Five Losing Strategies in Relationships

“All relationships are an endless dance of harmony, disharmony and repair. Closeness, disruption and return to closeness.”

– Terry Real

Harmony, disharmony and repair are the essential cycle of all relationship experiences. Closeness, disruption, and return to closeness, happen in many smaller and bigger ways in all our relationships every day. This can already be observed when you watch mothers or fathers and small babies.

I was fortunate enough to visit a beautiful young friend the other day who just had a baby daughter two months ago. I thoroughly enjoyed the slow pace and rhythm of the baby’s needs. I was also able to observe how, from the first day on, we learn this dance that Terry Real describes.

The baby is all relaxed and everything is in perfect harmony. The intimacy and peace is palpable. Caregiver and baby can just look at each other forever, connected through perfect closeness, and eventually the baby falls asleep peacefully. Then the harmony gets disrupted by a feeling of hunger, or the wet diaper, or a gassy tummy, or a sudden loud noise. The mother or father responds by soothing the baby, fixing the issue, and restoring harmony, whether that is with the breast, or the soother, or a dry diaper.

The parent does not argue with the baby if they are right to cry, or punishes the baby for being upset, and hopefully does not let them cry themselves to sleep. Yet, in our love relationships, we employ such useless and damaging strategies. Here are five strategies which are futile and harmful to your relationships.

1 Being Right

I often see couples having a discussion about who was right or what is true. That usually means they argue about who remembers something correctly, or who has the correct perspective on an issue. As Terry Real says so poignantly, “Objective reality has no place in personal relationships”. Or in other words, it does not matter who is right and who is wrong!

If you ever took a workshop with me, you will recall the story of the five blind men and the elephant, which I often share. In doubt, you both have only part of the truth in a given situation. If you asked a third person about the event, they might have a third perspective. There is no such thing as objective truth when it comes to our experiences. Our memory tends to be faulty and betray us because we will remember very selectively, depending on how something impacted us emotionally.

What wanting to be right leads us into is what Terry Real calls “perception battles” or “objectivity battles”. Trying to sort out our relationship issues by wanting to figure out who is right and who is wrong, is an endless losing strategy that has us running around in circles. In fact, if we argue about who is right, nobody wins! As Stan Tatkin likes to point out, if one partner wins and the other loses, you both lose. However, the relationship wins when you create a win-win situation for both of you. What matters is not who did what and who is right, but how you are going to solve a situation or issue in a way that your needs and your partner’s needs are met.

 

2. Control

Trying to control your partner and make them do something can show up in two ways: direct control or indirect control by manipulation. We all have those protective parts inside, that want to come up and control a situation either openly or more subversively. Traditional feminine expectations want women to be indirect instead of openly speaking up for their feelings, needs and wants. Therefore, women might often have a stronger manipulative part which helps them to get what they need.

My grandmother was a master of manipulating others around her, either subtly or less subtly, because she felt she had no other way to have her needs met. 70 years ago, or even 40 years ago, that might have been true. However, in order to be in an equal intimate relationship, we need to find the way out of stereotypical gender roles.

Even though the conventional male and female roles are slowly changing, women still tend to lose their voice. Or as Terry Real says, women “learn to close their voices and men still learn to close their hearts” and disconnect from more vulnerable feelings.

Manipulation is a way to play or manage your partner, which is detrimental in a relationship, because it fosters resentment. Nobody likes being controlled. Even when it looks like your partner is relenting and not objecting to giving in and doing what you want, the likelihood that he or she will grow resentful over time is great.

 

3. Unbridled Self-expression

The third strategy that Terry Real discusses is “unbridled self-expression”. This refers to venting and vomiting up not just the present issue, but all past situations when your partner did something similar.

Why does it not work to bring up past offenses that tie into the present issue? Functional moves in a relationship, whether that is with your partner or anybody else, are moves that empower and motivate the other person to come through for you.

If you are a parent, you know that if you “flatten” your son or daughter and make them feel not good enough and incapable, you are not inviting them to change. If you tell them what they aren’t doing right now in the present, they can do something about it. If you tell them all the things they didn’t do in the past, perhaps throwing in some general accusations starting like “You always…” and “You never…”, the only effect this has is that the other person feels helpless and insufficient. This trend talk then often leads to criticizing somebody’s character, rather than staying with the present issue that can be resolved. You end up with a partner who feels helpless and paralyzed.

When expressing our feelings and needs, “short and sweet” is the winning strategy, while keeping in mind what actually encourages and empowers our partner to meet our requests.

 

4. Retaliation

Revenge and getting even are another losing strategy. This strategy can show up overtly or covertly. The latter occurs when we get stuck in a victim story of “He/she hurt me, so I will hurt them back”. Terry Real calls this offending from the victim position. This makes your partner the perpetrator while featuring yourself as the victim. Every perpetrator thinks they are the victim and have no choice but to fight back with self-righteous indignation. The faulty idea behind revenge is to want to make the other person experience the pain we have experienced. Punishing somebody will never bring them into increased understanding or accountability for their own actions. That’s how legal battles or wars between countries are started. Whenever has the losing party in a court case or in a war said, “Now I understand that I shouldn’t have done this and how my enemy felt. In fact, I am going to love my enemy now that they have won”?

There are two forms of retaliation. Direct open retaliation, or the even more destructive indirect retaliation which is passive-aggressiveness by withholding something, most often love and affection. Both does enormous damage in the relationship.

 

5. Withdrawal

Passive aggressive retaliation can look like withdrawal but is really about revenge. Actual withdrawal is were one person leaves the field. That can be the refusal to engage about an issue, for example trouble with other family members, financial challenges, or the addiction issues which are going on, or opting out of a particular aspect of the relationship, for example the sexual part of the relationship. This can even mean checking out of the relationship entirely. When the latter happens, the end of the relationship is often near.

When withdrawal happens, you might mistakenly think that the withdrawing partner is moving into acceptance. They might say, for example, “I just accept that I cannot talk to my partner about this topic”. However, is the withdrawing partner somewhat resentful in this situation? Resentment is not acceptance.

girl-sea-white-shirt

Withdrawal is also different from having a healthy detachment from what is going on. Withdrawal is unilateral and a rapture. Sweeping things under the carpet and not dealing with them might work as a temporary strategy when we are very overwhelmed, but ultimately backfires.

Withdrawal often looks like provocative or stubborn distance taking. When you can see that a protective part comes up and says “Let’s get out of here. The only way to handle this pain is by distancing yourself.” This is totally different from taking a needed and conscious time out when there is an escalating conflict, or what Terry Real calls “responsible distance taking”. Conscious distance taking means letting your partner know that you need some distance and why. You are also letting them know when you will be back to continue this conversation. If you do this responsibly, you help your partner not to feel abandoned or spin into anxiety. Then they do not need to react from their own protectors like anger or control, or their own inner child, which might respond with fear.

None of these five strategies—or any combination thereof—are in any way helpful or beneficial for a relationship. We need to remember that our partner is not our enemy, but our ally. Instead of controlling, venting, retaliating, withdrawing or wanting to be right, realize that all these strategies are us operating from a protective part and not really connecting from heart to heart. Instead, it is our job to take care of our inner child parts so that we can refrain from using any of these detrimental strategies in our relationships.

Take a moment to honestly assess what your top one or two default strategies might be when the going gets tough. Be compassionate with yourself as you make that self assessment. These are protective parts that step up to protect your vulnerability. Meanwhile, they are keeping you from what you most long for, but might be afraid of: true intimacy and closeness with your partner.

 

Stay tuned for the next two blog articles “Five Winning Strategies in Relationships” and “How to Do a Time Out Right”. If you have subscribed to my blog, you will be notified by email when the next article is posted.

 

For individual sessions or couples sessions please contact

Angelika

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

Check out my discount packages for couples.

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How Do I Accurately Assess a Potential Relationship Partner?

Listen to the blog article as an extended version on my podcast, or read it below.

Are you dating and wondering if this time around the other person is the right long-term partner for you? What is required to assess another person realistically and minimize repeating heartbreak and disappointment?

I often see people leaving their marriage or common-law relationship and within a few months, they are involved with somebody else, declaring that this time, things are different.
What has most likely happened in those cases? It is very possible that the person has skipped an important step, the one of grieving and completing the old relationship. Instead, they have simply replaced one partner with the next, because that is what we are taught to do.

If you are like most people, you will associate the word “grief” with a loved one dying. In reality, grief and loss, in one form or another, occur with most changes in our lives, including the end of a relationship.

When a relationship ends in separation or divorce, it brings huge changes to our daily routine, to our friendships and social interactions, and often to our financial situation. There may be elements of relief that the pain and suffering we experienced being in the relationship is over, but there will also be elements of grief and having to adapt to the changes.

Processing the changes can be challenging because our environment is not supportive. Often, the advice we are given when a relationship ends is along the lines of “don’t feel bad” and “there are many fish in the sea and you’ll find somebody else”, or in other words, “replace the lost relationship with another one”, as if partners are simply exchangeable.

What is required to move forward without dragging our old baggage with us is to fully process the previous relationship, understand what patterns caused the break-up, and grieve the old relationship and the loss of our dreams for the future. The choice to be with somebody else without having done the deeper work might come from fear of being alone. I know because I have experienced this myself in the past. I remember being very much in love with a man many years ago and feeling shocked and heartbroken when the relationship ended due to depression and mental health issues. Within five months, in fact by Christmas that same year, I was dating somebody else, convinced he must be “the love of my life”. What was really underneath this rash decision was that I didn’t want to be alone for Christmas. I had not vetted this man properly and the relationship did not last long.

Jumping into the next relationship without knowing the other person well will most likely cause further heartbreak when that relationship also ends. So how does one not give in to the temptation to rush into the next relationship? And how do we evaluate other people as a potential match?

Dr. Joan Borysenko likes to joke that “if your parents were alcoholics, you can go to a cocktail party, and there’s one alcoholic, and you’re going to end up talking to that one person.” We are naturally drawn to what is familiar and unresolved from childhood. Therefore, we need to be aware of our wounds and our patterns. What have I learned about myself, other people and love relationships growing up? If I am afraid to be alone or have a pervasive fear of abandonment, I might rush into the first possible relationship that shows up and recreate a vicious circle of repeating heartbreak. Or if one of my parents was emotionally distant that might be exactly what I find myself attracted to over and over again, even though I suffer greatly when my partner retreats and closes off.

When we get to know somebody, it pays off to take it slow and to not focus so much on ourselves, but to actually be really curious about the other person. If we focus internally on how someone makes us feel, for example attractive, admired, or appreciated, that focus on ourselves does not tell us anything about the other person. We cannot hear what people tell us between the lines if we are too distracted by our own feelings. We want to learn to read other people relatively quickly before we get emotionally attached to them. Once we have started to bond with somebody or have announced the new relationship to all our social contacts, we are more likely to make excuses for them and to put up with behaviours, character traits and values that will become deal breakers in the long run.

In order to assess somebody for a match, we need to know what our own values are and which ones are “must haves” or “deal breakers”. We need to learn to listen for other people’s values in what they share with us. Here are some questions to keep in mind:

  • What matters to them? What values become apparent? Are these values in line with your top 10 values?
  • What is their position on taking responsibility for their own words and actions? Do they blame others, like ex-partners, for past difficulties?
  • What are their strengths and weaknesses?
  • How do they look at challenges and problem solving in regards to life situations, especially relationships? If they are conflict-avoidant, they won’t be able to work relationship issues out when they arise.
  • How great are their interpersonal skills and communication skills? Do they have a high EQ which allows them to have empathy, share their own emotions and maintain relationships beyond the initial connection?
  • Do they have a history of working through situations, or are they most likely a “fair weather friend”, who is going to be there for a good time but does not have the resilience to work through challenging life situations?

Even after a few dates, we don’t have the entire picture yet. We are likely filling in the blanks with wishful thinking. Rather than deceiving ourselves that we already know a lot, let’s continue to remain curious and open to discover what the other person is really like. Hypnotherapist Michael Yapko recommends to make a concrete list of 25 things we do not know about this person, any one of which could be a potential deal-breaker. What are the things you don’t know for sure yet, and still need to find out?

Before we commit to another person, it is also beneficial to have one or two honest friends or family members vet this potential new partner. In order for this to be helpful, we of course have to be willing to listen to their impressions and assessment. The best way to attract a more successful relationship is not to approach the search for a new partner with desperation and immediacy but with curiosity, a realistic attitude and by taking one step at a time.

Contact me for

individual coaching sessions or couples’ sessions.

Angelika

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

I know your time is valuable and I appreciate you reading my blog. If you enjoy 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 in the left sidebar. Thank you for your support!

Expressing Criticism So It Can Be Heard

I had an interesting talk with a client the other day. He shared: “When I first met my wife, I really appreciated her telling me what impact my behaviour had on her. I learned, for example, how it affected her when I was late and I worked hard to change my time management skills. However, about a year or two into the relationship, I gave up. Somehow I felt I couldn’t change enough and it felt like I was constantly being watched for a misstep. Each time she pointed something out to me that she had noticed about me, it felt like I was being stabbed in the heart.”

Why does criticism so often feel like we are being stabbed in the heart? Why does it make us feel fearful and defensive? Historically, being criticized and found lacking could lead to being ostracised from our tribe, and that could mean death, as we as humans were unable to survive by ourselves.

Even though a part of us knows criticism does not mean rejection and death, the more instinctive parts of our brain kick in and our nervous system goes into high arousal. Relationships require us to communicate honestly and to handle criticism constructively. If we stuff down our feelings and needs, they will either come back up in passive aggressive ways or will be kept down by methods of avoidance like addictions. In the first case, the person can’t help but make little digs, use sarcasm or putdowns, or worst of all, talk negatively about their partner behind their back. The avoidance methods take many different forms: physical symptoms like tension headaches or fatigue, addictions like drinking, gambling, overworking, having affairs, to name a few.

How does one express a complaint in a way that it can be easily heard and does not feel like being stabbed in the heart? The two main rules of constructive criticism are

  1. Tone of Voice

Your partner is more likely to be able to remain open if you use a soft, gentle, respectful and appreciative tone of voice. You are going to be more successful if you can approach him or her with affection, interest in their intent or experience, positive physical touch, smiles and even humour and laughter.

  1. Appreciations Need to Outbalance the Complaints

Gottman emphasizes the Magic Relationship Ratio of 5:1. That means for each complaint or criticism we need to receive five positive or appreciative statements. Other experts speak about similar ratios.

 

How do we ensure that ratio and help our partner remain open and continue to feel safe with us instead of watched? Warren Farrell, author of “Women Can’t Hear What Men Don’t Say”, offers two methods of successfully delivering criticism.

The first method is what he calls the “Plan Ahead Method of Giving Criticism”:

Step 1: Write Down Your Complaints

To figure out what the most important concerns are, it helps to write down our complaints on index cards and to put them in a box. The mere act of writing them down releases some of the negative energy. It also frees us from the need to keep reviewing the complaint in our mind. However, most importantly this helps us to sort out which complaints are the ones worth bringing up.

Step 2: Set a Predictable Time Each Week to Share

Gottman recommends a “State of the Union Meeting” every week to talk about what went well and what is not going so well in the relationship. Farrell calls it a “Sharing and Caring Evening”. Once you have set a predictable time each week, stick to it and turn the rest of the week into a “no-complaint zone”.

Step 3: Share at Least 4 Positive Feelings Before Each Complaint

During your meeting share at least four positive feelings with each negative. In order to do that make positive notes throughout the week whenever you appreciate something your partner is doing. An extra incentive is to do the positive notes ahead of time and leave these little notes for your partner as you notice it. That trains our “gratitude muscle” and shifts our focus to noticing the positive.

Step 4: Incorporate Humour and Romance

For your “Sharing and Caring Evening,” turn on music, light candles, face each other, touch and look into each other’s eyes. Share your 4-5 positives and then make one request for improvement or change. Then alternate; let your partner share in kind. Do three to five rounds of this depending on how much you have to share. Because you feel so understood, you might want to make love, but always return to completing the process after love making. Otherwise, the rest of the week as a complaint free zone might disintegrate.

 

It would be ideal, of course, if we could always just give criticism by using this Plan Ahead Method but sometimes a talk has to happen right in the moment. Farrell also provides steps for “The Spontaneous Method of Giving Criticism”:

Step 1: Identify Your Loved One’s Best Intent

Let’s say your partner is late because they got caught up in solving a problem for work. He lost track of time because he wanted to complete and finish a project. You might feel tempted of diving right into your own disappointment about him being late, or you can instead acknowledge his best intent, e.g. “I know that you are really responsible and I can see how you were trying to do your best to complete the task at work.”

Step 2: Identify Your Partner’s Dilemma or Struggle

Most of us are caught in a dilemma and when our partner can empathize with our inner struggle, we feel heard and understood. In our example, you could say, “I imagine you feel caught between wanting to be on time for me and feeling you need to finish and complete the work.”

Step 3: Identify the Feeling Behind Your Partner’s Dilemma

Empathy with our feeling experience also makes us feel seen and appreciated. “It must be stressful to have in the back of your mind that I am waiting for you.”

Step 4: Identify the positive character traits your partner exhibited in her or his handling of this situation

By doing that we show that their underlying character traits are not in question. They do not need to defend their values. “I imagine it is also hard to leave a project unfinished when you value responsibility and reliability as you do. I am always grateful when I can rely on you completing a project for me.”

Step 5: Recall relevant past conversations and use them to make your partner feel more understood

Instead of using past incidents to argue your own point and for ammunition against the other person, empathize even more. The rule for love relationships is, the more arguments we win, the more love we lose. “I remember how torn you were when your colleague left on vacation and you had to finish the project you were both working on over the weekend. He is really lucky you did that.”

After using the five steps, your partner feels understood and appreciated. They are still open and receptive. Instead of having to defend their values and choices, they can take a step towards you to resolve the problem together. Now it is time to gently share the impact the situation has on you and to work out a compromise which works for both of you.

Farrell points out that learning relationship language is the best hope of re-stabilizing our relationships and families which technology has destabilized and affected negatively. When we teach debate skills in schools, we teach listening for the purpose of uncovering the other team’s faulty analysis. In our private one-on-one relationships, especially our intimate relationship, this way of listening and arguing is like a termite is to wood. It slowly erodes the relationship. “Teaching children to debate without teaching children to listen is divorce training” (Warren Farrell).

 

To read more about how to receive criticism,

please read “Getting to the Complaint Underneath the Criticism“.

To learn relationship language and how to handle criticism,

contact me for

individual coaching sessions, couples’ sessions or workshops.

Angelika

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

 

I know your time is valuable and I appreciate you reading my blog. 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 in the left sidebar. Thank you for your support!

Can I Come in with My New Girlfriend?

Listen to the blog article as an extended version on my podcast, or read it below!

A long-term client of mine, a smart and warm man, who I have coached through different personal and professional challenges and previous relationship struggles, just came in with his new girlfriend of one month. I was thrilled—and so was his girlfriend. There is a man who is aware of the importance of working on himself and on a relationship from the very start. Both, he and his partner, have had—like all of us above a certain age—previous experiences of how we can get hurt in relationships. They both recognize the importance of getting to know each other well and of navigating potential pitfalls with awareness.

Most of my clients come in when there is a crisis and when they have already been struggling for a while. What if we didn’t wait until the path we are travelling on has so many potholes that our relationship car is in acute danger of breaking down on this road, but if we committed from the start to doing regular maintenance?

Different religious affiliations offer premarital counselling or marriage classes prior to making the commitment. Some of those sessions might be more helpful than others but the intention is to get to know each other better. Counselling offered by a church might not be a consideration for all couples, depending on one’s spirituality or lack there of.

Premarital coaching, or simply relationship coaching from the start of a relationship, is an alternative, independent of your religious affiliation. It helps both partners to learn to communicate about challenging topics and to learn to hold each other in those vulnerable moments we all experience. Coaching allows us to become aware of patterns and to release them. Relationship sessions enhance any relationship and help us to be able to be our best self in our long-term relationship or marriage.

You might wonder what there can possibly be at the beginning of the relationship, when we are in the honeymoon stage and everything looks rosy and hopeful. There actually are a lot of topics to explore.

What kind of questions might we ask in a relationship coaching session at the start of a relationship?

  1. Let’s talk about values. What are my top values in life, what are my partner’s?
  2. Let’s become aware of our subconscious. What beliefs and fears have I learned based on my family history and my past relationship history?
  3. Let’s talk about expressing affection. What is my primary love language, what my partner’s?

  1. How do I tend to handle conflict, and how about my partner?
  2. Do I know what my emotional triggers are and can I share them with my partner?
  3. Let’s talk about mutual support. What emotional support do we both hope to get from each other? What practical or financial support?
  4. What does it mean to each of us to commit to a relationship?
  5. What did our own parents model for us concerning love and a long-term relationship or marriage?
  6. What attracted me to my partner and who do I believe my partner will help me to be?
  7. Let’s talk about goals. What personal and professional goals do we both hope to achieve and how do we see the partner’s role in that?
  8. How are we planning to create a life-work balance?
  9. What is a comfortable balance for spending time with my partner and with other people?
  10. Let’s talk about needs. What are my top ten needs, what are my partner’s? How comfortable am I expressing my needs?
  11. Who will take on what responsibilities at home?
  12. Let’s talk about money. How do we feel about differences in financial income, joint accounts, debt, keeping a budget, having spending money, paying bills, completing income tax, financially supporting parents or previous children, and so on.
  13. Let’s talk about our families and the in-laws. What boundaries with regard to family interactions do we both need? How do we show up as a team with third parties?
  14. Let’s talk about future or current common children and/or step-children and about parenting. Where do we have overlapping ideas where do we differ? How are we going to handle differences?
  15. Let’s talk about intimacy and sex. Do we need to learn to talk about this sensitive topic? What are our hopes and expectations?
  16. Let’s talk about spirituality. What are our beliefs and practices? Where are there differences and can we be tolerant of each other’s differences?
  17. Let’s talk about monogamy and affairs. How do we both feel about one of us slipping up? Can we both commit to talking to our partner when we experience an attraction to somebody else, in order to strengthen the bond between us and to avoid sliding across the line with an outsider? Can we also commit to not talking to a person who is not a “friend of the marriage”, about our relationship problems because this builds a bond outside of our relationship? (For more information and to learn more about what this means, check out my blog series “Affairs”.)

 

Contact me for individual coaching sessions,

couples’ sessions or workshops.

Angelika

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

 I know your time is valuable and I appreciate you reading my blog or listening to my podcast. 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 in the left sidebar. Thank you for your support!

 

Pura Vida (Costa Rica 1)

“Pura Vida”, says the vendor at the beach with a smile as I leave his stall with a pair of hand painted shoes for my shoe loving—or should I say, shoe crazy—daughter. One of the sneakers I bought for her shows a sloth, the other a toucan.

Costa Ricans, who call themselves Ticos, have adopted the beautiful philosophy of “Pura Vida”. They use this term to say hello, to say goodbye, to say that they are doing well. Pura Vida is the way Ticos live. They don’t stress about things the way most of us around the world do; they are more laid back and content. You probably won’t be surprised to hear that Costa Rica rates as one of the happiest countries in the world. Ticos have a very relaxed, simple way of looking at life. They are conscious of nature, and they make family and friends their primary focus. Pura Vida is being thankful for what you have and not dwelling on lack or any misfortune.

Pura Vida also means that everything has its own time and takes usually longer than expected, especially when it comes to getting from one destination to the next. On our 12 day trip to beautiful Costa Rica, we traveled from the capital San Jose to the volcano area of Arenal, from Arenal to the coast and the National Park in Manuel Antonio, and then back again to San Jose to fly home. All unfolded in Tico time and by going with the flow. We eventually got where we needed to go, even if not as originally planned.

At the end of this trip, I am filled with appreciation, immense gratitude and countless memories. I was travelling with an amazing group of entrepreneurs, each of them brilliant in their own way, and with inspiring and heart-centered Bob Evans and his supportive crew of conscious team members helping us entrepreneurs logistically, technologically and even emotionally. Every one of us gave a 15 minute TED talk-like speech as one of our videos for becoming part of the Personal Development App (PDA).

When everything is complete, each of us 13 entrepreneurs will all also have our own App. I am excited that I can now bring educational and informative content in written, audio and visual form to you via another platform.

I also had the incredible honour of facilitating a workshop for this group of messengers, who each impressed me in so many different ways. The workshop was about working with our protective parts and our inner child, which of course loves the idea of Pura Vida. I was a bit apprehensive about being mic-ed up and video taped while teaching, but it was beautiful to see what came up for each participant, despite being on camera.

The last two weeks held so many experiences for all of us that I have decided to write a Costa Rica blog series. Personally, the trip brought me out of my comfort zone, taught me a lot about myself, filled my heart with joy, and inspired me immensely. A community outreach program was part of this trip, and one of my next blogs will be about visiting the alternative school which we were so fortunate to be invited to.

Different fellow travelers have also inspired me and I cannot wait to write about some of them or share their wisdom. I had never traveled with a group before, and for me this trip became an interesting walk between being part of the group and connecting, while at other times expressing my need for quiet and alone time. That meant staying back from some activities or get-togethers, to be able to keep my inner balance and to recharge.

Upon embarking on this journey, I had different parts inside of me who were quite polarized. On one hand, I have a part which loves travelling and was excited about going to not only a country but a continent I hadn’t been to before. I have a part which likes to experience new things. I might not be as adventurous as other people, but there is a part that certainly has a sense of adventure. I also have a Zen part which can go with the flow and trust that all will be fine. I tell you, that part came in handy when we were navigating the steep and curvy pothole-filled Costa Rican roads with two vans weighed down by luggage and eight people each.

On the other side, I had parts come up before—and during my trip—that were concerned. I have a part that does not appreciate surprises at all, and this trip was filled with surprises. In theory there was a schedule, but it was subject to last-minute changes on a daily basis, when something showed up due to the group dynamics or the weather; it was rainy season after all. And, boy, did this trip require being adaptable.

I also have a part, like many of us, that is somewhat uncomfortable with the Unknown and this trip was new for me in every way. I had different parts inside of me which were a bit concerned. A safety conscious part of me was questioning if it would it be safe to be in Costa Rica. A part of me that is rather private was wondering what it would be like to be followed by cameras every day and every step of the way. All these parts relaxed as the days went on. After a while, I barely noticed the video cameras anymore.

I also have a part, and that was probably one of the loudest “voices” in my inner system, that was concerned about being with others and all the sensory input coming at me on a continuous basis. It knows that as an introvert an HSP,  I need alone time like other people need water or air to breathe.

Sensory overload is an experience most Highly Sensitive People have. Travelling in a van for many hours with six or seven other people, where the radio was playing and two or three conversations were going on at the same time, while the scenery outside also wanted to be taken in, was extremely challenging for me.

I am so grateful to my fellow travelers and to Robert Evans for giving me space and alone time after each of those experiences and fully supporting me in taking care of myself. Their understanding and support allowed me to have a fabulous time and experience a life changing trip in full Pura Vida. I am returning home with a heart filled with joy and a mind filled with fabulous ideas and insights which I look forward to sharing with you over the next few weeks. Pura Vida is a beautiful concept to embrace and bring back with me to our busy life.

 

To download the PDA onto your phone, go to the App store and look for the following logo.

 

If you are wondering if you are an HSP (Highly Sensitive Person) please read my blog post “Are You an HSP?”

If you are curious about finding out more about working with your parts (IFS Inspired Coaching) contact me for a free phone consultation. I offer sessions for individuals and couples.

Angelika

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

I know your time is valuable and I appreciate you reading my blog. 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 in the left sidebar. Thank you for your support!

How Do I Ask My Partner to Attend a Coaching Session with Me?

Do you feel that your long-term relationship could benefit from couples coaching but you are concerned that your partner is not open to the idea of seeing a coach? I am often asked, “how do I get my partner to come with me to do couples work”?

In my workshops and one-on-one sessions, I teach individuals and couples how to express their feelings and needs using the non-violent communication model by Marshall Rosenberg. The four step process ends with making a request—not a demand—to have your need met.

Couple’s therapist Ellyn Bader also has an interesting perspective on expressing needs to our partner. She points out that a lot depends on the wording we use. To translate that into NVC wording, we can express our need for something, but the request has to be a true request, not “I want you to”, not “I need you to”, and certainly not “You need to”.

Bader feels that saying “I need you to go to couples coaching with me”, will most likely result in your partner feeling he or she has no choice. They might feel cornered, resistant and get defensive, as there is no room to move. Fears or shame can be triggered for them around seeing a coach or sharing your private conflicts and challenges. They might not even feel they can express their feelings when approached this way. The more autocratic we show up when we express a need, the less likely it is that our partner will want to be open and cooperative.

Here is a better way of approaching the topic. “I really want to go to coaching. I hope you will join me. Here is why I want to go: I realize when you and I get into conflict I don’t handle it the best way possible. I want to learn to understand you better so we can create a better relationship. I want to become a better version of myself and connect at a deeper level with you.”

Notice that all of these are I-statements. You avoid blame or finger pointing. You simply take responsibility for yourself and the change you want to make. You give your partner a free choice to change or stay the same. Ellyn Bader even advises not to use the word “need” at all. Approaching your partner from a softer place allows them to give generously from an open heart and to express their own concerns or hesitations.

It can also help if you highlight the personal gain for your partner when going to couples coaching. You probably have specific topics you want to work on. Let your partner know that you are willing to also work on what they want to change in your partnership. For example, you want your partner to acknowledge your feelings more, and your partner wants to improve your sex life. Knowing they have a potential gain by agreeing to sessions gives them a motivation to come other than the fact that you want them to.

If despite making a request rather than a demand, your partner is not willing to come for sessions, you have the choice to make an appointment for an individual session to do your own relationship work. Even when only one person changes, the relationship itself changes. All relationships are a reflection of the relationship we have with ourselves. Others reflect to us what we believe, think and how much we love ourselves. Our partner always reflects our core wounds from childhood.

Some potential questions to examine in individual sessions could be:

– How has my partner disappointed or hurt me in ways similar to how I was disappointed or hurt as a child?

e.g. My father discounted my feelings and fears and my partner does the same.

– How might I have disappointed or hurt my partner in ways similar to how he or she was disappointed or hurt as a child?

e.g. My partner had a mother who was controlling and demanding. Each time I become controlling or demanding, I remind him of his mother. As a child he felt not good enough and guilty. When I let him know that he is not acknowledging my feelings, he is triggered into not being good enough again. He feels guilty.

– How do I let myself down in ways that are similar to how I feel let down by my partner?

e.g. I don’t take good care of my own feelings.

– Where am I expecting my partner to take care of me in ways I am refusing to take care of myself?

e.g. I expect him to acknowledge my feelings when I am not willing to sit and work through my own feelings.

– What am I making these disappointments mean?

e.g. My feelings, needs and fears don’t matter and will never be acknowledged in a relationship.

– What am I making our challenges mean about the possibilities I have for happiness in romantic partnerships?

e.g. I can’t be myself in a romantic partnership. I have to suppress my feelings and fears. I will never feel safe or accepted to be me.

– What is my limiting story around love and relationships based on my childhood wounds?

e.g. Men are not capable of acknowledging feelings and fears. Women need to make sure they don’t show up as “too needy”, or they lose their partner.

– How do I set my partner up to respond in a way that perpetuates my childhood experience?

e.g. I don’t express my feelings and fears calmly, and instead, I get very stressed and anxious. I express myself loudly and anxiously, using control to manage the anxiety. That triggers my partner into feeling the same way he felt when he was a boy.

 

Contact me for a free phone consultation on either individual sessions or couple’s coaching. I also offer packages for couples.

Angelika

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

I know your time is valuable and I appreciate you reading my blog. 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 in the left sidebar. Thank you for your support!

The Nothing Box

Have you ever watched the hilariously funny clip “A Tale of Two Brains” from Mark Gungor’s “Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage” seminar? His serious intention for the seminar is to improve the married lives of the people attending, even though he presents the relationship information like a stand-up comedy show. His strength lies in using humour and having his audience roar with laughter while he explains male and female differences. Among others he discusses how our brains are different. A man’s brain, he says, has different “boxes” for different topics and they “don’t touch”. A man is able to focus on one “box” at a time. He jokes that women’s brains are made up of a big ball of wire in which everything is connected to everything. He continues saying that men have one particular box in their brain that women are unaware of, the “nothing box” and it’s their favourite box.

Have you ever asked your husband or son “What are you thinking?” and the answer was “nothing”? That’s what Gungor is talking about. Women cannot fathom the concept that one could not be thinking anything at a given point in time—unless you are asleep or dead. We tend to think that he just doesn’t want to share or must be hiding something from us. And as humans we might even fill his silences in with negative assumptions. Perhaps we wonder if he is thinking something bad about us or our relationship, or if he is keeping secrets from us. We perceive his response as holding something back because we are comfortable even just sharing fleeting thoughts and feelings, no matter how “silly” they might be. If he wasn’t thinking something negative, he would share, we assume.

When we say, “What are you thinking?” it translates into “I feel disconnected from you. Connect with me by sharing your inner world. I want to know how you are feeling and connect on a heart level.” Men’s reaction to our question might meanwhile be feeling intruded upon, and the response is an exasperated, “Why does she need to know everything?” He might also feel that he has nothing of importance to share. He literally feels that he was thinking of “nothing”.

The female clients that come to see me typically complain that men are emotionally unavailable. They want to feel more connected to their partner. And their natural go-to for connection is words. All they often want is for their feelings to be acknowledged. That translates for us women into being seen and being heard. Men, on the other hand, often complain about feeling smothered, suffocated or intruded upon when women want to talk. Their need to retreat and to work things out internally is perceived by the woman in their life as rejection or as an incapability to be vulnerable and connect. Men want to feel connected, loved and accepted as well, but their ways of connection are often fundamentally different.

When men are stressed out, Gungor jokes that they just want to go to their nothing box. The last thing they want to do is talk about what is stressing them out. He quips that when a woman is stressed she “has to talk about it or her brain will literally explode”. And men feel obligated to fix it but “if you are trying to fix her, she is gonna kill you. She doesn’t want your advice, she doesn’t want your help. She wants you to shut up and listen.”

Michele Weiner-Davis:

“We don’t feel close to our partners

unless we have had a good talk recently”

As women “verbal communication is our lifeline. We don’t feel close to our partners unless we have had a good talk recently” (Michele Weiner-Davis, Getting Through to the Man You Love). And we have a very clear idea what a good talk is. We are not talking about meaningless chatter or small talk. We are also not talking about an exchange of information. “Good conversations are about feelings—deeply personal, soul baring feelings. The more personal, the better.” (M. Weiner-Davis)

I find I crave those intimate conversations and so do my daughters. When my 17-year-old daughter comes back from a sleepover with her girlfriends, she raves with a satisfied smile. “We were up late, talking. It was sooo great. I was glad there were no guys at this party because we really connected…” The only male, she connects with in the same way as with her girlfriends is a gay friend. He “gets it”. He understands that there is no such thing as “too many words”, “too many emotions” or “too much sharing”.

Real connection to us is being vulnerable, trusting each other with our inner world and having the other person listen, understand and affirm our feelings. For us an intimate conversation is an end in itself because it brings us closer to people and therefore makes us feel safer. We are seen and heard, and we belong. Too frequently we assume that men are like us. “From a woman’s perspective, men have two modes. They are either engaging in meaningless chatter or they are actively avoiding conversation, and it’s generally the latter.” (M. Weiner-Davis). We overlook that intimate conversations might feel unsettling to them; all too often they are out of their element.

In the sixties and seventies, research was focused on our behaviour being learned and not biologically determined. We began to expect men to learn communication skills and connect in the way we do. According to linguist Deborah Tannen, the gender differences when it comes to communication stem from a different upbringing. Men learn to use conversations for negotiations and to achieve a position of power or respect. Life is about independence and avoiding weakness and vulnerability.

For women, conversations are negotiations for closeness. They seek and give confirmation and support. Conversations are a protection from being pushed away, a struggle to avoid isolation. The main purpose of communication is to be included, to create closeness through vulnerability. If you want to read more about the male and female genderlect, as Tannen calls it, please read my blog “You Just Don’t Understand”.

Weiner-Davis, in contrast to Tannen, believes that the differences are based on how male and female brains function differently. Is this the result of learned behaviour or a biological difference? That seems to be an “who was first, the chicken or the egg” question. It might be both. Our left hemisphere deals with rational and logical thinking, the right hemisphere with more abstract concepts, communication skills, feelings and emotions. According to Weiner-Davis, males predominantly depend on the left hemisphere and it is harder for them to move between the two hemispheres than it is for women. “That’s because the corpus callosum, the delicate fibres connecting the left side of the brain to the right side, is 40 percent larger in women than men… Therefore verbal activity, comprehension, and other language skills—all right brain functions—simply come more naturally to women.” (Weiner-Davis)

Willard F Harely reminds us in his book “His Needs, Her Needs” that the need for intimate conversation is at the top of most women’s lists, usually within her top five needs. Harley’s mission is to teach couples to understand and meet each others needs more. There is certainly value in understanding each other’s priorities and different values and making real efforts to meet each others needs. Women can learn to meet their mate’s needs more and men can learn to venture into her world of words more. As long as we remember that he might only be a visitor to our world and not take up permanent residence there. Problems arise when we believe that the importance verbal communication has in our life is right and his silences are perceived by us as wrong.

As women, we tend to measure our success in terms of how we are getting along with our loved ones. Are we close to our partner, our children and other family members? Do they feel comfortable sharing with us and do we know how they are feeling? Men often judge themselves by their ability to set and accomplish goals. They realize the importance of dedicating time and energy to accomplishing a career or athletic goal while they tend to expect relationships to run on autopilot.

Usually, partners come to see me because the woman has initiated it. She is hoping he will learn to be a sensitive communicator who wants to connect the way she does. There are of course exceptions to the rule, there are some men who love connecting through words. Yet, many men use different avenues to connect. Harley names the need to engage in recreational activities together as a need that in general seems to be higher on the list of values for men than for women. Men also tend to connect through sex. Of course there are couples where this is reverse. In general, Women often need to feel close to engage in physical intimacy. Men use love making itself to connect. “Guys feel appreciated and cherished when we acknowledge them as sexual beings.” (Weiner-Davis)

We need to take a step towards each other. Neither way of connecting is better than the other. They are just different and if Weiner-Davis is to be believed, a result of different wiring in our brain. We have to stop making it mean something negative that we don’t tend to reach out to each other in the same way.

Here is my appeal to both partners. Men, when women want to have an intimate conversation, this is not about controlling you or intruding on your privacy! Your female partner just feels disconnected, excluded or alone. It makes her feel safe and loved to really talk. Do your best to share your thoughts and feelings and truly listen to hers. You don’t have to have the solution to her problems; in fact, it’s best if you don’t. She wants to feel that the two of you are a team, solving issues together. And most of all, she wants to know that you care about her feelings. That’s when she knows you accept and love all of her.

Women, when your male partner needs some space and doesn’t want to talk, breathe through your feelings of abandonment and anxiety which might come up for you. Remind yourself that he has to go into the “nothing box” in his brain because being in that nothing box relieves his stress. Talking through things might create more confusion and anxiety for him than clarity. Allow him to deal with things his way. He will reach out and share when he is ready. When you stop pursuing him to talk, that’s when he knows you accept and love him the way he is.

 

Contact me for a free phone consultation on either individual sessions or couple’s coaching.

Angelika

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

I know your time is valuable and I appreciate you reading my blog. 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 in the left sidebar. Thank you for your support!

Getting to the Complaint Underneath the Criticism

A couple of weeks ago a client was coming in for his session and he wanted to talk about our coach-client relationship. He needed me to listen to a complaint he had. He felt I was being unfair by putting all the responsibility for his relationships with his family members onto him. After all, the other family members should be given half of the responsibility. Part of me wanted to say “But that’s not what I meant…” and jump into an explanation and justification. I had to tell myself to breathe and to really be present with his words.

I needed to listen carefully to hear that he was feeling unsupported by me as his coach. I had to ask myself if there was a shadow showing up for me with this particular client. Was there an energy mirrored back to me by him that I wasn’t comfortable with and was I therefore rushing him to shift out of it? Was I pushing him too hard because I experienced him as a conscious man and had higher expectations of him than of an average client? Or was the approach and tools not the right ones for him? How was I being unfair to him and unsupportive?

I am very grateful to this client for speaking up and making me aware that there was a shadow projection going on. It would have been easier for him to just not return for the next session because it requires courage to speak up. He had the courage to bring it up and I was able to realize that I perceived him as not taking enough responsibility for his part in most of his relationships because he reminded me of somebody I know. So I was focusing on what he could do better instead of focusing on his progress.

Whether with a client, or in any of our other relationships, it is not always easy to respond to criticism without defensiveness and to stay open to hearing the complaint underneath. As mammals, we are hardwired to want to feel good in comparison to others and to not be rejected by others, so that we are not abandoned by our tribe, who we need for survival. So we have an inbuilt physiological response to being criticized. Stephen Porges speaks about how our body tenses up and how being criticized can shift our autonomic nervous system into defense mode as if we are being attacked. We experience a physical and emotional constriction.

Gottman highlights the importance for the speaking partner to make productive complaints rather than being critical and for the listening partner not to get defensive. Criticism and defensiveness are two of the “four horsemen of the apocalypse” who slowly erode our relationships.

The person who has a complaint needs to remember to deliver their complaint without blame or anger and as diplomatically and gently as they possibly can. But what about the person who is at the receiving end? Sadly, in our human interactions, it is unusual for the person who is being criticized to respond with curiosity and wanting to understand, rather than defensiveness. So, what can you do when your partner or somebody else criticizes you?

I find it helps to remember to breathe and self-regulate, so that we can truly listen and get to the complaint underneath the criticism. Dr. Kelly McGonigal recommends to “breathe with all your senses”. She reminds herself to “breathe with her ears”. You can feel how your body feels and strive to have a posture of openness. Drop your shoulders, come into your body and notice your breathing. “Lean in” as much as possible instead of shrinking away and protecting yourself. Leaning in translates into your body language and fascial expression and shows the other person that you are willing to listen and take their feelings and thoughts seriously.

Dr Rick Hansen talks about tracking moment to moment that your body is still okay and that you are not in mortal danger, you are not dying, even though our primitive brain might be under the impression that we are in danger. Dr Joan Borysenko even suggests to use a mantra like “All is well” to calm ourselves down when we feel attacked by criticism.

Instead of going on the defence due to our own feelings of inadequacy, which tend to get triggered, we need to just be quiet and listen properly. We need to be curious about what the other person has to teach us or needs from us. It can help to be honest and say, “I feel defensive right now but I don’t think this will help you or me so I am trying to stay open to what you are saying.” The admission of your own defensiveness, allows the speaker to feel heard and to explain a bit more how you can meet their needs.

Have the attitude to turn criticism that is usually hurtful into something actionable. Remember that underneath a criticism is a longing. Here are some examples:

Complaint: You never hold hands with me anymore.

Longing: I need some affection and holding hands makes me feel loved and connected.

Complaint: Why is it so hard for you to say thank you?

Longing: I feel unappreciated and would really love if you told me more often that you are grateful for what I do.

Complaint: You always overreact when I tell you bad news.

Longing: It would be much easier for me to tell you bad news if you stayed calm. Can you please take some deep breaths and not respond right away.

Complaint: You don’t know at all what I like!

Longing: I wish you would listen more when I express my likes and dislikes and show that you care what I like.

For more examples click here.

Next time your partner criticizes you, take some deep breaths, let them know you are doing your best not to get defensive, so that they know what you are struggling with and perhaps they can reassure you that they love you. Then listen very carefully for the longing. Be curious what you can learn.

Contact me for more information on either couple’s coaching or individual sessions to help you deal with criticism and defensiveness.

Angelika

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

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!

You can also join me for this meditation to practice staying open instead of getting defensive

Do You Trust Me?

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

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.

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

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

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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“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.

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