The Four Pillars of Relationships

Healthy, loving and empowered relationships sit on four strong pillars: the relationship we have with ourselves, the relationships with others, the relationship between couples and the relationship with our divinity. They affect each other.

For example, how much I love myself affects my other relationships. In each relationship, we are either projecting “I am lovable” or projecting the basic fear “I am not lovable”. Others reflect to us what we think and fear, and most importantly, how much we love ourselves. If we don’t trust others and ourselves, we are not open to receiving love, we are safeguarding our heart. We need to trust, love and respect ourselves to give these things to someone else. We need to feel accepted and heard to truly listen to another person.

Relationships with others—and with our partner specifically—push our buttons, and trigger old wounds and our disowned energies or shadows. They affect each other and also influence how we feel about ourselves. We need to be conscious of the dynamics in those relationships, have clear priorities and be willing to do the relationship work on all four pillars.

The fourth pillar also shapes all our relationships. The Beloved or Divine resides within our heart. It is experienced when we have brought our inner masculine and feminine energies, our inner god and goddess, into divine balance. We feel whole and complete and are able to embody love.

Relationships

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Within each of those four areas of relationship, we can find another set of pillars. The relationship of a couple for example rests on different pillars or principles, like building a friendship, managing conflicts and creating shared meaning.

Gottman 7principles

To read more about creating shared meaning in our marriage or primary love relationship click here.

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The Four Pillars of Shared Meaning in Our Marriage or Partnership

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

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

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

pillar_sky_one

PILLAR ONE: Rituals of Connection

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

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

 

PILLAR TWO: Support for Each Other’s Roles

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

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

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

heart-sky-door-cropped

 

PILLAR THREE: Shared Goals

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

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

 

Gottman-quote

 

PILLAR FOUR: Shared Values and Symbols

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

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

 

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Angelika, Belief Change and Relationship Coach

905-286-9466, greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

Hello, Old Pal Anxiety!

Ingrid has colitis and other health challenges; the unpredictability of her physical issues gives her anxiety. Margaret has a fear of flying which has gotten progressively worse; due to her anxiety she has not stepped foot on a plane in years. Peter is a widower and single dad with three daughters; the oldest one has anorexia and he is experiencing great anxiety regarding her well-being, as well as her sister’s. The two teenagers are both plagued by anxiety as well.

Anxiety is a more and more prevailing challenge for many people. One in five Canadians has a mild to severe mood or anxiety disorder. Anxiety is especially on the rise among children and teens. It is a continuously growing concern at any age. What is happening in our brains and how can we address this issue?

To understand how our brains function, we need to remember that for our ancestors, negative experiences had more impact for their survival than positive ones. They needed to remember their painful or dangerous experiences so they would not repeat them, in order to survive. Our brain is still wired that way. Our brains evolved with a “negativity bias” (Rick Hansen). In general, we remember negative experiences more easily, unless we really focus on the positive ones and take them in deeply. That is like a “learning disability” and traps us in conflict. So, it does not help at all to tell somebody who is worrying or has anxiety to think positively.

Anxiety - time

The experience of uncertainty which creates anxiety comes from the fact that we can make representations of time. We structure our experiences into past, present and future. The ability to analyze the past and think ahead to the future is part of the human survival kit. We are supposed to learn from the past, be very awake and alert in the present and make sure we are safe in the future. Unfortunately, our ability to evaluate future risks is only based on a few facts and our left brain fills the gaps between those facts in with a story. Depending on which subconscious beliefs we have about ourselves and the world, this story our left brain makes up is either a supportive one or a limiting and fear-inducing one. In the case of anxiety, our left brain has created a fear narrative.

Mark Twain says it humorously:Anxiety - Mark Twain

Most thoughts that makes us anxious are thoughts about the future, a future that generally never happens like we imagine. That is why mindfulness and staying in the present moment helps to train the brain to stay focused on the here and now. The present is all that is real. Therefore, mindfulness alone can already help with anxiety.

We have also been trained to avoid unpleasant emotions, to push them down and not feel them. So naturally, we don’t want to feel anxiety. However, our attempt to push unpleasant feelings down, keeps the anxiety going. The attempt to make anxiety go away is what traps us in it, not the anxiety itself. Instead of putting all our energy towards avoiding the anxiety and trying to get rid of it, we can learn to be with it and ride it out.

It is an ancient Buddhist practice to stay with the feeling that arises. So when fear or dread arises, we can welcome it into our heart and stay with it until it has moved through us. Greet the anxiety like an old friend, “Hello, my friend. I know you. You are my old pal fear. Welcome back.” Then keep breathing all the way into your belly, long deep and complete breaths, letting your belly expand on the inhale, and become smaller on the exhale. Simply being with the fear allows it to come and go like all other mental content.

meditation-monk

Of course, mindfulness and being with the feeling requires practice, like everything else in life. When we say, “I have tried that mindfulness thing, it doesn’t work” it’s like saying “I have tried playing the piano, it does not work”.

Often we believe uncertainty is the problem to be solved. “If I could just control my physical body”, or “If I could just have the guarantee that there will be no turbulence”, or “If I just knew whether I will pass my exam or not”, or “If I just knew that my child will be alright in the future”.

Uncertainty is not a problem to solve. A much more useful approach is to rest in the uncertainty and experience it as a sanctuary of possibilities. When we are emotionally in a place to create a positive influence or make choices, we end up being more comfortable with the uncertainty of a situation and, in the end, are more in control.

A situation of suffering and uncertainty can challenge our whole identity. Being sick might challenge my identity to be a productive and capable human. A fear or phobia might challenge my identity as a rational adult or spiritual person. A crisis with my child might challenge my identity as a good parent.

We first of all need to remember that we still are who we always were. In fact, we are everything. We are capable and rational and spiritual and a good parent. We are just having the experience of a hugely challenging situation. Because it is unpleasant to feel the pain, disappointment, shame, anger, fear or other emotion, we seek control. If we instead acknowledge the painful feelings, we can shift into a place of self-compassion. We can then move from attempting to gain control to choice.

We can always ask “What can I choose? What can I bring to this situation? Courage? Trust? Love? Who do I want to be in this situation? And how do I want to feel?” The answer might be “I want to feel less alone and therefore I reach out for support to address this health crisis” or “I want to be present and calm on the airplane and trust that I am safe in the Universe” or “I want to be compassionate and loving with my struggling child”.

Anxiety - choices

 

If you are enjoying my articles, you can follow Greendoor to receive an e-mail notification whenever I post a new blog. All you need to do is to click the “follow” button in the right-hand corner of your screen.

Angelika, Belief Change Coach

905-286-9466, greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

Self-Compassion – Luxury or Necessity?

Sarah comes in through the door, I pour her a water and I ask, “How are you?” She replies, “Aww, not that great. I have been feeling really down for the last two weeks. So much has been going on with my family, and at work, too. It all feels futile. I have failed in so many ways. I just can’t handle all these conflicts and problems anymore.”

I don’t usually see clients when they feel good or are at the top of the world. Instead, they normally come back when something has happened and they need to work through a conflict, often both an outer one as well as an inner conflict.

Life throws us these curve balls and the Inner Critic voice we all have loves nothing more than to beat us up in the face of adversity. It pipes up especially loudly when we feel we have made a “mistake” or “failed” in some way. We didn’t get the grade we were aiming for, we are being laid off from a job or are not being hired for a position we have applied to, the person we would like to date rejects us or our marriage is struggling, we are experiencing fertility issues or our teenager is acting out, we have received worrisome health news or are trying to lose weight with little success, and the list goes on and on.

self-compassion 1

The “I’m not good enough in some way” story is almost universal. We all struggle with it at some point in some way. How much we struggle is largely based on the experience we had with our caregivers during childhood. Were they compassionate, empathetic and able to love us unconditionally? Or did we have the experience that we were loved when we were “performing according to certain standards and ideals, and that love was withdrawn or guilt was applied” (Dr. Kelly McGonigal), if we didn’t meet the expectations.

The sad news is that most parents did not know how to raise their children with unconditional love. And we cannot even blame them because what we have not experienced ourselves is hard to pass on to the next generation. Sarah, for example, had an emotionally absent father and a harsh mother, who preferred her younger children and had unrealistic expectations of Sarah as the oldest. No matter how hard Sarah tried to please, she could never win her parent’s attention and full love. When she was 18, she married to get out of this cold home. Unfortunately, that marriage didn’t last, as Sarah naturally brought her childhood issues around love with her into that relationship. She tried to be perfect and to please, but never felt that she was good enough. The failure of the marriage, however, added to her list of regrets and mistakes, which all seemed to prove her unworthiness.

Receiving conditional love as a child is the breeding ground for pathological perfectionism and the feeling that we are never quite enough. The good news is that we can still heal those wounds with self-compassion and the compassion of others.

self-compassion 2

Our feeling of lacking in some way is very old. When we go back and remember moments of self-esteem deflation, we realize how early this started. The qualities and criteria, however, which allow the Inner Critic to collapse our self-esteem, have changed through the different developmental stages and can be quite arbitrary. The Inner Critic will always find something to criticize. Ultimately, that critical voice is the internalized parental or societal voice. It has the power to completely deflate us and affect our mental, emotional and physical state.

Smaller or bigger Inner Critic attacks are not only very common but brain research has shown that self-criticism and self-judgment are the default setting of our brain. When we are not focused on doing something specific, the Inner Critic is running its programs of comparison and categorizing into good and bad. Sadly, most of the time that voice is not all too friendly with us, which has direct effects on our health. “We know that people who are highly self-critical, who are never good enough, are obviously at increased risk for depression. And depression reinforces those feelings.” (Dr. Kelly McGonigal)

Nicola Hermanto, a PhD candidate in Clinical Psychology at McGill University, published a study in 2016 that looked at adults in Canada, England and Portugal and the relationship between self-criticism—so in other words a lack of self-compassion—and depression. This study did not just find a high correlation between those two factors, but they also found that the fear and inability to receive compassion from others contributes to depression. Feeling unworthy of receiving compassion, or being suspicious of other people being kind and caring, increases the link between self-criticism and depression.

Dala Lama

Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries.
Without them humanity cannot survive.
– Dalai Lama

If we all have a default tendency to be self-critical, the one thing that becomes a necessity to counteract that Inner Critic voice is a loving, compassionate Inner Parental voice. Part of that process is the ability and willingness to receive kindness, empathy and loving support from others.

Subconscious belief changes therefore need to address the issue of deserving and receiving, as well as beliefs around making mistakes and embracing failures as part of life, instead of a sign that there is something deeply unworthy and shameful about us.

Once we have changed some subconscious beliefs about our own worthiness, it becomes easier to practice self-compassion or inner compassion. True self-compassion means feeling a “sense of love or self-acceptance or inner acceptance even in the moment of self-esteem collapse” (Dr. Ron Siegel). When we have this sense of okay-ness, or sense of value and worth in the world, we can lovingly re-parent ourselves. With love for ourselves in moments of crisis, we can ask, “What’s good for me in this situation? What is the self-loving thing to do or think right now?”

self-compassion 4a)

Another very powerful piece of work in practicing kindness and gentleness towards ourselves is self-forgiveness. Often the most important work is to forgive ourselves for our past choices and decisions. We don’t need the forgiveness of others nearly as much as we need our own. We can alter our relationship with ourselves by releasing those harsh judgments and self-critical thoughts that keep us imprisoned within that sense of not being valuable, not being good enough. Moment by moment of inner compassion, we are healing our sorrows and wounds and ultimately changing our entire life.

self-compassion 5

If you are enjoying my articles, you can follow Greendoor to receive an e-mail notification whenever I post a new blog. All you need to do is to click the “follow” button in the right-hand corner of your screen.

Angelika
Life Coaching, Belief Changes & Forgiveness Work
905-286-9466, greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca