A Missing Piece in Couples Therapy

I am—despite that odd question arising after my last blog—not in the business of uncoupling people. I am more than ever invested in how I can guide couples to have a deeper committed long-term relationship in which both can feel safe. I have more recently discovered what the missing piece is in regards to being able to show up as the loving and compassionate Self with the other person. The answer lies in a particular practice which I will elaborate on more later in this article. But let’s first of all look at what is commonly done in therapy or coaching sessions and what the value of those approaches is.

Couples therapists like Stan Tatkin and Sue Johnson, who are based in attachment theory, empathize how important it is to create a secure attachment in our partnership. Stan Tatkin focuses among others on knowing each other’s threat signals and creating a “couple bubble” in which both partners feel safe with each other. Sue Johnson, the founder of Emotionally Focused Therapy, says, “When EFT is successfully implemented, each partner becomes a source of security, protection, and contact comfort for the other. Each partner can assist the other in regulating negative affect and constructing a positive and potent sense of self.” (Susan M. Johnson: The Practice of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy).

For both of them, the answer to feeling safe, less anxious and less depressed lies in the connection between the partners. The goal is for each partner to learn how to show up as the unconditionally loving attachment figure for the other spouse. Your partner is your primary go to and the one who provides the safety for your childhood wounds to be healed. Their premise is that you need somebody outside of yourself to heal the past. If your partner is really struggling to be that person because their own defenses are triggered in the relationship this journey can be frustrating. Unless one partner already has a secure attachment style, the process of creating this attachment requires some time and commitment to working this out together.

Drs. John and Julie Gottman, whose research-based insights and techniques I use in my sessions with clients, also have a wonderful set of tools to truly empathize, perfect communication between the partners, compromise successfully, and to avoid the four horsemen of the apocalypse, which predict the end of a relationship.

Other couples therapists, like Willard Harley, focus on women’s and men’s needs being different and on making deposits into each others love bank, which is the emotional account we all have. I acknowledge the importance of our needs by teaching my clients the non-violent communication steps developed by Marshall Rosenberg to express our feelings and needs successfully.

All these are fabulous tools and techniques that can make a big difference in our closest relationships. When couples are willing to not just learn but also practice these techniques, their relationship improves. Besides making the commitment to put the time in to practice relating differently to each other, couples must learn how to handle situations when one or both partners get triggered into states of high emotional activation, into what is called fight or flight. When this happens, destructive patterns of interaction are activated and amends and repairs need to be made. Often the spouses feel discouraged by that setback. And that is were Richard C. Schwartz’s Internal Family Systems Therapy, known in short as IFS, comes in as a missing piece.

IFS helps couples replace their distant, controlling, or needy way of relating to each other by what Schwartz calls “courageous love”. This courageous love is accepting of everything we are and all our partner is. Within each of us is a group or “family” of sub-personalities, which Schwartz calls “parts”. Just like in a family, these parts have intricate relationships with each other. Some of the more known parts are the Inner Critic and the Inner Child, but we have many parts which, according to Hal and Sidra Stone and their system of voice dialogue, are either primary personality parts or disowned personality parts. IFS, in comparison, focuses mainly on two kinds of parts. One type is the “protectors”, which have the function to keep us safe; some of them are responsible for us going into fight or flight mode. There are also the “exiles”, which usually are younger wounded child parts.

Every message we get growing up from our family, our friends and the media, has conditioned us to believe that finding our soul mate, the One, will be the answer to our inner pain, our loneliness, sadness, fears or insecurities. The myth is that a special someone will come and love us unconditionally and heal all our childhood wounds. “We’ve been told that the love we need is a buried treasure hidden in the heart of a special intimate partner. Once we find that partner, the love we crave should flow elixir-like, filling our empty spaces and healing our pain” (Schwartz: You Are The One You Have Been Waiting For”)

The truth is that our partner can no more relieve our sense of unloveability and unworthiness than the short term energy relieving behaviours (STERBS) we use to distract ourselves from our pain. The external focus on other people or on STERBS, like food, alcohol, drugs and so on as well as addictive activities, can only provide temporary relief. In fact, this very assumption that our partner is our rescuer is the reason why so many relationships struggle and fail.

