How Limiting Relationship Beliefs and Skills Affect Us

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

Studies have shown that married couples, or at least married men, tend to live longer than their unmarried counterparts. However, that is only true if these couples experience their relationship as happy and feel safe with each other.

What determines whether we can create a safe and happy long-term relationship with our partner? We need to consider two main components: our subconscious beliefs and our learned skills.

The science of epigenetics has shown that our beliefs shape our reality. Supportive as well as limiting beliefs affect us in all areas of our life, including relationships. Our mind reads the environment and sends that information to our cells. Healthy cells allow us to live longer. However, the cells don’t get the information directly but via our nervous system, which responds to our perception of reality.

If our mind perceives another person as safe, we feel relaxed and our body is calm. Our cells get the message that we live in a safe environment. In that case, we tend to live long and happy lives because we are experiencing life as safe and pleasurable. If our mind misinterprets the environment, based on limiting beliefs about relationships, and perceives it as threatening, no matter whether it actually is or not, the cells in our body receive the message that we are in danger, which activates stress hormones, and our natural fight or flight response is activated.

If we look through a negative filter, based on our past experiences and learned beliefs, at our relationships, we can find different reasons not to trust and ultimately we are sabotaging every intimate relationship.

Some of those faulty conclusions about love and relationships we might have drawn as we were growing up are, “I will always be alone and no one will ever be there for me”, or “I will never be good enough”, or “I cannot have my needs met in any romantic partnership”, or “I cannot be honest and myself in relationships”, or “Once, there is a conflict, that’s the beginning of the end, and I had better withdraw already to protect myself”. The latter pattern of course is supposed to minimize the hurt if somebody rejects us. Drs. John and Julie Gottman’s research has shown that long-term partnerships are forged and stabilized through the reconciliation of conflicts and differences. So it is actually the limiting belief about conflicts which ultimately creates what the person fears: the loss of the relationship.

But it’s not just the negative filter of our limiting beliefs that affects us in relationships, but also our missing relationship skills. Imperative skills in every relationship are knowing how

  1. to get in touch with our needs and to express them successfully
  2. to take personal responsibility for our part in an interaction
  3. to make amends and repair break-downs or rifts
  4. to work through conflicts in a conscious way
  5. to self-soothe when you get emotionally activated or “triggered”
  6. to hold the space for each other and co-regulate each others emotions
  7. to be vulnerable and generate intimacy on a regular basis
  8. to keep your autonomy while connecting on a daily basis with our partner

When one or both partners are missing one or more of these skills, they can get into a lot of painful or toxic patterns. So we need to ask ourselves which of these abilities we did not develop when we were young. Perhaps conflict resolution or collaboration are missing skills? Perhaps being able to be with our unpleasant emotions and self-regulating these when required is what we need to learn? Perhaps we need to begin to take responsibility rather than choosing to believe that things are happening to us and we are without power and influence?

What beliefs do you need to change and what skills would you like to learn in order to create and continue to lead a healthy and happy long-term relationship?

 

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

I 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!

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

 For more information click here

or contact Angelika

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

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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.

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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