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!

Conscious Uncoupling

I have been going through the process of consciously uncoupling over a period of several months, starting last year. 2017 brought me some major personal life changes and challenges. I experienced a couple of catalysts in the second part of the year to bring to my attention that my long-term partnership needed to be evaluated and transformed. Until these two events unfolded, I had been trying to fix instead of admitting that repairing only works when you still have enough overlap in your value systems. The catalytic events brought to the surface that we had reached an impasse. Our needs and wants as well as our core values, by which we as humans all live, had grown farther and farther apart. And we cannot compromise our core values or ask this from another person. To live in integrity with our values is one of the most important decisions to make for our happiness and health.

So how do we part consciously? How do we transform a romantic relationship into a friendship in which we feel safe?

When a relationship nears its end, you might have experienced that you are tempted “to try to violently vomit someone right up and out of your heart and soul” (Katherine Woodward Thomas). Ironically, by trying to cut a relationship off too quickly, we keep the connection festering in our psyche. Contrary to popular belief, time does not heal all wounds. John James and Russell Friedman name this idea as one of the myths around loss which hold us back from achieving completion. It depends on what we decide to do with the time.

Initially, my experience was deep grief. Part of the grieving when a relationship ends is around grieving the future, or as Katherine Woodward Thomas says, “Much of the horror of a breakup is the insult to our expectations of how this story was supposed to unfold versus how it actually did”.

Woodward Thomas points out that “when our expectations are in line with reality, our brains receive a hefty dopamine hit to reward us… Yet, when our expectations are not met, our stress levels shoot through the roof, shifting our brains into a threat state”. Failed expectations can throw us into deep confusion and inner chaos. We might even experience humiliation, inferiority or shame because of the external rules and expectations of society.

The phrase “and they lived happily ever after” summarizes our collective story of how romantic love is supposed to work. If it lasts, then it’s real love; if it doesn’t, then it wasn’t love to begin with. But we are forgetting that people and their needs and value systems simply change.

So rather than defining the success of a relationship by whether it lasted “until death do us part” or not, why don’t we define the value of it by the wisdom and learning we have gained. A second, and in my mind very important, way of defining success or failure of a relationship is by consciously deciding to end a union in a loving way rather than with hatred and revenge.

Conscious uncoupling is “a way to end a romantic union with dignity, goodness, and honor, and where no one was left shattered or destroyed by the experience.” (Katherine Woodward Thomas). It is the decision to remain as conscious as possible while separating and to strive to overcome the impulses of our limbic-brain. The aim of conscious uncoupling is to plant seeds of forgiveness, goodwill and generosity. The word generous shares the same root as “genesis” and “generate”, which means “beginning” or “to give birth”. One way to be generous and initiate a new beginning is to get to a place where we can honestly offer a blessing to our former partner, wishing them well.

Of course it is great if both partners want to part this way, but it only takes one person to consciously uncouple. Even if your partner is revengeful or angry, you are not bound to behave in kind. Even if he or she does not show up as generous, you have the choice to be that forgiving person. The motivation of forgiveness is for-giving yourself freedom, so that you can move forward empowered to create a happy, healthy life. In order to do that, we need to take what is ugly and rotting, and turn it into “compost” to grow something better from it.

Most marriages or relationships unfortunately end with one or both parties becoming obsessed with winning or getting some form of revenge. Angry and reactive words and deeds are the norm. Well-meaning friends or family members can also do some damage. They often want to see us as a strong hero or heroine. They tend to take sides, “insisting upon devaluing, diminishing, and dismissing your former love, and your relationship in the process, to try and help you move on” (Woodward-Thomas) but that will not ultimately bring us relief and peace. After all, the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference or detachment. Hate is just as strong a bond as love, and keeps us energetically tied to our former partner.

And because our brain is hardwired to keep us safe and ensure our survival, it is also prone to stay connected to the previous attachment figure. For our ancestors, being part of the tribe was essential for survival. Being rejected and excluded creates feelings of unsafety and danger in the reptilian complex, the evolutionarily oldest part of our brain. To that part of our brain, it might seem that it is better to have a negative bond than no bond at all.

To comprehend the pull a former love can still have, we need to understand what happens in our brain when we love somebody and lose somebody. In her TED talk “The Brain in Love”, Dr. Helen Fisher shares how brain research shows activity in the brain cells which produces dopamine when we are in love. This area is part of the brain’s reward system, part of the reptilian core of the brain, below our cognitive functions or more advanced parts of our brain. The same brain region becomes active when someone feels the rush of cocaine.