“From watching movies or TV, listening to songs on the radio, you’ll be convinced that everyone, sooner or later, will find their one, true, happily-ever-after relationship. The person who will heal you, complete you, and keep you afloat is out there. If the person you’re with isn’t doing that, either he or she is the wrong person altogether or you need to change him or her into the right one” (Schwartz).

We subconsciously pick a partner who matches the template of our original care-taker who has wounded us by making us feel “less than” or unworthy. And we set out with the unconscious agenda to relive the past but this time around change this person’s mind about our worthiness to heal that original wound. The problem is that our partner acts so much like our caretaker that he or she triggers our protectors. When the euphoria of the honeymoon period is over, and the love naturally changes, we get scared and, as Schwartz puts it, set to work on one of three projects.

The first “project” is to get our partner to change into that loving rescuer that we are hoping he or she will be for us. “We plead, criticize, demand, negotiate, seduce, withhold, and shame” (Schwartz). Naturally, most partners resist these attempts to change them and become defensive. They feel unloved and not accepted.

The second project that we embark on is to figure out what our partner doesn’t like about us and then strive to become what we think he or she wants us to be. In this case, the criticism and shame is directed at ourselves. We are no closer to true love and acceptance than when we are trying to change the other person.

The final project kicks in when we give up on getting the love we crave from our partner. We begin to close our heart to him or her and we do one of three things. We either search for a different partner, we numb down enough to stay with our original partner, or we fool ourselves into thinking that we need to live alone because we believe our true needs for love can never be met in an intimate relationship.

Women engage more in the first two change projects mentioned above, while men tend to more quickly retreat into the third behaviour. Shutting down externally often seems like the safest choice for men, especially when they experience strong inner angry protectors. Men often fear what they might do if they let that rage take over.

Women tend to define themselves through relationships and are socialized to take care of their inner child parts through relationships. When those exiled child parts are upset, they usually want to change things in their relationship so that the distressed inner child can get the love and comfort from their partner in order to feel safe and secure. Hence, women are more often the initiators of change-oriented discussions.

We tend to assume that women are more connected to their emotions and we jump to the conclusion that they should be better at parenting their own inner children. However, women focus so much on taking care of others and on getting their inner child’s needs met by their relationship, that they are no better at nurturing their own parts than men.

Schwartz talks about a cruel joke that is being played on all of us. “We’ve all been setup—victims of a cruel joke. First we are loaded with emotional burdens by our family and peers, and then taught to exile the parts carrying them. Then we are told to go out in the world and find that special person who can make us finally like ourselves. Together we and our partner enter the striving, frenetic whirlpool American lifestyle that preludes time together, isolates us from community, depletes and stresses us out, and offers innumerable addictive distractions that further isolate us. When we can’t make this impossible situation work, we feel like total failures—as though something is wrong with us.” (Schwartz) Meanwhile, we never had a fair chance due to the baggage many of us have and the pressure of modern life, but most of all due to the complete ignorance on how to deal with our inner turmoil, other than expecting our partner to miraculously make it go away.

The missing piece you have not been taught is how to parent yourself in a way that allows you to take care of our own inner wounds and to show up as your best self with your partner. You can stop searching outside of yourself because you are the special person your vulnerable inner child parts have been waiting for. Once you realize and embrace that insight fully, your partner will be released from the pressure to have to be the perfect unconditionally loving parent for your younger selves. IFS is essentially attachment theory taken inside.

In your partner’s place, your Aware Self will become the primary caretaker of your inner child parts so that your partner can be a secondary caretaker. Instead of your power parts, for example your Inner Pusher or Inner Perfectionist or Inner Pleaser, to just name a few, parenting your vulnerable inner children in their limited way, your true Self can give those parts what they so desperately need. Those protective parts are parentified inner children. They have taken on the job to protect you and thus parent the vulnerable child parts but are often quite burdened by it.

IFS is a psycho-spiritual model of therapy in which all human beings are perceived as healthy and whole. The Self is the spiritual aspect of this therapy. It is a myth that we have to learn or build compassion. Our true self is naturally accepting, loving and compassionate. All humans have this inner wisdom and healing energy. The Self is the healing entity. It is meant to be the natural leader of the inner system of parts. The Self is eternal, knows all and is not affected by any trauma. It connects us to others and to all living things. It is presence, heart-openness and conscious awareness. The Self is characterized by the eight C’s of self-leadership that Schwartz names. The Self is compassionate, calm, curious, connected, confident, courageous, creative and possesses clarity.

When you take care of all your parts from that Self, you can also show up from that calm, connected and compassionate stance with your partner. The way you relate to your own parts is mirrored in the way you are able to relate to your partner’s part. If you for example have a relationship with your own fearful part, you can be compassionate with your partner’s scared part.

When our power parts, for example anger, control, defensiveness, judgement, righteousness or even our distant rational self are triggered, we are usually blended with them or have a feeling of being taken over by them. Interactions with our partner from a place of anger, judgement, righteousness, defensiveness or control are clearly not productive but are greatly damaging for the relationship. Instead of our power parts taking us over in a given moment, we ideally want to be able to speak for the parts rather than being immersed by them and speaking from those powerful parts.

We also want to be able to speak for our vulnerable inner child and their needs rather than having the child take us over. When that child takes over and jumps into the driver’s seat, we might show up as overly scared, helpless, or moody. Our partner is left wondering what to do with this child-like behaviour and finds himself or herself in an involuntary parenting role.

The myth of us having a monolithic personality, which translates into being only one mind, is according to Schwartz one of the greatest causes of distance and conflict in our intimate relationships. That awareness of our parts, our natural multiplicity, on the other hand, is the greatest antidote. Instead of believing our partner is this angry or controlling person, or they are this distant judgmental person that shows up at times, we can relax into the awareness that this is just a part of them and that it serves the function of protection. When both partners are totally flooded by their protector parts, the knowledge that this isn’t a permanent condition but that the protectors on both sides will relax and the two Selves will emerge is extremely eye opening and comforting. We can then both work with our own parts to get back into Self and then repair and reconnect with our partner from a loving and compassionate place.

Not only does the knowledge of the multiplicity help us navigate through storms, but it can also deepen the intimacy and love. We all have fears that once we have exposed our parts that cause difficulties, we will forever be seen by the other person as having character flaws. If both partners understand that those are just parts of each of them, parts that simply need empathy and acceptance, it is easier to respond to each other lovingly. As we learn to love and accept all our own inner parts, we also learn to love and accept all parts in our partner.

“There is something magical about trusting that all of you is welcomed in a relationship. It’s as if you are a single parent who feels ashamed of how ugly, stupid, or frail some of your children are” (Schwartz). When this process of welcoming all parts of oneself and of ones partner is mutual, it provides such a secure couples connection that the protectors can relax more and more and both partner’s younger parts know it is safe to come out.

Join me on Sunday, June 24 for an “Intro to Your Parts and to Your Self” workshop from 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. This workshop is based in Jay Earley’s parts work. For more information please call or email.

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!

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!

How Relationships Can Help With Anxiety and Depression

I remember how I looked with complete lack of compassion at my mother when I was a young adult in my twenties. I couldn’t understand why she felt to hopeless, helpless and unhappy because I was young and had my entire life still in front of me. In her generation, there wasn’t much to accomplish anymore once your children were grown up. All a woman without a career had to look forward to was the arrival of her grandchildren. And when her first grandchild came, her oldest daughter (me) even lived far away in a different country on a different continent. Looking back now, I realize how once she was over 60, she desperately tried to find meaning as a homemaker with grown-up kids, even though she didn’t take any pride in any of the housewifely activities. She was the happiest when she could go out, connect with people and exercise.

