That sends additional interfering messages to the person at the receiving end. They feel not good enough in some way, perhaps like a burden, or unappreciated, or lectured to, or criticized. Step one is to check your communication honestly for that destructive energy. When we can perceive the receiver as willing and capable, our meta-message is one of trust and respect, instead of annoyed superiority.

Step two, change the choice of your words and double check the result. You might have to try out something completely different that you have not tried yet, and monitor the result. Sometimes your words might be too indirect; at other times the words might have too much edge. Do you perhaps need to use gentler start ups to ensure your receiver remains open to receiving your communication?

I am glad our Groundhog Days at home are over. I am very impressed by how us adapting our communication style slightly has allowed our exchange student to also adapt to planning ahead and being very considerate. Communication can create frustration, but when successful, communication creates wonderful bonds of connection.

If you are enjoying my articles, you can follow Greendoor to receive an e-mail notification whenever I post a new blog. All you need to do is to click the “follow” button in the right-hand corner of your screen.

Please check out the upcoming relationship workshop which will include tools for more successful communication, especially for conflicts.

Angelika Baum

Belief Change and Relationship Coach

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

The Four Pillars of Shared Meaning in Our Marriage or Partnership

Is our love relationship or marriage just about raising kids, splitting chores, and making love, or is there more? What about the spiritual dimension of creating an inner life or inner culture together?

Usually, we think of culture in terms of large ethnic groups or even countries. Within those macro-cultures, each couple and each family creates their own mirco-culture. These smaller units also have their customs, rituals and stories or myths about what it means to be part of their group.

In order to create shared meaning, Drs John and Julie Gottman name four pillars to build a solid relationship on. These four pillars allow the couple a shared sense of meaning. With this shared culture, conflict is much less intense and perpetual problems are less likely to lead to gridlock.

pillar_sky_one

PILLAR ONE: Rituals of Connection

Powerful antidotes to disconnection are rituals with your spouse and children—together and separately. A ritual is a structured event or routine that you enjoy together. Such rituals include

  • rituals of communication like talking over dinner or the stress reducing conversation
  • celebration rituals, like birthdays, holidays or anniversaries
  • rituals around recreation like repeating weekend or seasonal activities, and vacation times together
  • sexual rituals, like initiating lovemaking
  • rituals around everyday living, like start-of-day rituals, end-of-day reunions, bedtime routines or dealing with illness

 

PILLAR TWO: Support for Each Other’s Roles

We all play different roles. We are not just partners, but also parents, children to our own parents, siblings, friends, and of course we take on professional roles as well. Our perspective on our own roles, and our partner’s view of them, can either add to the meaningfulness or create tension and disharmony.

Dissimilar perspectives on what the role of the husband/wife is, different views on parenting, and which kind of interactions with parents, siblings and friends are appropriate, can all contribute to conflict. Our views and our partner’s views on what it means to work and the significance we attach to our own work can either deepen our sense of connection or create tension.

It is important to speak about and understand what the different roles mean to each partner. Even if we do not agree with each other 100%, we can reach a consensus if we know what is significant to the other.

heart-sky-door-cropped

 

PILLAR THREE: Shared Goals

Part of what makes life meaningful is the goals we work towards. No relationship stands on solid ground without shared goals of some kind. These are some useful questions to pursue.

  • Do we value each other’s accomplishments and honour each other’s personal goals unrelated to our relationship?
  • Do we share the same goals for our children, our life in general, our financial future and our old age?
  • Are our life dreams similar or compatible? If they are not identical, do we find ways to honour them?

 

Gottman-quote

 

PILLAR FOUR: Shared Values and Symbols

Values and beliefs form the final pillar of shared meaning. They are sometimes represented by symbols. Such shared philosophies are around

  • love and trust
  • the importance of family
  • spiritual beliefs
  • the role of sex in the relationship
  • the importance and meaning of money and possessions
  • the importance of education
  • similar dreams about retirement and old age
  • the role of fun, play, adventure and connection with nature
  • similar values around personal freedom, autonomy and interdependence
  • sharing power in the relationship.