But romantic love can become even more of an obsession than cocaine. The obsession can get worse when you have been rejected. Our conscious mind is very much aware that the best thing to do is move on and start a new life, but our brains are hardwired to increase our desire for the one we are losing because the exact part of the brain that became activated when we fell in love is the part of the brain that becomes stimulated when we are rejected. It sparks activity in the brain that is similar to the experience of a cocaine addict seeking that next fix.

Dr. Fisher sums it up by saying, “I have come to believe that romantic love is an addiction. A perfectly wonderful addiction when it’s going well, and a perfectly horrible addiction when it’s going poorly… Romantic love is one of the most addictive substances on earth.” Love comes from the wanting or craving part of our mind; it’s a drive.

In fact, three different brain systems are involved in the experience of being in a loving relationship, says Fisher in another talk titled “Why We Love, Why We Cheat”. One is the part of the brain where the craving for sexual gratification originates from, you might want to call it lust. The second of these brain systems is romantic love, characterized by the elation of early love. The third brain system is attachment; that sense of calm and security that you can feel with a long-term partner. Our brain’s main function is to ensure survival of the species. The sexual energy prompts us to look for a number of partners for the survival of our genes, romantic love focuses us on one partner and the attachment need we have enables us—according to Fisher—to tolerate this human being long enough to raise a child together as a team.

The three brain systems don’t always go together and that’s where complications occur. They can go together and that’s why casual sex is not always casual. When experiencing orgasms, you get a spike of dopamine and a rush of oxytocin. Dopamine is associated with romantic love and oxytocin with attachment. We can experience a sense of a strong cosmic union with someone after we have made love to them. That’s when we can fall in love with somebody who we just wanted to have casual sex with.

But these three brain systems aren’t always connected to each other. We can feel deep attachment to one person while we can feel romantic love or sexual attraction to another person. Good long-lasting healthy relationships need to be consciously created despite these instincts. We need to understand our learned attachment styles so we can actually form a long-lasting, secure bond.

So what if we would not just strive to consciously create fulfilling and well-functioning relationships, but also create break-ups “where neither party was blamed or shamed, yet where both people were left valued and appreciated for all that they’d given one another” (Katherine Woodward Thomas)?

If a love relationship ends for any other reason than death of one partner, we assume that it failed. Yet, we would never say a friendship or business venture was a failure if after some time one or both people realize their needs aren’t met and it is time to move on to new adventures.

Life changes, like a relationship loss, are a time when we find ourselves in the corridor between two worlds. We are no longer the person we used to be, and not quite yet the person we are going to become. Even though a break-up is most likely one of the more painful experiences we can have in our life, it holds great promise for growth and awakening.

Every fear and insecurity we have ever swept under the rug now stares us straight in the face to be dealt with. But you can use the shock of the loss “to break your heart open, expanding and enlarging your capacity to authentically love yourself and others” (Katherine Woodward Thomas).

If we do not work on completion of a relationship, the baggage we have buried will come up again in the next relationship. It will leak out in toxic and destructive ways into the relationships we have, which are ultimately all a reflection of the relationship we have with ourselves.

Actress Gwyneth Paltrow and her former husband, Coldplay lead singer Chris Martin, brought conscious uncoupling into the headlines of the press when they announced the end of their marriage in 2014. I would like to end with their announcement as a perfect example of uncoupling with consciousness:

“It is with hearts full of sadness that we have decided to separate… We have come to the conclusion that while we love each other very much we will remain separate. We are, however, and always will be a family, and in many ways we are closer that we have ever been.”

 

Are you in the process of creating or improving a relationship, or in the process of ending a relationship, and you want to do it with as much consciousness as possible and in the highest wisdom and benefit for all involved?

Contact me for a free phone consultation on either individual sessions or couple’s coaching. I also offer packages for couples. You can request the phone consultation by email. Selected time slots are also available to book through my online calendar.

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!

I Don’t Trust You – PART THREE – How to Heal the Trust

Listen to all three parts of the article as an extended version on my podcast, or read part three below!

When we have been betrayed, we might think that we have discovered the truth about the other person, that they have shown their true colours, but all we have done is discovered one truth about them. We are all people with admirable qualities and people who also act from their so called shadow sides. We all act from conscious parts in us but also from fears and suppressed unconscious energies that we have learned to disown. When somebody has betrayed us they have hardly ever set out to do this on purpose but usually they have acted from their own needs, wants and desires without considering their impact on others.

Healing the trust means figuring out together what led to the betrayal and to making changes in the relationship in a way that makes another betrayal less likely. You want to have problem-identifying and problem-solving conversations. This is not about finding fault with either partner but about understanding the unconscious dynamics in our relationships.

Let’s be very clear. A betrayal is like a mugging. Just as it is not your fault that you were mugged, it is not your fault that your partner broke your trust. However, once things have calmed down emotionally, you can examine how each of you has contributed to a situation that led to broken trust. Some problems will be issues your partner needs to deal with, others, you might need to take responsibility for. You can both make changes that will make a future betrayal less likely.

Kirshenbaum shares that many years ago, her husband had an emotional affair. She analyzes, “I had in fact made it far too easy for him to go off and have an emotional affair… I was very busy. I was very impatient. I was very critical of him. I was very unsupportive when my husband was going through a difficult time himself. Somehow I had withdrawn from him… My husband’s part in the problem was that he didn’t know how to get my attention and let me know what he needed and how we were going off the rails. My part in the problem was that I ignored his needs and sent us off the rails.” (Kirshenbaum, 168/169)

The inability of one or both partners to express their needs creates huge problems in our relationships. We usually grow up believing that as adults we shouldn’t be needy. Fact is, people are only as needy as their unmet needs. Living a healthy relationship means finding out what your needs are, believing that you deserve to have your needs met, and expressing them appropriately to your partner. Some needs we have are independent needs, others are dependent needs. The first ones we can meet ourselves, for example “I need to exercise every day”; the latter ones we can only meet with the cooperation of the other person, for example “I need to connect with my partner every day”. Some needs are negotiable for us for example, “I am willing to skip a day of exercise here or there”. Other needs are non-negotiable due to our values, for example, “I need my partner to be monogamous” could be a non-negotiable need for you.

The key to problem solving is to not get defensive. Refuse to hear blame and do your best to hear the underlying unmet needs. It is not up to you to judge your partner’s needs, nor do you need to justify whether you have tried to meet those needs. Strive to hear the need and find out how you can actually meet it, if it is one that involves you, or give your partner time and space to meet their own need.

Kirshenbaum names six top solutions that help rebuild the trust:

  1. Learn to listen

Instead of really truly listening until the other person feels understood, we tend to jump to conclusions, assume, explain, defend, interrupt, criticize, minimize and blame or feel blamed. Listening means hearing. You show you have heard and understood by reflecting back what you have heard, for example, “Did I get this right, you feel…”

  1. Make each other feel the other matters

Listening is one way of making each other feel important. Another way is making time for each other, or reaching out to your partner to connect.

  1. Be fair

When one of you feels resentment because something does not seem fair, the other person needs to hear this and at least try their best to make things more balanced or more fair.

  1. Learn how to make decisions together

If you are struggling to find compromises in regards to what you want, you can use the numbers from 1 to 10 to determine how important something is to you. 1 means you don’t care much, 10 means it is extremely important to you. The partner with the highest number gets to make the choice. If it is equally important to you, take turns making decisions.

Also talk about why something is important to you, what it means to you. That way your partner can understand your experience.

  1. Don’t belittle

Treat each other with respect, no matter what you think about the other person’s thoughts, needs, fears or feelings. Nobody likes to be treated as if they are stupid, crazy or unimportant.

  1. Don’t be controlling

Our needs can be experienced by the other person as control. And the more they feel controlled, the more likely it is that they will do everything to escape the control. If your partner experiences your needs as you trying to control him or her, it does not mean that you have to throw your needs overboard. It means that you have to have a conversation and make sure you explain your feelings and needs. You also need to express your needs as requests not demands.

Rather than insisting on needing to check up on the other person, the betrayed partner could try to come from a vulnerable place and for example say, “I still feel scared and vulnerable, and it would help me to feel safe if you were more open and shared more with me. I’ll do my best not to get upset but to make you glad you shared.”

In the aftermath of a betrayal, the temptation to be controlling is great. However, can you actually control what you are trying to control? If your partner chooses to do what you do not want them to do, he or she will find a way to have secrets. And if it is something you can actually control, it might make you feel safer in the short term but not help you trust your partner in the long run. If you don’t try to control them, it is a win/win. Either he or she shows that they are trustworthy, or they show that they cannot be trusted. In the latter case it is better, to know sooner rather than later.

If you are thinking that you need to control them because they won’t respect your requests and be honest, you are saying that this person has radically different values than you but that you want them in your life anyway. In that case, you are not honouring your own values and needs. For the sake of our soul and our personal growth, the decision whether to continue with the relationship or not, needs to be one of self-love and self-respect. Are you in integrity with your own values staying in this relationship, or not?

If our values overlap enough and we are able to work through a betrayal together with our partner, we can rebuild the trust as a team. In that case, the relationship usually ends up being stronger than before.

PART ONE of this series explored how mistrust entered into the relationship. Click here to read part one.

PART TWO of this series was about how to decide whether to stay in a relationship and rebuild the trust, or not. Click here to read part two.

If you would like to work through a betrayal by yourself or with your partner, contact me for a free phone consultation.

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!

I Don’t Trust You – PART TWO – Deciding Whether to Go or Stay

Listen to all three parts of the article as an extended version on my podcast, or read part two below!

When there are trust issues in a relationship, the question arises if the trust can be restored. Mistrust can provide an excuse to leave a relationship if we had already been thinking about ending the relationship. It all depends on what the relationship was like before the betrayal happened. “Most people who leave a relationship right after the betrayal have regrets if the relationship had been good before that point.” (Kirshenbaum, 39)

Before deciding to heal and restore the broken trust, the author Mira Kirshenbaum recommends that you ask yourself several questions.

1. Would you want this relationship if the trust could be restored?

You need to examine what the other areas of the relationship are like. What has your sex life been like before the loss of trust? Can you still have fun together? Do you still enjoy co-parenting?

2. Does the fact that this betrayal happened ruin everything for you?

If the betrayal has changed how you see the other person at such a fundamental level that you cannot imagine wanting to be with them after your anger has died down, then you are better off ending the relationship.

3. Can you imagine the possibility of forgiveness?

Forgiveness isn’t just the cherry on top of the sundae of reconciliation. Forgiveness is essential for our relationships. You cannot trust somebody whom you haven’t forgiven and just as importantly, you cannot trust somebody who hasn’t forgiven you. Forgiveness is a life-affirming act. It is not an intellectual process; it is a softening and opening in the heart. Instead of our heart feeling closed and hard because of anger or fear, it opens and relaxes when we forgive and let go.

4. Does the person you mistrust care about how you feel?

Has he or she gone out of their way to show that they care? If not, then he or she will not be able to work with you during the trust-recovering process. You are better off leaving.

5. Can the other person work on the relationship with you?

Rebuilding trust can only happen when the two people work on it together. The partners need to talk to each other, share information about hurt feelings, and talk about things that are difficult to say or hear. If one or both people are conflict-avoidant and just want the relationship to be easy and trouble free, the process of rebuilding trust cannot unfold successfully.

Kirshenbaum names two main reasons why we are afraid to talk to our partners. One is the fear of being attacked or blamed. So you need to commit to not attacking, blaming, or yelling and instead focus on making each other feel safe. The second reason is that we might feel that we won’t get a chance to express ourselves. So the second commitment is to listen and give each other equal talking time.

You need to discover together what the mistakes were, how you both contributed to them happening, and how to avoid them in the future.

6. What do I have to lose?

If you can get to the point where you can honestly say, “I don’t have anything to lose; the worst that can happen is that the person who has betrayed me will show that he or she hasn’t changed”. If this is the case, then it’s worth staying to work on the relationship. If he or she ultimately can’t or won’t do what is needed to deserve your trust and make you feel safe, you can see it as his or her way of letting you go, and move on at that point.

Often the betrayed partner does not need to hear how sorry the other person is and how bad they feel. Instead, they need the betraying partner to really understand how their life has changed through their choices. After the betrayed person has shared the impact the break of trust had on them and their life, the offending partner repeats this impact back to her or him. That allows the betrayed spouse to feel seen, heard and truly understood. That is much more valuable for the healing process than an apology.

Mistrust can heal. What prevents it from healing is excessive anger. The angry part inside of us is naturally trying to protect us. Often yelling does make us feel stronger and therefore safer. It can be somewhat of a test to see if the other person cares enough to hang in there while you are furious about their betrayal. At the same time, it is unfortunately a test of the other person’s ability to withstand discouragement.

The less anger we engage in, the faster the healing happens. Kirshenbaum’s guidelines are: if the betrayal was a major betrayal, there is most likely still unlimited anger by the end of the first month, but by the end of three months, you should be able to have a sane, productive conversation for the purpose of accomplishing joint goals. By the end of six months, there might still be flashes of anger, but it should no longer be your operating mode. By the end of the first year, you are ideally no longer angry. Trust might not be completely restored, but you feel you are on your way. By the end of the second year, trust has been restored and you can now talk about the betrayal without getting angry and upset.

The things we do to make us feel safer, like yelling, cruel words, coldness or distancing ourselves, won’t restore trust. If you find it hard to not express your anger to your partner, you can keep an anger journal, vent about the betrayal to a coach or give yourself a “time out” if it gets too much. I also like two other suggestions Kirshenbaum makes. She suggests to vent in emails and give your partner the choice whether they want to read the e-mails or not. She also talks about “having a Vesuvius”, which entails setting a timer for two minutes (or however long your partner can listen) and using that limited time to get your anger off your chest.

In PART THREE we will explore the steps to healing the broken trust. Click here to read part three.

If you would like to work on a trust issue by yourself or with your partner,

contact me for a free phone consultation

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!

I Don’t Trust You – PART ONE – How Mistrust Enters Our Relationships

Listen to all three parts of the article as an extended version on my podcast, or read part one below!

Why are trust issues such a common topic for relationships? The answer is simply that we are all human; we are imperfect people who make mistakes. And other imperfect people with whom we are in relationships will too often hurt us, or disappoint us, or even betray us. A betrayal happens when one person does not take the feelings of another person into account. Every time we do not consider our partner’s feelings or fundamental needs, he or she is bound to feel disappointment and the trust in the relationship diminishes.

Kirshenbaum states in her book “I love you but I don’t trust you” that between 40% and 70% of couples know they have significant problems with trust, and at least 90% of couples will have a crisis of trust at some point.

Any upsetting surprise or discovery that makes us feel vulnerable, hurt or unsafe can be experienced as a betrayal. When we have a reasonable expectation and the other person violates it through their choices, we feel disappointed or betrayed. Mayor betrayals are of course gambling away the couple’s entire savings, having an emotional or physical affair, or tricking your partner into having a baby he or she didn’t want. Betrayals also happen when someone we trust doesn’t stand up for us, says bad things behind our back, takes advantage of us, exposes us to a situation we experience as dangerous, keeps important things from the past or present secret, pulls us into financial difficulties, or breaks other major promises or unspoken agreements.

Betrayal is a reliability breakdown. One big betrayal is painful but often easier to recover from than an endless series of little disappointments or little betrayals. The latter occurs when we are in a relationship with an unreliable partner who makes promises and keeps breaking them. In the second case, you cannot count on anything. Such little betrayals are ongoing lies, or repeated situations where the other person keeps getting into trouble, or keeps failing at something that is expected of an adult, for example their job or managing their money.

Differences Between the Partners

One way in which trust issues enter a relationship is when there are significant differences between the partners in background, personality or preferences. “For example, if you like to plan and your partner likes to just wing it, your partner’s way of doing things will seem wrong to you and you’ll feel that you can’t trust him” (Mira Kirshenbaum, 27). You will both be mistrustful of each other. The planner might feel they cannot count on anything and the more spontaneous person will potentially feel trapped, controlled or stifled, and therefore also experience mistrust.

Unequal Power

Another risk factor for mistrust is a situation of unequal power, for example when one person has more money than the other, or more personal power. Having more power can play out as not needing to consult the other partner when decisions are made, or can occur if the priorities of the more powerful partner trump their partner’s wishes. The partner with less power experiences that they are not treated equally and that their wishes and needs matter less. On the other hand, the person with more money can never be sure that the other likes him or her for who he or she is. That erodes the trust on their end.

Hidden People

The worst trust killer is when one partner does not know where they stand with the other because that person is hiding. “He just plays his cards close to his chest. He’s not even open enough to tell you he doesn’t know where he stands on the subject of making a commitment. He keeps saying ‘I don’t know’ to your questions. He changes the subject when you try to press him a little on any personal topic.” (Kirshenbaum, 30)

Because two people are never identical, one will ultimately be more open than the other. The person who is less open will inevitably begin to seem hidden to their partner. And we all fear that when something is hidden it cannot be anything good. We start to feel insecure and afraid. So the more open partner begins to ask questions, to push, to probe or to invade. And the other partner will resist, close up more and put up more barriers. So in most relationships, there is one person hungry for more openness and the other one who is defending their closeness.

If you need to be with somebody who is open and you are with a hidden person, then you have a compatibility problem. However, a simple agreement can help to shift the dynamics of mistrust. That commitment is, “I will open up if you do not slam me” and “I won’t slam you if you open up.” This means that the person who is hidden has to swallow their fears and take a risk. And the other person has to be okay with hearing upsetting news and not freaking out about it.

According to Kirshenbaum, we make two mistakes. “We get upset at what the other person has revealed. And we give the other person the third degree about when they first knew this and why they didn’t tell us sooner and what else are they hiding” (Kirshenbaum 264). Or as Ellyn Bader and Peter Pearson call it, we become lie invitees. When we get angry, attack or act like martyrs and make the other person feel guilty, we are not helping our partner to be truthful.

Unfortunately, we cannot command openness, we can only encourage or reward it. Instead of responding with anger, our first goal needs to be to welcome the honesty. We might want to say something like, “I really welcome your openness, and I am grateful, even though I am struggling to hear this information.”

Dr. Alexandra Solomon, who teaches an undergraduate course at Northwestern University called “Building Loving and Lasting Relationships: Marriage 101”, talks about asking constraint questions to invite the other person to dialogue. For example, if our partner lies to us, we can ask, “Why did you lie to me?” Or we can phrase a constraint question and ask, “What kept you from being truthful with me?” The first question triggers defensiveness, and we are coming from a victim place, where the other person is the perpetrator. The second question is coming from a place of curiosity and invites a conversation in which we share responsibility. Perhaps, it did not feel safe to tell the truth, or perhaps it is something our partner has learned growing up and that fear or limiting belief needs to be healed. We are interested in our partner’s history to understand and we are invested in working on changing this pattern together.

While you can’t have relationships without disappointments because it is part of human nature to hurt others, you cannot have a solid love relationship without trust. Trust nourishes the relationship. Only when you trust each other can you fully relax, be open and feel safe enough to let the other one see your true self.

According to Kirshenbaum, the trust healing process consists of “finding ways to radically take the other person into account”. Often right after a betrayal or broken trust we want to understand why it happened. Oddly enough that has us more invested in the relationship than we were in a long time.

By nature we are designed as trusting creatures. Our ancestors could only survive because they trusted each other and worked together. According to Kirshenbaum, there is a “trust-hungry part” and a “betrayal vulnerable part” in all of us. Trust is our default mode. Unless we have a reason not to trust, we will default to trusting. But when something happens that triggers our fears of betrayal, that betrayal vulnerable part will awaken and can cause destruction.

In PART TWO of this three part article we will address how to decide whether to go or stay in the relationship. Click here to read part two.  

In PART THREE we will explore the steps to healing the broken trustClick here to read part three.

If you would like to work on a trust issue by yourself or with your partner, contact me for a free phone consultation

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!

Perfectly Imperfect Mother

My mom passed on six years ago. Each Mother’s Day, I think of her, of course, and ever so often I talk to her. I allow myself to feel good about the relationship we had, and I also realize that there were more lessons we could have learned. I know that she loved me with an unwavering affection, no matter what, even when I was less than patient with her. Mother love can be like no other: forgiving and enduring, even when there are fights or misunderstandings. However, when we are in the middle of a conflict, it can seem like it just can’t be resolved.

It is normal and natural that parents and children push each others buttons. We trigger each others disowned parts or shadows. Those issues are an invitation to become more whole within our own being and to create a more loving and accepting relationship with each other.

What is often in the way of truly loving our parents is that we have unrealistic expectations of them. Instead of accepting them the way they are, we want picture perfect parents. According to that picture, our mother is supposed to be always there to support us, always listening and empathizing perfectly. She is supposed to have the answers and be the wiser one to guide us. We want to admire her and look up to her. She is supposed to have it all figured out.

And sometimes mothers manage to do some of that but what if they are also just human like we are? What if sometimes they are as lost as we are? What if they don’t always act in a way that we admire? What if they also battle fears and limiting beliefs about themselves and the world? What if they trigger strong emotions for us and we don’t always bring the best out in each other?

If the relationship is challenging, we can conclude that it is just not worth bothering or too frustrating to deal with. Or we can ask ourselves, what relationship do I want to have with my mother, and what does it take to get there? Who do I need to be in order to have a healthy, satisfying relationship with her, in which my needs and values are respected?

Louise Hay suggests that you ask yourself what kind of relationship you would like to have with your mother and to put that into affirmative statement form, and start declaring it for yourself. Start opening up to the possibility to create the best relationship possible. Ask yourself what your needs are in this relationship. There will be some needs which are non-negotiable and a must in the interactions, and others that you are willing to have met elsewhere.

Decide what it is you need. She may not approve of how you live your life, but it is not necessary to make her wrong. All you need to know is that you approve of your life choices. You are an adult and if you meet her as an adult that approves of him or herself, she might surprise you.

Lead with vulnerability and let her know that you want a loving, successful relationship with her. Be very specific about how you want to show up in this relationship without trying to change or control her. Share your needs and boundaries in a loving way. Simply let her know how much it means to you to meet her from heart to heart.

Some subconscious belief changes which might help you in meeting your mom eye-to-eye are

  1. I have reasonable expectations of my mother as another human being.
  2. I allow her to be perfectly imperfect.
  3. I accept my mother the way she is.
  4. I view her with eyes of kindness and understanding.
  5. I show up as the best me in this relationship.
  6. I approve of myself and my choices.
  7. I am free of any need for approval.
  8. I embrace the best relationship that is possible with her.

 

If you would like to improve any relationship or change some subconscious beliefs, using techniques like PSYCH-K® or Shadow Energetics, contact me for a free phone consultation

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!

The Four Stages of Long-Term Relationships

Have you ever taken a test to determine your highest five or highest ten values in life? I have done so repeatedly during my life and have experienced an interesting shift in values and priorities as I get older.

I have had a couple of, let’s say “interesting years”, going through menopause, getting a first taste of the empty nest syndrome with my oldest daughter, and breaking both my ankles a couple of years ago, which meant experiencing what it is like to be helpless. With all this came a bit of a shift in my value system. Ten or even just five years ago my children were my highest priority, followed by building my business and my education/learning. Safety and financial security in old age did not even show up within the first five. Now it has moved up, because these experiences shifted my priorities.

My top values are not just the children anymore but “relationships” in general. By that I mean not only my own relationships, but also my ability to assist other people with their relationships. That number 1 priority is followed by the value of “learning and growth”. Now these top two go nicely hand in hand. Richard Bach said, “We teach best what we most need to learn.” I would fully agree with this. And I want to add to it, “We teach best what we feel most passionate about.”

With my value system shifting, I had a huge personal growth experience because what didn’t change in line with my needs and priorities was my partner’s value system. His highest values continued to be freedom and autonomy. Meanwhile, I was trying to sell him on my new highest values of making financial decisions for safety and planning ahead to the future. Basically, I was asking him to live life my way.

My blind spot was that I was trying to impose my agenda of what I thought was best for him and us onto him. And being unable to convince him of the importance of my values, I started feeling resentful. What I completely overlooked was that nobody wants to do something that they cannot link to their own highest values. Everybody is motivated to make changes, but when we want to shift, we need to be able to link how an activity or choice is serving our highest priorities in life. There was nothing wrong with his values, they were just different, and the safe choices I wanted to make were not in line with his main needs and value system.

Values are an important part of all our relationships. Where they overlap, we experience harmony and understanding, when they don’t overlap, we often experience judgments and fear. We try to change the other person based on our system of ideals. Those differences in values, priorities and needs usually arise during the second stage in long-term relationships, but can also show up again when value systems shift.

Relationship coach Jayson Gaddis from the Relationship School in Bolder, Colorado, explains that long-term relationships evolve through three or—depending how you look at it—even four stages of relationships. To understand what each stage is about and how we move to the next stage is critical for relationship longevity.

 

THE HONEYMOON STAGE

It all starts with what we know as the “honeymoon stage” when we are completely smitten with each other. We focus on what we have in common, the same interests and the same values or world views. The person we are infatuated with is at the top of our priority list because the electricity and chemistry we feel lights up the same part of the brain as addictive substances. When we are experiencing love, our brain secretes neurochemicals such as dopamine, oxytocin, and growth hormones. We are on a euphoric high. We feel we cannot be apart from the other person. This is nature’s way of ensuring the survival of our species. This biochemistry is ideal for us wanting to reproduce.

The honeymoon stage usually last a few months to a couple of years. If we expect this stage to continue, disappointment ultimately sets in. This stage is not meant to last. It was meant to bring us together. It slowly turns into the stage that Gaddis calls “The Challenging Stage”.

 

THE CHALLENGING STAGE

Eventually, the sober reality comes in. As we get to know the other person with all their good traits but also their challenging ones or their “flaws”, disillusionment occurs. This is a chance to learn to love our partner the way they really are. We begin to see the difference between us and the person we love. We had different experiences growing up and have therefore learned different beliefs than our partner. No two people have absolutely overlapping values, and we now notice the values which don’t match as well as dissimilar ways of handling life. This is were we often try to sell the other person on our values. We want to convince them and are bound to fail because value systems tend to be strong and ingrained. Our baggage from our past resurfaces and needs to be dealt with. Our childhood wounds and experiences from past relationships enter into the equation. Our partner mirrors our disowned parts—also called our shadows—to us.

When two people come together, they are different to begin with, and in this stage, they might polarize into opposites and judge each other for those differences. What attracted them in their partner when they met is now likely to be a point of criticism. Certain differences even become perpetual problems. Dave, for example, has safety and security as a high priority, while his partner Marie has freedom as her highest value. Paul is identified with responsibility and hard work, while his girlfriend Eva is able to relax and enjoy life more. Jenny wants to expose their kids to lots of educational and cultural activities, and her husband Frank has different parenting ideas, wanting them to excel in sports. Laura likes to go out and party, while Ross prefers to be home. Amanda is very neat, while Lucas has a much higher tolerance for mess.

In this stage, we experience conflicts and might get stuck in arguing or even blaming each other. We end up in a tug of war trying to convince the other one that we are right. If we don’t learn how to handle these conflicts differently, the result is burn out. People either give up and leave the relationship, or they compartmentalize the difficult issues and settle for maintaining the status quo, as unsatisfactory as it might be for one or both partners. Unless we learn how to deal with the challenges in a constructive manner, we won’t advance to stage three.

 

THE MATURE LOVE STAGE

Stage two is testing us on how we handle interpersonal stress, and if we know what to do with our baggage from the past when it resurfaces. It is normal in all relationships to have disagreements and challenges, and it is also normal that we trigger our nervous systems into firing. When our reptilian brain perceives threat, we go into fight or flight mode. Our fear provokes the release of stress hormones, like cortisol and adrenaline, as well as inflammatory agents such as cytokines. How we navigate those differences determines whether we are able to advance to stage three.

When we learn how to deal with adversity in stage two, an empowered relationship in stage three is the result. The challenges in this mature love stage don’t stop, but we have learned how to deal with our triggers in a conscious way. We now have the confidence to make it through challenges together, knowing that we have each other’s backs. We are able to recognize when our values and priorities shift and handle this change consciously. This requires both partners to put in the necessary work to understand themselves and each other so that the relationship can get stronger through this growth process.

 

LOVE 360 STAGE

Gaddis names a fourth state which is an adjunct to stage three. In the Love 360 Phase, we trust the bigger level of life. You could say we assume a more spiritual view. We realize that things are not happening to us but for us. Our trials are blessings at the same time. That principle applies no matter what we go through, including affairs, disconnection from each other or even break-ups. What is happening is a gift and an opportunity to grow and learn from it, provided both partners are willing to put the work in.

When we reach the Love 360 State, we are experiencing a different clarity and are able to perceive that the events are all for our benefit. We realize that we are in charge of what we want to create as opposed to being in the victim seat, where we feel life is out to get us. Adversity makes us stronger as individuals and as a couple. We are able to hold more contradictory perspectives. We recognize our dis-empowering stories as limiting narratives and re-frame them. We are also able to hold the space for each other in the midst of drama or life changes and trust that we can work through anything together.

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 advance to the next level of your relationship. From March 20 to April 3, 2018 I am offering a 20% off SPRING SPECIAL 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 on the left side of the bar. 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

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!