When interacting with her, she usually seemed needy and clingy to me because I wasn’t in touch with my own neediness. I judged her for self-medicating with alcohol and over-exercising because I didn’t understand how we all use STERBS (Short Term Energy Relieving Behaviours) to distract ourselves from our pain. She had depression and anxiety, even though it wasn’t called anxiety back then. I just perceived her as ridiculously worried about things and unnecessarily afraid. My dad, a typical male of his generation, was overidentified with the rational mind and ridiculed her emotions and fears. And my sister and I kept her at arms length when she started getting too anxious. She had nobody to turn to who made her feel a bit safer, a bit more loved. Not until many years later when I was an adult myself with two daughters did that understanding and compassion for how hard it must have been to be her slowly set in.

Today depression and anxiety have become an epidemic. Some experts, for example the Cognitive Behaviour Therapists, suggest depression and anxiety need to be managed by interventions at the level of thought; other experts suggest there is a problem with our emotions. I believe we need to address both, our thoughts and the underlying beliefs as well as our emotions. The changes we make and the techniques we can learn need to consider both. But how do our relationships play into our thoughts and emotions?

From an attachment standpoint, part of the reason for anxiety and depression is a lack of connection. We are mammals who need to bond and connect with others in their lives. My mom was reaching out to a husband who did not know what to do with emotions and to two daughters who didn’t know that she was mirroring certain traits for us that we had disowned inside ourselves. The relationships in our life either help us to manage the depression and anxiety or they trigger it even further.

Partners who are not securely attached to one another, are typically highly anxious and/or depressed. We relive our childhood fears and experiences with our partner. Our partner is a proxy for all the other relationships we have ever had, going all the way back to our first attachment figures, our mother and father.

When we want to address depression and anxiety, we need to grow resources within ourselves, but relationships themselves can also become a resource and a safe heaven to find release. According to attachment theorist John Bowlby, people who feel depressed are experiencing an inner narrative about feeling lonely and not seeing themselves as important to other people. Sue Johnson points out that in our primary relationship, this plays out as the experience of not being seen, not mattering and not being needed. The emotions triggered are those of feeling unlovable and unworthy, of not being good enough in relation to other people.

So from the view of an attachment theory based clinician like Sue Johnson or Stan Tatkin, the cure for depression and anxiety lies in healing the loss of connection that was experienced in earlier relationships, which is being mirrored in our present relationships. Tatkin points out the effectiveness of face-to-face and eye-to-eye contact between partners. That connection through the eyes is stimulating and can upregulate the partner who feels depressed or anxious. It also focuses the depressed person outwards, instead of in their own head. It is like an outside meditation, keeping the focus on the present moment instead of the painful past or the worries about the future that are playing out in a depressed or anxious mind.

The importance of the eye-to-eye connection has been studied on mothers and infants. The more the mother makes contact face to face, giving the baby reassuring facial cues and being attentive, the more secure and happy the baby feels. The still face experiments with babies (for example conducted by Dr. Edward Tronick) on the other hand have shown that a still face in the mother and a lack of connection through visual and auditory responses create a response of fear and anxiety in the child.

The same still applies to adults. We are social mammals. There is a tremendous power when two people allow themselves to be truly present in and dedicated to a relationship. All our past relationships come out through the present-day love relationship to be completed and healed. Initially, the anxiety and depression might be intensified in the interactions, but partners can learn how to help co-regulate each other’s emotional states. According to Tatkin, the partner can become the best antidepressant and anxiolytic.

Tatkin points out the importance of “landing together at night and launching together in the morning”. Ideally, we start the day with our partner and we end it again in the evening by sharing about the day and connecting. He states that co-sleeping creates an important connection, even though that requires that issues like intense snoring, sleep apnea and restless-leg syndrome are being treated successfully.

In order to hold each other and down-regulate together, it is useful to have a tool to rate and communicate the emotion(s) that come up. Jayson Gaddis’ NESTR ritual would be one such tool. The N stands for the Number of activation. 1 is not triggered at all and 10 would be extremely activated, for example feeling high anxiety. The E is to pinpoint the Emotion that we are experiencing. The S calls to find the sensation in the body which comes with this emotion. And T is for becoming aware of the Thoughts or the inner narrative that goes hand in hand with the emotion. R is a reminder for Resources that the individual can connect with to either regulate themselves or regulate together with the partner.

There is a lot of advice out there on the internet on how to love someone with depression and how to love someone with anxiety. There are of course many different degrees of depression and anxiety disorder, and differing responses are required. Often both issues come hand in hand. The numbness of depression can be a protective mechanism so that we do not need to feel more frightening emotions.

A few things you can do for your partner or another person close to you to deal with mild anxiety or mild depression are to truly listen, acknowledge, empathize and normalize. Your partner needs to know that you care and that what they are experiencing is understandable and normal. Do your best to be patient. Fears may be illogical but they are still very real to the person. Encourage your partner and lift them up. Tell them why they matter to you. Whatever you say or do, keep in mind that your only goal is to make them feel safer and more loved. Arguing about right or wrong makes no sense when fears are involved.

When your partner finds the courage to express an emotion, validate it with your words, your tone of voice and with simple actions. You can ask if they want a hug or if they want to be held. If something you do makes them feel anxious, adapt. If you are, for example, triggering an anxious response in your partner because you drive faster than they do, respond by saying, “I am sorry, honey” and slow down. This is not about you and if you are a good driver, this is about an irrational fear that your partner is experiencing. You can either choose to get defensive and be right or you can be a partner they feel safe with.

Or if your partner has a hard time getting out of bed and finding meaning in life, don’t judge or ridicule, don’t preach about how good their life is or become a fixer or pusher. Gently encourage. Small steps of doing something different are huge leaps forward when dealing with depression. Imagine your partner just had surgery. You wouldn’t push them to leave the hospital and be fully recovered the day after. Just slowly walking down the hallway on your arm would be a huge accomplishment for them. It is the same when recovering from depression. Small changes every day are progress. Provide companionship as your partner establishes healthy habits and rituals of movement.

For both anxiety as well as depression, be present and be in your heart. If you feel judgment like I used to feel for my mother, it’s because your own shadows are triggered and that is where the work needs to be done.

Contact me for more information on either couple’s coaching or individual sessions. We can work on your own triggers and patterns in individual sessions or on your interactions with each other, so you can be a relief to each other when anxiety or depression show up.

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 on the left side of the bar. Thank you for your support!

Paul Married Alice – Is There a Perfect Match?

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“Paul married Alice and Alice gets loud at parties and Paul, who is shy, hates that. But if Paul had married Susan, he and Susan would have gotten into a fight before they even got to the party. That’s because Paul is always late and Susan hates to be kept waiting. She would feel taken for granted, which she is very sensitive about. Paul would see her complaining about this as her attempt to dominate him, which he is very sensitive about. If Paul had married Gail, they wouldn’t have even gone to the party because they would still be upset about an argument they had the day before about Paul’s not helping with the housework. To Gail, when Paul does not help she feels abandoned, which she is sensitive about, and to Paul, Gail’s complaining is an attempt at domination, which he is sensitive about.

The same is true about Alice. If she had married Steve, she would have the opposite problem, because Steve gets drunk at parties and she would get so angry at his drinking that they would get into a fight about it. If she had married Lou, she and Lou would have enjoyed the party but then when they got home the trouble would begin when Lou  wanted sex because he always wants sex when he wants to feel closer, but sex is something Alice only wants when she already feels close.”

These wonderful paragraphs written by Dr. John Gottman illustrate so perfectly that we are all faced with challenges in our love relationships. Nonetheless, most of us have a desire to pair up. Everything in our life is about relationships. From the moment we are born to our last day on earth, we are in relationships with others. We are only here because our parents had a relationship, and we learn from them, or from our first caregivers, about relationships. Have we just been socialized to be in a love relationship to reproduce and to not be alone and therefore safer, or is there a deeper purpose to it?

150 years ago, people married for economic reasons and they didn’t expect much more from that union but a decent relationship. Today we marry or pair up for love. Hand in hand with marring for love comes the romantic idea that the one person we choose to spend our life with should fulfill an endless list of needs. Our partner is supposed to be an amazing lover, our best friend, a fabulous parent, our confidant, our emotional companion, our intellectual equal and spiritually on the same page as well. We are looking for that one kindred soul that can wear all those hats for us and can fulfill all our needs and desires.

Not too seldom, we are chasing the idea of a relationship that feels safe and harmonious, yet at the same time exciting and full of sexual chemistry. We want closeness, safety and intimacy, as well as excitement and sexual attraction. We live in an era where we feel we are entitled to pursue our happiness. If our partner turns out to be quite human and not able to be all we expect, we feel disillusioned and might start to wonder if there is somebody out there who is more compatible. “We used to divorce because we were unhappy; today we divorce because we could be happier. Divorce used to carry all the shame; today choosing to stay when you can leave is the new shame.” (Esther Perel, TED Talk)

Undoubtedly, we might be more compatible with some people than with others. However, what we tend to forget when we have this long list of what we want and need from our partner is that our partner, no matter who he or she is, will always bring up our unresolved childhood issues.

“Romantic Love delivers us into the passionate arms of someone who will ultimately trigger the same frustrations we had with our parents, but for the best possible reason! Doing so brings our childhood wounds to the surface so they can be healed.” (Harville Hendrix, Making Marriage Simple)

In our marriage or love relationship, we re-create our old unresolved hurts and we receive an opportunity to work through those wounds. Our partner reflects our fears, insecurities and our ability to love ourselves. Our partner mirrors to us what personality traits we have disowned and what patterns are unresolved within us.

Every relationship issue which comes up is a gift for us. It is an opportunity to become more whole. It shows us what we need to embrace inside of us for greater self-love and for more unconditional love and acceptance of others. All relationships, especially the ones with our close loved ones, are an opportunity for us to evolve, to release old patterns, to heal old wounds, to grow and to become a better version of ourselves. Our partner is our teacher, just as we are hers or his.

So is there a perfect match? If you believe the perfect match is a relationship which is smooth and without issues, then the answer is no. But each of these matches Gottman describes could be a healthy, loving, and empowered relationships when both partners work on themselves and on their relationship. We intuitively and subconsciously pick exactly that person with whom we can recreate our issues and heal our emotional wounds. When you wonder whether another person might be more compatible with you, remember that usually the grass only appears to be greener on the other side of the fence.

Contact me for more information on either couple’s coaching or individual sessions. We can work on your own triggers and patterns in individual sessions or on your interactions with each other.

Angelika

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

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Do You Trust Me?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Competence (skills, knowledge, experience)

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

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

 

  1. Reliability (time, responsiveness)

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

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

  1. Benevolence

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

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

 

  1. Integrity

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

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

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

 

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

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

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Thank you for your support!

Angelika

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

The Four Pillars of Shared Meaning in Our Marriage or Partnership

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

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

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

pillar_sky_one

PILLAR ONE: Rituals of Connection

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

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

 

PILLAR TWO: Support for Each Other’s Roles

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

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

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

heart-sky-door-cropped

 

PILLAR THREE: Shared Goals

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

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

 

Gottman-quote

 

PILLAR FOUR: Shared Values and Symbols

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

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

 

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Angelika, Belief Change and Relationship Coach

905-286-9466, greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca