A Missing Piece in Couples Therapy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contact me for a free phone consultation on either individual sessions or couple’s coaching. I also offer packages for couples.

Angelika

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

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

Conscious Uncoupling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Angelika

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kirshenbaum names six top solutions that help rebuild the trust:

  1. Learn to listen

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

  1. Make each other feel the other matters

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

  1. Be fair

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

  1. Learn how to make decisions together

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

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

  1. Don’t belittle

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

  1. Don’t be controlling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Angelika

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Can you imagine the possibility of forgiveness?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. What do I have to lose?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

contact me for a free phone consultation

Angelika

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Differences Between the Partners

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

Unequal Power

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

Hidden People

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Angelika

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

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

How Do I Ask My Partner to Attend a Coaching Session with Me?

Do you feel that your long-term relationship could benefit from couples coaching but you are concerned that your partner is not open to the idea of seeing a coach? I am often asked, “how do I get my partner to come with me to do couples work”?

In my workshops and one-on-one sessions, I teach individuals and couples how to express their feelings and needs using the non-violent communication model by Marshall Rosenberg. The four step process ends with making a request—not a demand—to have your need met.

Couple’s therapist Ellyn Bader also has an interesting perspective on expressing needs to our partner. She points out that a lot depends on the wording we use. To translate that into NVC wording, we can express our need for something, but the request has to be a true request, not “I want you to”, not “I need you to”, and certainly not “You need to”.

Bader feels that saying “I need you to go to couples coaching with me”, will most likely result in your partner feeling he or she has no choice. They might feel cornered, resistant and get defensive, as there is no room to move. Fears or shame can be triggered for them around seeing a coach or sharing your private conflicts and challenges. They might not even feel they can express their feelings when approached this way. The more autocratic we show up when we express a need, the less likely it is that our partner will want to be open and cooperative.

Here is a better way of approaching the topic. “I really want to go to coaching. I hope you will join me. Here is why I want to go: I realize when you and I get into conflict I don’t handle it the best way possible. I want to learn to understand you better so we can create a better relationship. I want to become a better version of myself and connect at a deeper level with you.”

Notice that all of these are I-statements. You avoid blame or finger pointing. You simply take responsibility for yourself and the change you want to make. You give your partner a free choice to change or stay the same. Ellyn Bader even advises not to use the word “need” at all. Approaching your partner from a softer place allows them to give generously from an open heart and to express their own concerns or hesitations.

It can also help if you highlight the personal gain for your partner when going to couples coaching. You probably have specific topics you want to work on. Let your partner know that you are willing to also work on what they want to change in your partnership. For example, you want your partner to acknowledge your feelings more, and your partner wants to improve your sex life. Knowing they have a potential gain by agreeing to sessions gives them a motivation to come other than the fact that you want them to.

If despite making a request rather than a demand, your partner is not willing to come for sessions, you have the choice to make an appointment for an individual session to do your own relationship work. Even when only one person changes, the relationship itself changes. All relationships are a reflection of the relationship we have with ourselves. Others reflect to us what we believe, think and how much we love ourselves. Our partner always reflects our core wounds from childhood.

Some potential questions to examine in individual sessions could be:

– How has my partner disappointed or hurt me in ways similar to how I was disappointed or hurt as a child?

e.g. My father discounted my feelings and fears and my partner does the same.

– How might I have disappointed or hurt my partner in ways similar to how he or she was disappointed or hurt as a child?

e.g. My partner had a mother who was controlling and demanding. Each time I become controlling or demanding, I remind him of his mother. As a child he felt not good enough and guilty. When I let him know that he is not acknowledging my feelings, he is triggered into not being good enough again. He feels guilty.

– How do I let myself down in ways that are similar to how I feel let down by my partner?

e.g. I don’t take good care of my own feelings.

– Where am I expecting my partner to take care of me in ways I am refusing to take care of myself?

e.g. I expect him to acknowledge my feelings when I am not willing to sit and work through my own feelings.

– What am I making these disappointments mean?

e.g. My feelings, needs and fears don’t matter and will never be acknowledged in a relationship.

– What am I making our challenges mean about the possibilities I have for happiness in romantic partnerships?

e.g. I can’t be myself in a romantic partnership. I have to suppress my feelings and fears. I will never feel safe or accepted to be me.

– What is my limiting story around love and relationships based on my childhood wounds?

e.g. Men are not capable of acknowledging feelings and fears. Women need to make sure they don’t show up as “too needy”, or they lose their partner.

– How do I set my partner up to respond in a way that perpetuates my childhood experience?

e.g. I don’t express my feelings and fears calmly, and instead, I get very stressed and anxious. I express myself loudly and anxiously, using control to manage the anxiety. That triggers my partner into feeling the same way he felt when he was a boy.

 

Contact me for a free phone consultation on either individual sessions or couple’s coaching. I also offer packages for couples.

Angelika

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

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

How Limiting Relationship Beliefs and Skills Affect Us

Listen to this blog as an extended version on my podcast, or read the shorter version below!

Studies have shown that married couples, or at least married men, tend to live longer than their unmarried counterparts. However, that is only true if these couples experience their relationship as happy and feel safe with each other.

What determines whether we can create a safe and happy long-term relationship with our partner? We need to consider two main components: our subconscious beliefs and our learned skills.

The science of epigenetics has shown that our beliefs shape our reality. Supportive as well as limiting beliefs affect us in all areas of our life, including relationships. Our mind reads the environment and sends that information to our cells. Healthy cells allow us to live longer. However, the cells don’t get the information directly but via our nervous system, which responds to our perception of reality.

If our mind perceives another person as safe, we feel relaxed and our body is calm. Our cells get the message that we live in a safe environment. In that case, we tend to live long and happy lives because we are experiencing life as safe and pleasurable. If our mind misinterprets the environment, based on limiting beliefs about relationships, and perceives it as threatening, no matter whether it actually is or not, the cells in our body receive the message that we are in danger, which activates stress hormones, and our natural fight or flight response is activated.

If we look through a negative filter, based on our past experiences and learned beliefs, at our relationships, we can find different reasons not to trust and ultimately we are sabotaging every intimate relationship.

Some of those faulty conclusions about love and relationships we might have drawn as we were growing up are, “I will always be alone and no one will ever be there for me”, or “I will never be good enough”, or “I cannot have my needs met in any romantic partnership”, or “I cannot be honest and myself in relationships”, or “Once, there is a conflict, that’s the beginning of the end, and I had better withdraw already to protect myself”. The latter pattern of course is supposed to minimize the hurt if somebody rejects us. Drs. John and Julie Gottman’s research has shown that long-term partnerships are forged and stabilized through the reconciliation of conflicts and differences. So it is actually the limiting belief about conflicts which ultimately creates what the person fears: the loss of the relationship.

But it’s not just the negative filter of our limiting beliefs that affects us in relationships, but also our missing relationship skills. Imperative skills in every relationship are knowing how

  1. to get in touch with our needs and to express them successfully
  2. to take personal responsibility for our part in an interaction
  3. to make amends and repair break-downs or rifts
  4. to work through conflicts in a conscious way
  5. to self-soothe when you get emotionally activated or “triggered”
  6. to hold the space for each other and co-regulate each others emotions
  7. to be vulnerable and generate intimacy on a regular basis
  8. to keep your autonomy while connecting on a daily basis with our partner

When one or both partners are missing one or more of these skills, they can get into a lot of painful or toxic patterns. So we need to ask ourselves which of these abilities we did not develop when we were young. Perhaps conflict resolution or collaboration are missing skills? Perhaps being able to be with our unpleasant emotions and self-regulating these when required is what we need to learn? Perhaps we need to begin to take responsibility rather than choosing to believe that things are happening to us and we are without power and influence?

What beliefs do you need to change and what skills would you like to learn in order to create and continue to lead a healthy and happy long-term relationship?

 

Contact me for a free phone consultation on either individual sessions or couple’s coaching.

I offer packages for couples.

Angelika

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

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

The Nothing Box

Have you ever watched the hilariously funny clip “A Tale of Two Brains” from Mark Gungor’s “Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage” seminar? His serious intention for the seminar is to improve the married lives of the people attending, even though he presents the relationship information like a stand-up comedy show. His strength lies in using humour and having his audience roar with laughter while he explains male and female differences. Among others he discusses how our brains are different. A man’s brain, he says, has different “boxes” for different topics and they “don’t touch”. A man is able to focus on one “box” at a time. He jokes that women’s brains are made up of a big ball of wire in which everything is connected to everything. He continues saying that men have one particular box in their brain that women are unaware of, the “nothing box” and it’s their favourite box.

Have you ever asked your husband or son “What are you thinking?” and the answer was “nothing”? That’s what Gungor is talking about. Women cannot fathom the concept that one could not be thinking anything at a given point in time—unless you are asleep or dead. We tend to think that he just doesn’t want to share or must be hiding something from us. And as humans we might even fill his silences in with negative assumptions. Perhaps we wonder if he is thinking something bad about us or our relationship, or if he is keeping secrets from us. We perceive his response as holding something back because we are comfortable even just sharing fleeting thoughts and feelings, no matter how “silly” they might be. If he wasn’t thinking something negative, he would share, we assume.

When we say, “What are you thinking?” it translates into “I feel disconnected from you. Connect with me by sharing your inner world. I want to know how you are feeling and connect on a heart level.” Men’s reaction to our question might meanwhile be feeling intruded upon, and the response is an exasperated, “Why does she need to know everything?” He might also feel that he has nothing of importance to share. He literally feels that he was thinking of “nothing”.

The female clients that come to see me typically complain that men are emotionally unavailable. They want to feel more connected to their partner. And their natural go-to for connection is words. All they often want is for their feelings to be acknowledged. That translates for us women into being seen and being heard. Men, on the other hand, often complain about feeling smothered, suffocated or intruded upon when women want to talk. Their need to retreat and to work things out internally is perceived by the woman in their life as rejection or as an incapability to be vulnerable and connect. Men want to feel connected, loved and accepted as well, but their ways of connection are often fundamentally different.

When men are stressed out, Gungor jokes that they just want to go to their nothing box. The last thing they want to do is talk about what is stressing them out. He quips that when a woman is stressed she “has to talk about it or her brain will literally explode”. And men feel obligated to fix it but “if you are trying to fix her, she is gonna kill you. She doesn’t want your advice, she doesn’t want your help. She wants you to shut up and listen.”

Michele Weiner-Davis:

“We don’t feel close to our partners

unless we have had a good talk recently”

As women “verbal communication is our lifeline. We don’t feel close to our partners unless we have had a good talk recently” (Michele Weiner-Davis, Getting Through to the Man You Love). And we have a very clear idea what a good talk is. We are not talking about meaningless chatter or small talk. We are also not talking about an exchange of information. “Good conversations are about feelings—deeply personal, soul baring feelings. The more personal, the better.” (M. Weiner-Davis)

I find I crave those intimate conversations and so do my daughters. When my 17-year-old daughter comes back from a sleepover with her girlfriends, she raves with a satisfied smile. “We were up late, talking. It was sooo great. I was glad there were no guys at this party because we really connected…” The only male, she connects with in the same way as with her girlfriends is a gay friend. He “gets it”. He understands that there is no such thing as “too many words”, “too many emotions” or “too much sharing”.

Real connection to us is being vulnerable, trusting each other with our inner world and having the other person listen, understand and affirm our feelings. For us an intimate conversation is an end in itself because it brings us closer to people and therefore makes us feel safer. We are seen and heard, and we belong. Too frequently we assume that men are like us. “From a woman’s perspective, men have two modes. They are either engaging in meaningless chatter or they are actively avoiding conversation, and it’s generally the latter.” (M. Weiner-Davis). We overlook that intimate conversations might feel unsettling to them; all too often they are out of their element.

In the sixties and seventies, research was focused on our behaviour being learned and not biologically determined. We began to expect men to learn communication skills and connect in the way we do. According to linguist Deborah Tannen, the gender differences when it comes to communication stem from a different upbringing. Men learn to use conversations for negotiations and to achieve a position of power or respect. Life is about independence and avoiding weakness and vulnerability.

For women, conversations are negotiations for closeness. They seek and give confirmation and support. Conversations are a protection from being pushed away, a struggle to avoid isolation. The main purpose of communication is to be included, to create closeness through vulnerability. If you want to read more about the male and female genderlect, as Tannen calls it, please read my blog “You Just Don’t Understand”.

Weiner-Davis, in contrast to Tannen, believes that the differences are based on how male and female brains function differently. Is this the result of learned behaviour or a biological difference? That seems to be an “who was first, the chicken or the egg” question. It might be both. Our left hemisphere deals with rational and logical thinking, the right hemisphere with more abstract concepts, communication skills, feelings and emotions. According to Weiner-Davis, males predominantly depend on the left hemisphere and it is harder for them to move between the two hemispheres than it is for women. “That’s because the corpus callosum, the delicate fibres connecting the left side of the brain to the right side, is 40 percent larger in women than men… Therefore verbal activity, comprehension, and other language skills—all right brain functions—simply come more naturally to women.” (Weiner-Davis)

Willard F Harely reminds us in his book “His Needs, Her Needs” that the need for intimate conversation is at the top of most women’s lists, usually within her top five needs. Harley’s mission is to teach couples to understand and meet each others needs more. There is certainly value in understanding each other’s priorities and different values and making real efforts to meet each others needs. Women can learn to meet their mate’s needs more and men can learn to venture into her world of words more. As long as we remember that he might only be a visitor to our world and not take up permanent residence there. Problems arise when we believe that the importance verbal communication has in our life is right and his silences are perceived by us as wrong.

As women, we tend to measure our success in terms of how we are getting along with our loved ones. Are we close to our partner, our children and other family members? Do they feel comfortable sharing with us and do we know how they are feeling? Men often judge themselves by their ability to set and accomplish goals. They realize the importance of dedicating time and energy to accomplishing a career or athletic goal while they tend to expect relationships to run on autopilot.

Usually, partners come to see me because the woman has initiated it. She is hoping he will learn to be a sensitive communicator who wants to connect the way she does. There are of course exceptions to the rule, there are some men who love connecting through words. Yet, many men use different avenues to connect. Harley names the need to engage in recreational activities together as a need that in general seems to be higher on the list of values for men than for women. Men also tend to connect through sex. Of course there are couples where this is reverse. In general, Women often need to feel close to engage in physical intimacy. Men use love making itself to connect. “Guys feel appreciated and cherished when we acknowledge them as sexual beings.” (Weiner-Davis)

We need to take a step towards each other. Neither way of connecting is better than the other. They are just different and if Weiner-Davis is to be believed, a result of different wiring in our brain. We have to stop making it mean something negative that we don’t tend to reach out to each other in the same way.

Here is my appeal to both partners. Men, when women want to have an intimate conversation, this is not about controlling you or intruding on your privacy! Your female partner just feels disconnected, excluded or alone. It makes her feel safe and loved to really talk. Do your best to share your thoughts and feelings and truly listen to hers. You don’t have to have the solution to her problems; in fact, it’s best if you don’t. She wants to feel that the two of you are a team, solving issues together. And most of all, she wants to know that you care about her feelings. That’s when she knows you accept and love all of her.

Women, when your male partner needs some space and doesn’t want to talk, breathe through your feelings of abandonment and anxiety which might come up for you. Remind yourself that he has to go into the “nothing box” in his brain because being in that nothing box relieves his stress. Talking through things might create more confusion and anxiety for him than clarity. Allow him to deal with things his way. He will reach out and share when he is ready. When you stop pursuing him to talk, that’s when he knows you accept and love him the way he is.

 

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!

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!

The Four Stages of Long-Term Relationships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

THE HONEYMOON STAGE

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

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

 

THE CHALLENGING STAGE

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

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

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

 

THE MATURE LOVE STAGE

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

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

 

LOVE 360 STAGE

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

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

Contact me for more information on either couple’s coaching or individual sessions. We can work on your own triggers and patterns in individual sessions or on your interactions with each other so you can advance to the next level of your relationship. From March 20 to April 3, 2018 I am offering a 20% off SPRING SPECIAL for Couples.

Angelika

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

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