Constructive Disagreements in Relationships – PART ONE And Baby Makes Three

We all know that life changing events like death, divorce, retirement, a job loss or major health issues cause stress. These major life changing events go hand in hand with loss and grief. What we often forget is that positive life changing events like getting married and having a baby can also bring on a crisis. According to a study by E.E. LeMasters in the 1950’s, 83% of couples go through a moderate to severe crisis when they become parents for the first time. Other studies in the 1980s have confirmed his findings.

Both parents go through major changes in their identities, which can be challenging and overwhelming. New fears might come up and our values and goals in life can change. Many parents want to be better at parenting in some way or another than their own parents. Mothers often become very involved with their babies. The energy which used to be solely directed towards their partner is now redirected towards the child. The dad can feel left out and depending on his own childhood experiences and wounds, feel unimportant, rejected and abandoned. Often both parents end up feeling unappreciated. Having a new baby brings lots of changes and challenges. When we are so busy, we forget to say “thank you” and “I am so proud of you”, and we forget to ask “How was your day?”

gottman-saying-thank-you

When we are sleep deprived for a long time, we feel stressed and can also get mildly depressed. Sleep deprivation also makes our daily hassles seem more intense. New parents tend to feel more emotional and more irritable. The frequency and intensity of relationship conflicts and fights increase.

The greatest gift parents can give their baby is a happy and strong relationship between the two of them. What the child needs most of all, is for their parents to feel supported by each other and safe in their relationship. It makes the child feel safe in return. The blood pressure of babies rises when they witness their parents fighting and signs of depression in parents also have effects on the babies. “In the first three years of life, fundamental neural processes are being laid down that have to do with the infant’s ability to self-soothe, focus attention, trust in love and nurturance of his parents, and emotionally attach to his mother and father.” (Gottman, And Baby Makes Three)

Keep your fights constructive and respectful. Be gentle with each other and take responsibility for your part without being defensive. Listen and acknowledge your partner’s view. Children need to learn how to communicate their needs and feelings successfully and that their emotions matter to others. When you work on how you communicate, you can model successful interactions for your child. Your child will then develop the neural network for school achievement, healthy relationships and a future happy life.

If you have been struggling with constructive disagreements so far, don’t blame yourself. Let the past go and focus on the now. It is never too late to shift and change and thus show your child how we can all interact differently.

 

  1. Softer Start Ups

The start up is how we bring up an issue with our partner. 96% of the time, the start-up of a conversation determines how a conflict conversation develops. When we introduce an issue with a harsh start up—for example with blame or criticism—the likelihood that the other partner gets defensive right away is much higher. We need to be aware of the four horsemen of the apocalypse: criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stone-walling. They destroy our relationships. A complaint, on the other hand, starts with neutrally describing the situation, how we feel about it, what need we have, and ideally, it includes a request.

gottman-harsh-start-up-2

 

Here are some examples based on those by Julie Schwartz Gottman and John Gottman.

Harsh Start-Up: You don’t care about me (blame). You only care about yourself (criticism). You are just wrapped up in your own little world, with your face stuck in that newspaper (contempt and criticism).

Softened Start-Up: When you read the newspaper at dinner and you are not talking to me, I feel pretty upset. I miss talking to you and connecting with you. Can you ask me how my day was or tell me how yours was?

Harsh Start-Up: You think I’m ugly, don’t you? You want someone skinny, like the girl you were eyeing yesterday (blame and criticism). I know I am heavy, but so what? I just had a baby.

Softened Start-Up: I am worried that I am not sexy enough for you now that my body has changed. We are going to this party and I have put on this fancy dress and it is way too tight. I feel insecure and I would really like some compliments from you right now.

 

  1. Accept Your Partners Influence

In any argument, there is no objective truth. There are always two subjective realities, ours and our partner’s. When we insist that our perception is the only one that’s right and our partner’s perception is wrong, we end up in a power struggle in which we both lose. Instead of focusing on persuading your partner that you are right, acknowledge that there are two sides to every fight and strive to understand his or her point of view. Open-ended questions invite your partner to share more, for example “What makes this so important to you?” Step into your partner’s shoes for a moment and view the issue from your partner’s eyes to see why it makes some sense to have those feelings. Restate your partner’s point of view and validate it. When we accept our partner’s influence, we are honouring our partner as someone who is intelligent and well intentioned.

Gottman - understanding partner's position.jpg

 

  1. Calm Your Conflicts

When one or both partners get flooded and go into a state of DPA (diffuse physiological arousal), also known as “fight or flight”, it is time for a break. When we are in DPA, our hearing is compromised. Surges of adrenaline give us “tunnel vision”. We are not able to be compassionate or to be creative and problem solve. We see danger lurking and our partner feels like an enemy.

We need to request to halt the talk. When we tell our partner how long the break is going to last and when we intend to come back and resume talking, they will be more receptive. A break should last at least 25-30 minutes to give us adequate time for our heartbeat to slow down and for the adrenaline and cortisol levels in the body to decrease. At the very most, a break should last one day or otherwise it can feel to our partner as if we are avoiding the talk or are trying to passive-aggressively punish them.

gottman-30-min-break

 

During the break, anything that helps us physically soothe ourselves is a good idea: going for a walk, meditating, playing the piano, petting the dog, reading a book or anything else that is personally comforting to us. Ideally, you can combine deep breathing with a progressive muscle relaxation and with guided imagery. To learn how to do this, contact me.

 

  1. Compromise

When we are relaxed and able to express our feelings and needs, we can communicate successfully about problems. Part of successful problem solving is working out compromises. First, define the most minimal core area of need which each of you cannot give up on. What is your core need? Then define areas of greater flexibility, for example in regards to when and how you each get what you need. Third, come up with a temporary compromise.

 

Gottman - repair attempts.jpg

 

  1. Make Repairs

For a relationship to thrive the partners need to make and accept each other’s repair attempts. There is no right or wrong way to make a repair but it has to be made by one partner and heard by the other partner. Repairs can be words of apology, smiles, a joke or even a goofy face. Some examples of possible repair statements are:

  • I am sorry. I overreacted.
  • I might be wrong here.
  • I really blew this one.
  • Can we “rewind”? Let’s start over.
  • Let me try again.
  • I apologize. I got really triggered.
  • That must have really hurt your feelings.
  • I need to calm down. Can we please take a break and continue talking in 30 minutes?
  • That hurt my feelings.
  • Tell me you love me.
  • Can I have a kiss?
  • I am feeling unappreciated / sad / misunderstood.
  • I feel defensive. Can you perhaps rephrase that?
  • Please don’t withdraw.
  • I know this isn’t your fault.
  • Let’s compromise here.
  • I love you. Let’s work on this.

 

If you don’t want to miss part two of this article about perpetual problems in relationships, you can follow Greendoor to receive an e-mail notification whenever I post a new blog. All you need to do is to click the “follow” button in the right-hand corner of your screen.

Angelika

Relationship Coaching and Belief Changes

905-286-9466, greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

 

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A Strong Position of Self-Respect

Mary-Ann and Paul are retired and live close to their only son who has three boys under the age of eight. They love to babysit but find that there are expected to drop everything at short notice when her son and daughter-in-law want to go out. “As if they think, we have no life of our own”, Mary-Ann says. She is growing more resentful about this. Lately, she has made some snippy remarks to Grace, her daughter-in-law, hoping she will “get it” but the pattern remains the same. Her resentment and feeling of not being appreciated is beginning to cloud the babysitting and the relationship with her children.

Unless we set clear boundaries in a loving and consistent way, we cannot expect that other people will automatically treat us and our needs with respect. Grace cannot mind-read what Mary-Ann and Paul need. The grandparents have always made themselves available last minute. Mary-Ann will have to say something like, “If you want us to babysit this weekend, please let us know by Wednesday”. Being informed three days prior is her personal boundary. If her daughter-in-law ignores that request, Mary-Ann is free to make other plans and will need to lovingly say “I am sorry, we made other plans because we did not know you needed our help.” She will also need to extend an invitation to interact within her boundaries. “If you want to go out next weekend, we are happy to babysit as long as you let us know by Wednesday.” No apology,  further explanation or justification of that boundary is needed.

Mary-Ann is afraid that if she sets boundaries and says “no”, her son will be upset and her daughter-in-law will find another babysitter. In order to have her needs respected, she will need to be okay with the fact that another babysitter might be called. She will need to trust that she and her husband are valued and appreciated as grandparents and sitters; valued enough for her children to be willing to plan ahead. She will also need to be okay with displeasing her son. Boundaries are not meant to make others happy. Their purpose is a strong position of self-respect which in turn leads to mutual respect.

Setting boundaries is necessary and beneficial at any age. Sometimes the older generation does not hear or respect the needs of the younger generation without clear boundaries. Caroline and Mario have been married for seven years. Their children are 5 and 3 ½ years old. Caroline lost her parents when she was young. When she married Mario, she was excited to become part of a big Italian family.

What she hadn’t bargained on was the dysfunctionality of her new extended family. Despite her in-laws being generally warm and welcoming, there were, from the first moment on, also a lack of boundaries and a continuous level of disrespect for the individual needs of the family members. Everybody shared every private detail about the other family members with each other. Mario grew up used to discussing his decisions with his parents and brothers. They had an opinion about everything.

Mario’s mother is the matriarch of the household and “what she says goes”. She uses manipulation and emotional outbursts to keep everybody in line. Her habit of meddling, prying, and giving unasked advice is being tactless and crossing personal boundaries between adults. Yelling at others and threatening or guilting them into doing something they have decided not to do, are also disrespectful interactions and crosses boundaries. The father is usually quiet but when he has had too much to drink he becomes inappropriate or angry. He then acts very similar to the mother.

Different family members have learned dysfunctional ways of getting around the parent’s dictatorial ways. One of Mario’s sisters is always the poor victim in one way or another; one of Mario’s brothers lies and secretly meets his own needs to avoid arguments and angry outbursts. Those are all understandable choices to walk the path of least resistance. However, nobody can ever take away your self-respect and integrity unless you make the choice to give it to them.

Self Respect 1 Ghandi quote

Caroline and Mario have decided that they want to walk a path of honesty and greater self-respect than his siblings. That required that they set different boundaries with his family together. Mario and Caroline asked to receive a phone call before his parents would just pop over for an unannounced visit. They asked to have alone time on weeknights after they both had an exhausting day at work. They asked to spend part of each holiday with their children alone before going over to the parents’. They are discussing their matters first, making their own decisions before sharing with the extended family. They have learned that they do not need to share every decision with them.

Caroline and Mario have also learned to recognize triangles within the family which are set up to control all the family members. Whenever the mother felt she might not get her will, she would complain to one of the other siblings, who then in turn would take on the role of making the mother happy and get involved by approaching Mario. Mario had to learn to refuse these unhealthy interactions, whether he happened to be the son “fallen out of grace” or the favourite one at any given time. A healthy communication is a direct communication between the people involved. Triangles serve the purpose of pressuring a person into submission and are not a respectful way of interacting.

Initially, setting boundaries was interpreted by Mario’s parents as rejection. Fear came up for them that they would lose Mario’s love. But a surprising thing happened. Mario’s—and in extension Caroline’s—love for the parents grew once they stopped making their decisions based on making the parents happy but based on everybody’s needs, including their own. Instead of out of fear of repercussions, they spend time with Mario’s family out of desire and true love.

Boundaries are not meant to control other people. They are meant to help meet our needs and to respect each other. Boundaries always have two parts. Part one is setting or re-setting the boundaries, part two is extending an invitation to interact within the boundaries. Mario and Caroline had to lovingly re-set the same boundaries several times until the parents accepted them. They had to walk out a few times when emotions tipped over and one or both parents started to yell them down.

Self-Respect 2 Jim DeMaio quote

Each time, they walked out with an invitation to connect the next day, or when a calm, sober and loving talk would be possible. Letting somebody abuse us is hurting them as much as it is hurting us. Underneath the person’s anger is a feeling of helplessness and fear. The disrespectful behaviour comes from the fear of being unloved and rejected. Exercising control through threats, guilt and shame, gives the person the illusion of power and of being respected. They confuse fear with love and respect. True love and respect comes from an interaction which considers everybody’s needs and desires.

A strong position of self-respect opens us up to self-love and loving others, instead of fearing them. Guilt and shame keep people at a low vibration of fear and prevent true love. Mario realized that fearing his parents was not loving them. Instead of feeling ashamed or guilty like he used to so many times when he grew up, he now feels he can pour all his love into his own small family and into his parents. In order for the old dynamic of power and control to change, he had to repeatedly refuse being cast as the “bad, guilty boy” who had done something wrong.

Self-Respect 3

Mature love is strong. It is aware of the dysfunctionality that exists in most families in some way or another, and it is patient and consistent despite the choices others make. Setting boundaries and inviting others to interact within those boundaries helps to get out of and stay out of dysfunction and disrespectful interactions.

 

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

Angelika

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

 

Are You an HSP?

I went into a busy mall a few days ago and within three minutes I was reminded why I do not do that—ever. The loud noises, the busy movements, the bright lights, all the sensory in-put from too many people vibrating at different levels of energy, many of them excited and emotional, immediately had me going into “fight or flight mode”.

When I was young I was told on a regular basis and in a reproachful voice, “Sei doch nicht so überempfindlich!” which translates into “Don’t be so hyper-sensitive”. This was usually said with the expectation that I should be able to just flick a switch and turn my sensory perception off. I used to feel something was wrong with me, being “too sensitive”. After all, those comments carried the suggestion with them that I must surely be over-exaggerating or being unnecessarily dramatic about people’s energy or my surroundings.

HSP crowd

Today, I know that around 15-20% of the population are HSPs, or Highly Sensitive People. “What seems ordinary to others, like loud music or crowds, can be highly stimulating and thus stressful for HSPs. Most people ignore sirens, glaring lights, strange odors, clutter and chaos. HSPs are disturbed by them. Most people’s feet may be tired at the end of a day in a mall or museum, but they’re ready for more when you suggest an evening party. HSPs need solitude after such a day. They feel jangled, overaroused. Most people walk into a room and perhaps notice the furniture, the people—that’s about it. HSPs can be instantly aware, whether they wish to be or not, of the mood, the friendship and enmities, the freshness or staleness of the air, the personality of the one who arranged the flowers.” (Elaine N. Aron, The Highly Sensitive Person)

When I end up in the theatre next to somebody who noticeably wears a perfume, my daughters will automatically volunteer to switch seats with me, knowing that strong smells completely overwhelm me. At other times, they will lovingly make fun of me because I am always the first one who goes, “What is that smell?”, when nobody else can detect it, yet. I am also the loving family joke because I make a point of avoiding violent movies and TV shows. My family remembers the times when I had to leave the movie theatre for a while during a scene which for most people would qualify as a “regular amount of violence”. The movies are particularly challenging because they come at me with well placed sounds, the intense emotions of the characters and light effects. That usually is too much stimulation for my nervous system.

Some people like parties and loud music. It gives them energy. Loud music and a lot of other noises literally make me feel like I am being attacked. A social gathering of two hours stretches like an eternity for me. The other day we were at a busy restaurant for three hours with wonderful friends of ours. We had a lot of fun, talking and laughing. I enjoyed myself immensely. Yet, in order to tune into only their words and energy I had to tune out everything around me which requires a lot of concentration. After such a gathering, I feel completely drained and desperately need to have quiet around me, preferably even be completely alone for a while.

“Our trait of sensitivity means we will also be cautious, inward, needing extra time alone. Because people without that trait (the majority) do not understand that, they see us as timid, shy, weak, or that greatest sin of all, unsociable. Fearing these labels, we try to be like others. But that leads to our becoming overaroused and distressed.” (Elaine N. Aron)

HSP Tia

Up to the age of 14, I had been attending a small school in Africa. When I returned with my parents to Germany, I was put into a big high school with approximately 800 students. Being in that school everyday completely overwhelmed me. It was like going into a battle field every day, sorting out all the different stimulations and emotions of everybody. The suppressed unhappiness, hostility, anger or aggression of many students and teachers were hard to take. My dad was sure I would get used to the big school. After all, what was the big deal? My mom knew better. When the first opportunity arose for me to switch schools and attend a high school further away with only 300 students and a very different, more personal and supportive atmosphere, she advocated for the change. She didn’t know about HSPs. But she had enough empathy to understand that I would need a more predictable and manageable size of an environment to do well. And she was right.

Elaine N. Aron uses the acronym “DOES” to describe what a Highly Sensitive Person is like. D stands for “Depth of Processing”. HSPs often have a strong (yet not infallible) intuition. When an HSP is asked to make a decision consciously they are often slower than others because they think over all option carefully. O is for “Overstimulation”. If a “situation is complicated (many things to remember), intense (noisy, cluttered etc.), or goes on too long (a two-hour commute)” overstimulation is experienced. E is for giving emphasis to our Emotional reactions and having strong “Empathy” with others. S is for being “Sensitive” to all the subtleties around us, for example the non-verbal clues or sometimes even having what is described as a “sixth sense”.

D O E S

In my field, there is an unusual high number of HSPs. At a meeting of practitioners earlier this year, we were going around the room to share how we all got to be in the alternative field. There were four women sitting right next to each other who all described a very similar story. As children they were all told that they were “too sensitive” and that their intuitive perceptions where not valid. For a while most of them suppressed their sensitivity and strong intuition trying to be like everybody else. Each of them, however, realized at one point that being different has it’s challenges but also is a precious gift. The gift is to be able to tune into other people and to feel them and what is really going on with them energetically. Some of us see energy, others can feel other people’s pain and emotions in their own bodies, some just know things and are intuitively guided while they facilitate a session.

If you suspect you are an HSP, remember that you are not crazy or flawed. Being outgoing, tough, stoic and always searching for entertainment, is only the ideal in our culture. “In China ‘shy’ and ‘sensitive’ children were among those most chosen by others to be friends or playmates. (In Mandarin, the word for shy or quiet means good or well-behaved; sensitive can be translated as ‘having understanding,’ a term of praise.) In Canada, shy and sensitive children were among the least chosen.” (Elaine N. Aron) However, not all HSPs are introverts. According to Aron’s research about 30% of all HSPs are in fact extroverts.

Not all HSPs are the same. Some HSPs are affected more by other people’s moods, others more by sensory in-put, some are easily moved by emotions, arts or music, others are easily rattled by having a lot to do in a short amount of time and feel annoyed when people try to get them to do too many things at once. Some HSPs cry easily, when they are happy or when they are sad, others really struggle with making a conscious choice or decision. Most HSPs crave deep relationships, and feel unhappy without meaningful interactions. Not all characteristics apply to all HSPs in the same way.

Whether just a few or many characteristics of the HSP definition applies to you, you can learn to accept yourself the way you are and thrive in the world. You can learn to protect your energy when you are around others. You can train yourself to be more outgoing and social, as long as you meet your need for quiet time to recharge. You can change your limiting beliefs around your abilities and embrace them as a gift. You can learn to express what it’s like to experience the world in the way you do and take care of yourself.

Contact Angelika for Life Coaching

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

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