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!

Why We Judge Our Parents

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

Do your children seem judgmental of some of the things you do? Or do you feel triggered into judgment and lack of compassion in regards to your own parents?

When I teach the Shadow Energetics Workshop, I give examples for how couples carry each other’s shadow traits, how siblings are often functioning from opposites, and how children trigger our own shadows. When I was teaching day one of the training last weekend, it occurred to me that I don’t highlight as much that children are also triggered by the shadows their parents mirror to them. Our parents reflect to us what we have disowned in ourselves and we do the same for our kids.

Henry Ward Beecher points out that we don’t really know the extent of the love our parents felt for us as children until we have become a mother or father ourselves. I would like to add that we also don’t know what it feels like to be judged by our children until it happens to us. The experience of walking in the parental shoes gives us a different perspective on our own parents and their struggles. Being the parent means that we are mirroring shadow traits for our teenage or young adult children as well. It is uncomfortable to be at the receiving end of those projections but we need to keep in mind that this is not about us, as much as it feels that way, but it is about what our children have learned to disown; and we may even have taught them to disown that particular trait or energy.

When it comes to technology or other modern day problems that need solving, I am quick to throw my hands up in the air, going into helplessness. My daughters will help, but lately there has been some impatience from their side. They pride themselves on being independent and able to problem solve well. At their age, they have disowned their own neediness for outside support a bit. It appears to them as a quality that is not desirable, a shadow they have renounced.

Ironically, raising my daughters, I always affirmed their independence and encouraged them to put their mind to problem solving because my own mother mirrored helplessness to me. Independence is a very useful quality. At the same time, we are naturally interdependent as human beings.

Helping others with an open heart and gracefully accepting help from them in return connects us on a heart-to-heart level and fosters greater compassion and understanding for one another. What would society look like if everybody just took care of themselves without extending a helping hand? No energy is “bad” or “wrong”. Being able to ask for help is as useful and beneficial as being independent.

As a parent, it is my job not to take the response of the younger generation personally and to keep mirroring this shadow to them until they are ready to embrace it. We need to learn from each other in this situation. Their independence encourages me to problem solve more myself before turning to somebody for help. At the same time, they also need to be connected with that energy of “neediness”. As humans, we are all needy for emotional support and practical help from each other.

According to author James Gilliland, who has written about the seven essence mirrors, the fifth mirror reflects our parents to us: “It is often said we marry our father or mother. We often also become them, acting out the same healthy and unhealthy patterns we learned as a child.”

I used to see my mother as overly fearful and helpless, especially when something unforeseen occurred, and I also judged her for what I perceived from the outside as “settling” for a situation she was not happy with. Once my sister and I had grown up, she was clearly bored. I used to question why she didn’t find something new, something that was challenging and fulfilling.

Today, I certainly have more fears than I had when I was twenty. My daughters’ courage sometimes leaves me breathless. When the older one travels all over the world by herself or the younger one charges forward without fear of rejection, I have to remind myself that they are safe and to trust them to be okay. In some ways, I have become my mother. The horizon of the next generation is always a bit broader; it is a different world.

I also notice that the lure of what is familiar is strong. Starting something new can require a lot of positive self-talk and belief changes. It has a scary element to it. I did not have that empathy when I was younger. I lacked the understanding that what my mother was mirroring to me was what I had disowned within myself.

Sometimes we realize that we have become somewhat like our parents, other times we wake up to the fact that we are married to our father or mother. In an older blog, I wrote about Benjamin who grew up with a stepfather who was a raging alcoholic. Ben learned that anger is nothing but destructive and that he is weak and helpless when confronted with it. Before Ben realizes it, he is married to Grete, a partner who in that one important way is a replica of his stepfather. She didn’t appear to be angry when they first married, but their interactions bring this energy to the surface. When she is frustrated, she hides her vulnerability behind anger and she yells. Ben, however, has learned to be afraid of anger and aggression. When somebody only slightly raises their voice, not to mention starts yelling, his reptilian brain instantly goes into the fight, flight or freeze response. The more Ben freezes and avoids her instead of communicating what is going on for him, the more disconnected and invisible Grete feels and the louder she becomes, desperately trying to get through to him. They are caught in a cycle of frustration. Ben feels unsafe and unloved just as he felt during childhood. He judges Grete for being too angry. Grete feels invisible and unimportant, which is her childhood experience. She perceives his stone-walling as a danger cue and, if you so like, a counter-attack.

Ben shuts down because he feels controlled and powerless just as he did when he was growing up. As a child, he felt terrified of his stepfather’s anger. By the time he was a teenager, this fear had turned into stubborn resistance. Ben perfected the non-response, a completely still-face and quiet defiance of the man he hated. Grete mirrors his stepfather to him and he cannot help himself; he flips either into the helpless little boy or the stubborn teenager. In that quiet defiance and non-response lies Ben’s power. He is unaware how this dynamic perpetuates the problems they have. Even though Grete seems to be the stronger one on the surface, underneath the tip of the anger iceberg is always a more vulnerable experience.

Anger lives in Ben’s shadow and because it is an energy he is disconnected from and fears, he is bound to attract it into his life through other people, like his wife, until he integrates this shadow quality. Grete judges Ben for being weak and passive. The only way out for Ben and Grete is to embrace the opposite energy more. Ben needs to get in touch with his own anger and stand up calmly and assertively. That will allow Grete to be in her female energy more, be softer and gentler, allowing him to be more masculine and strong. By taking steps towards each other, they are both becoming more whole and are able to communicate and interact more productively.

Are you stuck in a parent-child interaction with your partner? In which ways do other people mirror your mother or father to you? And in which ways are you mirroring a disowned part for one of your children?

If you want to  work on your own triggers and shadows to live more conscious relationships contact me for a free phone consultation on either individual sessions or couple’s coaching.

Angelika

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

I know your time is valuable and I appreciate you reading my blog. If you are enjoying my articles, you can subscribe to receive an e-mail notification whenever I post a new blog. All you need to do is to enter your email address in the field in the left sidebar. Thank you for your support!

How Relationships Can Help With Anxiety and Depression

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Angelika

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

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

Paul Married Alice – Is There a Perfect Match?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Angelika

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

For an amazing VALENTINE’S SPECIAL

click here.

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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

Clearing Your Relationship Baggage – PART 2

Listen to PART 1 and 2 of this blog as a podcast here, or read it below!

We cannot emotionally complete our past until we are aware of what our patterns are. If we don’t understand our patterns, habits and beliefs, we bring our emotional baggage into the next relationship and our relationship history will keep repeating itself.

The first practical step to achieve clarity is to examine the relationship history. Let’s look at Robert and Ellie who just broke up.

This is Robert’s Relationship history:

Robert grew up with a critical and controlling mother. He often felt like he could do nothing right.

1997, Grade 7, Emma

Emma was the first girl I kissed. She told her girlfriends that I was a bad kisser. I felt embarrassed and like a failure.

1999, Grade 10, Hannah

I had a long-time crush on Hannah before I finally asked her out. We went to the movies. I wanted to be respectful, but she made fun of me for not trying to feel her up in the dark theatre. I felt embarrassed and like I can’t win, no matter what I do. I didn’t ask her for a second date.

2000, Grade 11, Lara

At my brother’s 19th birthday party, I got drunk and hooked up with Lara. After the party, I was too embarrassed to call her. A month later she had another boyfriend. I always regretted not having followed up with her.

 

2001/2002, Grade 12, Veronica

I went out with Veronica during my grade 12 year. We broke up twice because she nagged so much. I always felt that I wasn’t what she wanted. She wanted somebody who talked more and was more secure and more self-confident.

2003-2008, Anne

Anne and I had a long distance relationship for the first three years. When we both ended up in Toronto after graduating we moved in together. Luckily, we only rented an apartment. Within three months, it was clear that we could not live together. She was a neat freak and I was constantly walking on egg shells, trying to keep everything tidy and clean. She also didn’t like my friends and I allowed her to control who I spent time with. She drove me nuts and I broke up with her when I met Christina. In fact, I had an affair with Christina before I moved out of the apartment Anne and I shared. When Anne found out we had a huge blow out with her yelling and kicking me out.

2008-2011, Christina

Christina was much more easy going than Anne. At first, we had a lot of fun together, partying and going dancing a lot. Eventually, Christina also started nagging. She was very high maintenance. She often complained that I wasn’t making enough money. That made me feel inadequate and angry. I liked her less and less. She would get very angry at me when I forget to tell her something. She would even throw things at me. Her yelling reminded me of my mother. I totally shut down when she yelled. She even went through my pockets, phone and computer to snoop after me. I stopped sharing with her. After one huge fight, I swore I would never trust her again. I moved out to live with my brother Frank until I met Ellie.   

2012-2017, Ellie

I thought Ellie was different. She seemed so understanding and non-judgmental at the beginning. She was younger than me but she also wanted to buy a house, not a ridiculously huge house like Christina but a townhouse, a good investment. We both had stable jobs and it made sense to buy something together from the start. Most of my buddies and even my brother were getting married and it felt like Ellie could be “the One”.

There were some signs early on though that she needed to know everything about what I was doing. At first, I gave up some of the stuff I like to do but I soon felt trapped like I had felt with Anne and Christina. I also felt that I couldn’t do anything right. Ellie always wanted to talk and that usually meant she was unhappy with something. I didn’t want to have another failed relationship, so I just started telling her that I had to work later some days to have some time to myself. I felt like my needs didn’t matter.

During the summer of 2016, Lara reached out to me on Facebook. I knew Ellie was checking my friends on Facebook so I never added Lara, instead I started communicating with her in secret. I knew Ellie would insist on meeting her as well. When I met with Lara for lunch for the first time, I felt so good. I finally had somebody I could talk to about my issues with Ellie. Her husband had cancer and she also needed somebody to share with. I felt like she appreciated me. I felt what I hadn’t felt in a long time: good enough and capable. We first met once a month but in 2017 we started meeting once a week.

A friend of Ellie’s saw us and when she found out that we had been meeting in secret, she totally lost it. I understand why Ellie feels betrayed but I don’t know how I could have had my own needs met and also make Ellie feel happy and secure. I am moving out as soon as our house has been sold.    

 

Robert’s former partner Ellie also has a Relationship History:

When Ellie was five, her parents divorced. Her dad left and remarried. Ellie felt unwanted by him and his second wife. Her own mother was depressed and Ellie had to take care of her emotionally.

1999, grade 8, Ben

Ben asked me if I wanted to be his girlfriend. We hung out a couple of times each week. I felt proud and totally trusted him. Six weeks after he asked me to be his girl, he told me we couldn’t hang out because he had a “family thing”. The same evening, I saw him in town, kissing Anne-Marie, who everybody knew was “easy”. I felt really stupid that I didn’t know that he had lied to me. I felt rejected and betrayed.

2001-2003,  grade 9 & 10, Michael

Michael and I were friends first. He had a lot of problems at home. I was a good listener and I felt he needed me. When he and his family moved away, I was devastated. He had promised to stay in touch but he didn’t. I felt huge sadness which felt very similar to the feeling when my dad left.

 

2005, grade 12, Adam

I was dating Adam for six months. During prom night he got drunk and I felt embarrassed by his behaviour. I was glad that he moved away for university. 

2007-2011, Brian

I met Brian at university. He was a year younger than me. Each time I brought up wanting to get married after university, he said he wasn’t ready. In 2010, he moved into my apartment because we felt we could save money. Things went downhill from there. We had different schedules and he liked to be out late partying. I felt anxious when he was out with his friends. He felt I was asking too many questions and that I was too boring.

2011-2017, Robert

When I first met Robert, I loved that he was older and more serious. He liked that I listened to him and helped him solve some problems. He also seemed to try so hard to make me happy. I felt special. It seemed like a good decision to buy a house together but over time Robert retreated. He stopped sharing with me and talking to me. When I tried to talk to him about problems, he usually got defensive. I felt unimportant, not heard and rejected. Each time he stone-walled, I felt anxious and pushed him even more to be honest about his feelings and needs and to open up. We accumulated many issues that Robert refused to talk about. I felt rejected. When I found out that he had weekly lunch dates with his high school friend Lara and confided in her regarding our problems, my entire world collapsed. I am sure he is in love with her. I feel replaced and betrayed. Robert substituted me just like my dad replaced me with his new children. I broke up with Robert because I cannot trust him again.   

 

When we read those relationship histories carefully we can see unresolved emotions and repeating patterns for both partners, as well as limiting beliefs and habits they have learned. Robert’s unresolved emotions and patterns are feeling not good enough, feeling embarrassed, feeling criticized and feeling trapped. He believes that his needs don’t matter and his habits are to be secretive and to close up with his partner the more he feels controlled. Instead of addressing his needs he tends to move to the next partner who initially seems more understanding, only to find himself in the same cycle after a while.

Ellie’s patterns are to feel not heard, embarrassed, excluded, rejected, unimportant and replaced. She believes that she has to be a good listener and to be needed like her mom needed her. Her habit is to push when her partner retreats and to be controlling due to her fear of being replaced.

Both Robert and Ellie re-created what they most fear. Robert continually experienced feeling trapped, being controlled and feeling not good enough. Ellie repeatedly experienced feeling left out, rejected and replaced. Their issues fit into each other. Their relationship was an opportunity and incentive to resolve those issues and heal their old wounds.

The romantic relationship history is a discovery action. Discovery and completion are not the same. The exercise helped Robert and Ellie to remember all their past relationships in ways they had not looked at them before. They examined each of them for uncompleted emotions and the beliefs learned through the experiences. However, intellectual knowledge is of limited value. At the end of each relationship, we are left with unrealized hopes, dreams, and expectations. There are always things which we wish had been different, better, or more. Robert and Ellie need to do some deeper work on completing the relationships, including taking responsibility for their part, forgiving the other people and themselves, clearing out lingering emotions, and completing unfinished communications.

When a relationship ends, it is most of the time impossible to achieve completion in a direct communication with your former partner. Russell Friedman and John W. James, the founders of the Grief Recovery Institute, have developed a very practical program to complete the relationships we have experienced and to clear out our baggage before we move into the next relationship. Contact me for more information on Grief Recovery Work, PSYCH-K®, Shadow Energetics or other “tools” I use to help you to dump your relationship baggage.

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!

Clearing Your Relationship Baggage – PART 1

Listen to PART 1 and 2 of this blog as a podcast here, or read it below!

Robert’s girlfriend broke up with him. He says, “I should have known this wouldn’t work. She had so many issues. I always felt like I couldn’t do anything right for her. She made me so mad by being controlling. I felt so trapped. I am glad she broke up with me because I haven’t been invested in this relationship for a long time now.”

Statistics report a divorce rate of 50%, and if you include the romantic relationships which end, the estimated number is as high as forty ended relationships for each formal divorce. We all at some point have experienced the end of one or more relationships. Since we don’t learn how to grieve and complete relationships that end, we carry the unresolved emotions forward into the future.

Just like Robert, the perspective we tend to have is that the other person we were in a relationship with had a lot of emotional baggage. The more important question to ask is how much baggage we brought into the relationship.

Usually, when a relationship ends, both partners tend to assign the blame to the ex-partner. This victim mentality makes the completion of prior relationships impossible. The recitation of the painful loss story, especially when accompanied by a diatribe against the former partner, does nothing to encourage the storyteller to do anything different the next time around. We have to remember that we are always 100% responsible for our feelings and for our reactions to what other people say or do. Nobody makes us feel a certain way and nobody makes us act in a certain way either.

When we hold someone else responsible for our feelings, we put ourselves in an emotional jail. That jail is built on the idea that not only do others have the power to make us feel a certain way, but we have to keep feeling this way until they release us. The victim mentality keeps us blind to our part and seemingly removes us from the responsibility of having chosen to be with or stay with that person.

We are also responsible for following—or not following—our intuition. Our intuition is an early warning system. Usually, there is a point in every relationship where we know whether the person we are with is right for us. When we override our intuition, we cause ourselves and others emotional damage by entering into or staying in a relationship that does not work. Every relationship is of course work and compromise is part of that work. So as long as both people are willing to continue doing the work a relationship can function. However, often one or both people have an intuitive sense that the other person is not the right partner and make an excuse for why they should anyways continue with the relationship.

We are at least partially the architect of some of the relationship disasters because we always subconsciously act based on what we have learned growing up. Often people self-sabotage in a relationship out of the fear of getting hurt again. If you don’t get emotionally attached and instead withhold from your partner, you are already setting up the end of the relationship. In order to be really close and intimate, we need to allow ourselves to be honest and vulnerable. We need to connect with and bond into our partner and stay closely connected to him or her.

Russell Friedman and John W. James, the founders of the Grief Recovery Institute and authors of “Moving On”, recommend an exercise in three parts, which helps you to discover your part of a relationship you are in or you have been in. Until you identify your part, you will carry your baggage into the next relationship because you can’t do anything different.

  1. Take Responsibility for How You Feel

Examples of not taking responsibility is, “she made me feel not good enough” or “he made me feel unloved”. Nobody makes us feel a certain way, but our partner often has an uncanny ability to trigger our earliest childhood wounds.

For Robert, his partner triggered early childhood feelings of “not being good enough” and of “not being able to do anything right”. She also mirrored his mother who he had experienced as controlling. He felt he had to have secrets like a teenager might who was rebelling against his parent. His need for freedom and alone time wasn’t met and he felt unable to express his needs.

Where in your relationship did you blame your partner for how you feel? Can you take full responsibility for the feeling and communicate to your next partner what your needs are?

 

  1. Where Did You Override Your Intuition?

Robert had an early intuition before he and his girlfriend bought their house together that their different values and goals in life would create many problems. However, he felt it was time to settle down because all of his friends where in committed relationships or married. He also felt it made financial sense to buy a house.

Think back to some of the relationships you have been in and see if you can recall when you intuitively “knew” that someone wasn’t right but you continued on anyways. What ideas did you use to justify going ahead? Be as honest as you can.

 

  1. How Did You Self-Sabotage?

Robert had been hurt in prior relationships and entered this relationship with a heart shield. He was protecting himself from getting hurt again by emotionally giving less this time, by not sharing everything from the start and by sharing less and less during the course of their relationship. His justification was that his girlfriend would just get angry if he told her everything. His belief was that he would not be loved if she really knew him.

Did you protect yourself from getting hurt by not being open and honest in your last relationship? Did you have certain limiting beliefs, for example, “I am not lovable unless I am a certain way”, “If my partner knew who I really was they wouldn’t love me anymore”, “If I share my feelings it backfires”, “My needs are not important so I mustn’t be needy”, “Women/Men can’t be trusted” and so on? These are all subconscious beliefs which hold you back from creating a different relationship next time.

With techniques like PSYCH-K® or Shadow Energetics, you can change these subconscious programs and dump your old relationship baggage to make room for a loving and well functioning relationship.

To read PART 2 of this blog click HERE.

 

To do belief change work and

complete your prior relationships

contact

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!

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

Why Won’t You Apologize?

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

Sue is at the stove making dinner. As she turns to tell her children to get ready, she sees six-year-old Adam ripping a Barbie doll’s head off while his four-year-old sister stares at him with fear in her eyes. Adam is watching his sister and seems to take pleasure in her response. Sue is shocked and disgusted. Before she is aware of how she feels and why she was triggered into those feelings, she says to Adam. “You are horrible! That was just mean and malicious! How can you do such an awful thing? Don’t you care about your sister’s feelings at all? You need to apologize to your sister right now!” Adam feels deeply ashamed. He hears that there is something inherently wrong with him.

Twenty years later, Adam and his girlfriend Sarah are having a fight. Her choir had their first performance and he forgot. He stayed late at the office to work overtime and went out for a drink with his colleagues afterwards. His seat in the theatre stayed empty. Sarah is upset. “How could you forget? Don’t you care about my life and my feelings at all? You are horrible!” Adam’s shame is triggered again. He doesn’t say anything. When his girlfriend says, “you should apologize, but clearly you don’t care!” Adam gets defensive. What he doesn’t do is take responsibility for his mistake and apologize.

Apologies are almost impossible when we are stuck in a place of shame. Being able to say, “I am sorry” requires a solid foundation of self-worth. We need to feel that we are fundamentally lovable even if our behaviour in a situation has caused somebody else pain. Adam has learned that he is fundamentally flawed. Criticism and the anger of a loved one trigger self-loathing in him. He feels like he is six years again, being told that he is horrible. Only when we have a solid basis of self-esteem can we take responsibility for a mistake and for the effects our words or actions had on another person.

Sarah is hurt and continues to be upset. Adam feels not good enough and, in an attempt to stop the uncomfortable confrontation, he says, “I am sorry” in an irritated voice. His apology comes with the meta message that Sarah’s feelings are silly and annoying. He adds, “You could have reminded me again yesterday that the performance was tonight” and essentially blames her. A little later in the conversation he says, “I am sorry but you are overreacting. It’s not as if you had a solo performance!” Because of the deep shame he feels, he is unable to validate her feelings and take responsibility for his absence with an authentic and heart-felt apology.

What constitutes an effective and honest apology?

  1. It is never too late to apologize. If we apologize within the first minutes after an event, the repair is easier. As Stan Tatkin points out, when we can repair very quickly, the experience does not pass from short term memory into long term memory. On the other hand, if the repair does not occur quickly, the behaviour is regarded by the injured party as a “trait” and will be encoded in their memory as such.

However, Adam can still apologize when he has calmed down and has taken a moment to put himself in Sarah’s shoes. Going back to the conversation at a later point means a double apology is required; a heart-felt “I am really sorry, I wasn’t at your choir performance as I had promised” followed by, “I am sorry I felt too ashamed to apologize properly right away.”

  1. Apologizing requires listening and understanding. The willingness to sit with Sarah’s disappointment and validate her feelings is required from Adam. “You must have been so disappointed”, “I understand why you felt like I didn’t care”, “I am sorry you felt abandoned” and so on.

  1. Apologizing means taking responsibility for one’s part in a situation. Adam needs to look into Sarah’s eyes and show her through his body language, his tone and his words, that he is sorry for forgetting. An authentic “I know I really screwed up!” or something similar shows that he is not trying to pass the blame.
  2. The word “but” negates an apology. A true apology only focuses on our behaviour, without making excuses. Harriet Lerner in her book “Why Won’t You Apologize” reminds us to keep “but” and “if” out of our apologies. “I am sorry if I offended you” is for example also a non-apology, as it questions the validity of the other person’s feelings.

Just as there is an art to apologizing, there is also an art to receiving an apology. In accepting the apology, there is also no place for a “but” or a lecture. Sarah needs to receive Adam’s heart-felt apology with grace and openness. She needs to simply thank him for apologizing and save any further discussion, for example about Adam having been forgetful lately, for another time.

As parents, grandparents, and educators, who want to raise children who are ready to say sorry, we have to keep in mind that saying less is more. If a child apologizes, we need to accept the apology with a simple thank you instead of following with a whole lecture. We need to give them credit for being mature and responsible enough to offer a true apology. Making statements about the child’s character instead of their behaviour and lecturing them only causes further shame instead of a positive experience. A true heartfelt apology is not just a gift to the person we are apologizing to but it is also a gift to ourselves as it raises our self-worth when we are able to take responsibility and act in integrity. Let’s remember to make apologizing an experience of personal growth and increased self-esteem for the next generation.

 

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

Relationship Coaching

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!

 

How to Stop Telling Lies & How to Stop Inviting Lies

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

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

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

Truth - Oscar Wilde 2

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Honeymoon Stage

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

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

shame-letters-cropped

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

 

Emerging Differences 

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

 

The Lie Invitee

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

angry-smoke

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

 

How to Hear the Truth and How to Respond

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

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

curious instead of furious)

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

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

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

 

Felony Lies

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

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

It takes teamwork

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

Contact

Belief Change and Relationship Coach Angelika,

905-286-9466,

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

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!