 

If you are enjoying my articles, you can follow Greendoor to receive an e-mail notification whenever I post a new blog. All you need to do is to click the “follow” button in the right-hand corner of your screen.

Angelika, Belief Change and Relationship Coach

905-286-9466, greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

Hello, Old Pal Anxiety!

Listen to this blog as a podcast here, or read it below!

Ingrid has colitis and other health challenges; the unpredictability of her physical issues gives her anxiety. Margaret has a fear of flying which has gotten progressively worse; due to her anxiety she has not stepped foot on a plane in years. Peter is a widower and single dad with three daughters; the oldest one has anorexia and he is experiencing great anxiety regarding her well-being, as well as her sister’s. The two teenagers are both plagued by anxiety as well.

Anxiety is a more and more prevailing challenge for many people. One in five Canadians has a mild to severe mood or anxiety disorder. Anxiety is especially on the rise among children and teens. It is a continuously growing concern at any age. What is happening in our brains and how can we address this issue?

To understand how our brains function, we need to remember that for our ancestors, negative experiences had more impact for their survival than positive ones. They needed to remember their painful or dangerous experiences so they would not repeat them, in order to survive. Our brain is still wired that way. Our brains evolved with a “negativity bias” (Rick Hansen). In general, we remember negative experiences more easily, unless we really focus on the positive ones and take them in deeply. That is like a “learning disability” and traps us in conflict. So, it does not help at all to tell somebody who is worrying or has anxiety to think positively.

Anxiety - time

The experience of uncertainty which creates anxiety comes from the fact that we can make representations of time. We structure our experiences into past, present and future. The ability to analyze the past and think ahead to the future is part of the human survival kit. We are supposed to learn from the past, be very awake and alert in the present and make sure we are safe in the future. Unfortunately, our ability to evaluate future risks is only based on a few facts and our left brain fills the gaps between those facts in with a story. Depending on which subconscious beliefs we have about ourselves and the world, this story our left brain makes up is either a supportive one or a limiting and fear-inducing one. In the case of anxiety, our left brain has created a fear narrative.

Mark Twain says it humorously:Anxiety - Mark Twain

Most thoughts that makes us anxious are thoughts about the future, a future that generally never happens like we imagine. That is why mindfulness and staying in the present moment helps to train the brain to stay focused on the here and now. The present is all that is real. Therefore, mindfulness alone can already help with anxiety.

We have also been trained to avoid unpleasant emotions, to push them down and not feel them. So naturally, we don’t want to feel anxiety. However, our attempt to push unpleasant feelings down, keeps the anxiety going. The attempt to make anxiety go away is what traps us in it, not the anxiety itself. Instead of putting all our energy towards avoiding the anxiety and trying to get rid of it, we can learn to be with it and ride it out.

It is an ancient Buddhist practice to stay with the feeling that arises. So when fear or dread arises, we can welcome it into our heart and stay with it until it has moved through us. Greet the anxiety like an old friend, “Hello, my friend. I know you. You are my old pal fear. Welcome back.” Then keep breathing all the way into your belly, long deep and complete breaths, letting your belly expand on the inhale, and become smaller on the exhale. Simply being with the fear allows it to come and go like all other mental content.

meditation-monk

Of course, mindfulness and being with the feeling requires practice, like everything else in life. When we say, “I have tried that mindfulness thing, it doesn’t work” it’s like saying “I have tried playing the piano, it does not work”.

Often we believe uncertainty is the problem to be solved. “If I could just control my physical body”, or “If I could just have the guarantee that there will be no turbulence”, or “If I just knew whether I will pass my exam or not”, or “If I just knew that my child will be alright in the future”.

Uncertainty is not a problem to solve. A much more useful approach is to rest in the uncertainty and experience it as a sanctuary of possibilities. When we are emotionally in a place to create a positive influence or make choices, we end up being more comfortable with the uncertainty of a situation and, in the end, are more in control.

A situation of suffering and uncertainty can challenge our whole identity. Being sick might challenge my identity to be a productive and capable human. A fear or phobia might challenge my identity as a rational adult or spiritual person. A crisis with my child might challenge my identity as a good parent.

We first of all need to remember that we still are who we always were. In fact, we are everything. We are capable and rational and spiritual and a good parent. We are just having the experience of a hugely challenging situation. Because it is unpleasant to feel the pain, disappointment, shame, anger, fear or other emotion, we seek control. If we instead acknowledge the painful feelings, we can shift into a place of self-compassion. We can then move from attempting to gain control to choice.

We can always ask “What can I choose? What can I bring to this situation? Courage? Trust? Love? Who do I want to be in this situation? And how do I want to feel?” The answer might be “I want to feel less alone and therefore I reach out for support to address this health crisis” or “I want to be present and calm on the airplane and trust that I am safe in the Universe” or “I want to be compassionate and loving with my struggling child”.

Anxiety - choices

 

If you are enjoying my articles, you can subscribe to receive an e-mail notification whenever I post a new blog. All you need to do is to enter your email address in the field on the left side of the bar. Thank you for your support!

Angelika, Belief Change Coach

905-286-9466, greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

Constructive Disagreements in Relationships – PART TWO Perpetual Problems

Whether we just had a new baby as I described in part one of this article, whether we have no children or older ones, an important aspect of constructive disagreements is processing our fights, acknowledging perpetual problems, and understanding the stories underneath our differences.

  1. Processing and Understanding Fights

We have to get outside of a fight in order to process it. Once you have calmed down, begin by describing the feelings you had during the fight. Just name them, don’t explain or elaborate. Let your partner do the same. For example, “I felt defensive / excluded / angry / misunderstood / criticized / treated unfairly / unappreciated / overwhelmed / afraid” and so on.

Then summarize your viewpoint. Then listen to your partner’s viewpoint. Don’t interrupt each other. Avoid blaming, disagreeing or getting back into the fight. Instead step into your partners shoes and try to see his or her perspective. Communicate your understanding of his or her view out loud to your partner.

taking-responsibility

Take responsibility for your part in the fight. For example, “I am sorry, I have been taking you for granted lately”, or “I have not been a very good listener lately”, or “I have not asked for what I need; I expected you to just know.”

Decide how you can make this better in the future by gently asking your partner to do one thing differently next time and vice versa.

  1. Deepening Your Understanding of Each Other

Every fight contains hidden conversations that lie dormant underground. Instead of the fight, what conversation do we actually need to have? The answer lies in our childhood experiences and current circumstances. We call out to each other from within our own vulnerabilities. Analyze what the triggers of your last fight were. For example, did you feel excluded / ignored / unimportant / rejected / unloved / powerless / helpless? Then, see if you can understand these feelings in connection with your past. Where and when in your past did you feel this way? Share with your partner.

behind-every-complaint

  1. Hear the Longing Behind a Complaint

Often our partner complains because he or she is longing for something that is hidden behind the complaint. Here are some examples put together by John and Julie Gottman in “10 Lessons to Transform Your Marriage”:

Complaint: Why do you always let the garbage pile up like this?

Longing: I wish that we could feel more like teammates taking care of our house.

Complaint: You never call me during the day.

Longing: I wish we could feel close to each other, even when we’re apart.

Complaint: I’m tired of making dinner every night.

Longing: I’d like to go out for dinner with you, as we did when we were dating.

69-of-the-time

  1. Perpetual Problems and the Story Underneath

In each partnership, there are perpetual problems. In fact, according to John Gottman, 69% of problems couples have are repeats because they are based on fundamental differences in personality, lifestyle, or needs. “Choosing a partner is choosing a set of problems” (Dan Wile). If you were with another partner, you would also have unsolvable problems, just different ones.

Some examples are:

– Differences in neatness and organization

– Differences in emotionality

– Differences in wanting time together versus time apart

– Differences in independence

– Differences in optimal sexual frequency

– Differences in preferred lovemaking style

– Differences in approaching finances

– Differences with respect to how much closeness to family partners want

– Differences in how to approach household chores

– Differences in how to raise and discipline children

– Differences in punctuality

– Differences in preferred activity level

– Differences in being people-oriented

– Differences in decision making

– Differences in ambition and opinions about the importance of work

– Differences with respect to religion or spirituality

– Differences with respect to drug and alcohol consumption

– Differences in excitement levels

– Differences in preferred lifestyle

– Differences in values

– Differences in marital fidelity

It is normal for a couple to trip up over those substantial differences. When we are stressed, overworked or exhausted, we gravitate towards our perpetual issues even more. The key to a happy relationship is not expecting to change the partner, but to learn to dialogue about those problems so we can make the best of it. If we can’t dialogue, we end up in gridlock conflict. This conflict takes over and robs us of all our happiness in the relationship.

We need to realize that with many of these perpetual problems, shadows come up for us. Our partner is mirroring to us what we have learned to disown. For example, I might be the planner and my partner is better at living in the moment. Or I am more concerned about neatness than my partner. Or my partner wants to save up most of our money and I like to have the freedom of spending it.

Underneath our conflicts is a hidden story tucked away safely: a dream, a fear, values or personal philosophies. For example, the wife doesn’t just want to save money in her second marriage, but she wants to avoid ever having to experience being poor again and having to go to the food bank with her children like in her first marriage. And the husband doesn’t just want to spend foolishly. He wants to travel and have a new car now rather than dropping dead at 50 like his own father, who never allowed himself any fun.

We don’t find out the dream or the fear underneath our difference if we never ask the questions, “What makes this so important to you?” and “Is there a story behind this for you, maybe in your childhood history?” Being curious about the story is beyond understanding just the thoughts and feelings. “It’s about also grasping what our partner holds sacred—our partner’s values, beliefs, experiences, symbols, and legacies.” (Gottman, And Baby Makes Three)

gottman-john-and-julie

Dr John & Dr Julie Gottman

We have to feel safe enough with our partner to pull our dreams out of the closet. The essential ingredients for a successful dialogue about a gridlock conflict are mutual acceptance of the differences and acknowledging the problem that results from those differences. With patient listening, laughter, and affection, the dialogue unfolds much better.

For example:

Dan: It upsets me that you spend money when you have so much debt. We should be lowering your debt and saving up for our own house. At this rate, it will take forever.

Abby: Why is it so important to you that we reach our goal soon?

Dan: Having a house together with you means for me that we are really committed to each other. It also makes me very nervous that you have debt.

Abby: Does this have to do with your family history?

Dan: Yes, in my family, financial safety has always been a high value. Being able to plan allows me to feel more in control. There is so much unpredictability in everyday life already. – But what about you? What does it mean to you to be able to spend money the way you do?

Abby: Money to me means the freedom to do what I want. You are looking for more predictability; I am looking for the opposite, for adventures and I suppose, unpredictability, when I can just take off on a trip and discover a new place. I also like to spend my money on workshops and trainings because this means stimulation for my mind and an interesting break from the everyday routine.

what-is-one-secret

Now Dan and Abby can either honour their partner’s position and the dream behind it, or not. It doesn’t mean surrendering their own. It means accepting the difference between them and establishing an initial compromise. They might decide to put a plan or budget in place that allows them to bring down the debt while still enjoying life. They also need to talk about what fears each of them might have about honouring their partner’s dream. What disaster scenarios are popping up in their minds?

Dan’s worst case scenario is to end up like his uncle, who lost all his money and his house when he and his wife split up. Abby’s worst case scenario is not to have the freedom anymore to make her own financial choices.

Compromising won’t eliminate the problem. It’s in the nature of a perpetual problem to come up again. However, it does not need to mean the death sentence for a relationship to have unsolvable problems when we can move from judgment into understanding, accepting and dialogue.

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Angelika

Relationship Coaching and Belief Changes

905-286-9466, greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca