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 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.

 

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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 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.

6 Ways of Keeping the Spark Alive in Your Marriage

A gorgeous young client of mine, who is dear to my heart, got married this weekend. I felt very honoured that she invited us in the small and intimate but truly beautiful celebration. It was such a pleasure to meet her family and friends, and to watch the couple step into this level of commitment. She and the groom, who are both very conscious people, had clearly put a lot of thought into meaningful traditions they wanted to include.

One beautiful custom they incorporated was the wedding sand ceremony. They both took turns pouring different coloured sand into one clear glass, forming a layered effect, expressing the coming together of their two souls into one new family. Then they shook the glass to mix the sand, symbolizing the strength of their relationship. Just as the sand cannot be parted neither can they. They are filled with optimism, love and joy as they are beginning their journey together as a new family.

wedding-sand-ceremony

Prior to this special day of hers, I was searching for some words of wisdom to share with her. I have seen her grow over the last few years, change into a powerful “manifestor” and attract the partner who is perfect for her. I have no doubt that their bond will increase with each passing day and that they will create a full and exciting life together. What advice is there that is actually useful when starting out as a married couple?

North Americans today have higher expectations than they historically ever did. We expect marriage to offer a route to self-discovery and personal growth. Time magazine author Belinda Luscombe, in the special edition on happiness, quotes Lisa Grunwald (who together with her husband Stephen Adler put together “The Marriage Book”), “The promise you make is not just to be faithful and true and to stay married, but to try and bring out the best in each other”. Couples can indeed “achieve an unprecedentedly high level of marital quality, but only if they are able to invest a great deal of time and energy into their partnership” (Eli Finkel).

The ones who know how to go about investing into their relationship would be couples who have been married for decades and have found ways to keep the love going. Karl Pillemer, a Cornell professor, interviewed 700 elderly people and recorded their wisdom in his book “30 Lessons for Loving”. The most important lessons about keeping the spark alive are

  1. Think Small (and Positive)

What keeps the love flame burning are the unexpected kind gestures, successfully long-term married couples say. Make a habit out of doing small, positive things for your partner. In other words, “turning towards” each other as Drs John and Julie Gottman advise, and having an accurate “Love Map” of your partner. That Love Map is a clear guideline to knowing what makes your partner happy or relieves their stress, and doing it often and unexpectedly. According to Pillemer’s interviews, three types of gestures when used frequently have a great impact on the relationship: surprises, chores and compliments. In the words of Gary Chapman, you are speaking these three out of five love languages of “doing services”, “words of affirmation” and potentially “giving gifts”.

Keeping the Spark Alive PIC 2

 

2. Become Friends

The importance of physical attraction to each other is a given. However, physical and sexual attraction are not enough to keep a relationship going over the long term. We grow older, our physical appearance changes, and friendship must become as much a part of the relationship as romantic love. The interviewed elders were also completely on board with Dr. John Gottman’s research on friendship among couples. Friends know how to have fun together and be good company for each other, no matter how long they have been together. Friends are also open to one another’s interests. The advice that these couples provided was to learn to enjoy your partner’s interests.

Keeping the Spark Alive PIC 3b

 

3. Expect An Active Sex Life

The elders describe their intimacy being as good or better than when they were younger. They have learned what their partner likes and they felt more secure and more comfortable with each other. The sexual spark changes and deepens, they say. “There is a kind of quietness there that’s quite deep. It’s very fulfilling. You feel a peaceful intimacy that’s in a way really more meaningful than the frenetic thing”, shares one of the men Pillemer talked to.

Keeping the Spark Alive PIC 4

 

4. Give up Grudges

Sometimes you hear the piece of advice “Don’t go to bed angry”. I have always felt that that was a bit of a cliché which worked for some people but not for others. What is a better and more useful piece of advice is “Don’t Hold Grudges”. When we keep resentment smouldering instead of resolving issues and letting go of the past, our relationship is in trouble. Most things we disagree about are not worth a long-term fight. Let hurts and conflicts truly go. Be quick to apologize and forgive. In fact, make forgiveness of your partner a regular practice.

Keeping the Spark Alive PIC 5

 

5. Get Help

If the spark feels like it’s dying, get help through counselling. Make a genuine and wholehearted attempt at working on the relationship. Relationships go through difficult periods. We might need to learn more successful communication skills, learn to forgive, or learn how to build a stronger relationship. The elders believe—and I wholeheartedly agree—that counselling or coaching is not just for overcoming a crisis but an important tune-up to keep the spark alive and to create a successful marriage or long-term relationship.

Keeping the Spark Alive PIC 6

 

6. Other “Secrets”

Some other “trade secrets” for keeping your marriage fresh, vibrant and exciting for a lifetime that the elders shared were: Take care of your physical appearance, travel more, reach out and engage together—for example in volunteer services—as a natural extension of your affection, embrace change, and last but not least, the beautiful advice to treat your relationship as if it was a “life-time date”.

Keeping the Spark Alive PIC 7

Would you like to make your marriage a “life-time date”? Does your relationship need a tune-up? 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 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.