Healthy Relationships – Part 3

Attractive couple portrait.In the past two weeks during this three part series of Maintaining A Healthy Relationship, we have covered the first two parts – stages of relationships and the behaviors of conflict.  This week in part three, we are going to discuss how to foster a great relationship with your partner.   Maintaining a healthy relationship takes time, energy, and work.  With these guidelines to lead as an example, relationships can not only maintain, but also blossom.

Have A Solid Friendship – Ask yourself what kind of friend you are being to your partner.  Apply the same openness that you have in your other friendships to the partnership.  Think about the “get what you give” philosophy – if you want a good friend in your partner, then be a good friend to them.   Provide encouragement and support to your mate to make them feel special and show them that they make a difference in your world.

Know Your Partner – Your partner possesses qualities that make them special to you, as well as a unique person in their own right.  Your partner likely has areas of sensitivities and vulnerability, in addition to their preferences, interests, and values.  Being aware of what makes them “tick” and engaging in behaviors that nurture and support those special qualities can enhance the intimacy and vibrancy of the relationship.  Remember what you honor and respect about your partner.

Strive For Emotional Intimacy – Emotional intimacy has been described as “unbridled mutual self-disclosure” – which implies a willingness to share from the heart.  It means getting in touch with and letting the other person know our feelings.  It is also being authentic; it is through emotional intimacy that relationships grow.

Make Time To Be Together – Cultivate passion and intimacy.  Make time for dates and romance while treating that time together as special and sacred.  Find strategies to create time together that work best for you as a couple.  Some couples devote the first 15 minutes of their morning or last 15 minutes of their evening “their time”; others have a standing date night.  A daily ritual that you both can look forward to being together, while being uninterrupted, will help intimacy and attachment grow.

Let Your Partner Influence You – Many issues in relationships have nothing to do with the “facts” and everything to do with the feelings about the issue.  We are emotional beings, emotions are bound to rise up, especially in our relationships.  It is important that you both understand each other’s positions.  Some issues have no solutions and oftentimes understanding and mutual respect are all that you really need.  Couples learn to simply contain the issues and not let them escalate through positive communication and empathy.

Solve The Solvable Issue – All couples will likely have a few issues that will never be resolved fully, due to difference of opinion and background.  What is important is to develop a dialog with your partner about this set of irreconcilable differences.  Treat them as you would if you were coping with a chronic bad back or trick knee – you don’t like them, you wish they were not there, but you learn to work around them by talking and learning how to live with them.  Having patience will be helpful in these situations, as well.

Create Shared Meaning – As a couple, having some concept of what you both think a relationship and a partnership are supposed to be would be useful.  Perhaps write down your definitions of a successful relationship and do your best to live up to those definitions.  Focus on the fundamental things that are going to make a difference in the long run.  Create specific goals as a couple, and also individually, on how you want to improve your relationship, and then follow through with them.

Maintaining a healthy relationship requires, well, maintenance.  Using these tips and tools will help keep your relationship in balance and maintained.

Healthy Relationships – Part 2

Mid age couple head and shouldersIn this series of maintaining a health relationship, last week we talked about the stages of relationships (view here).  This week we will round out the topic by going over the behaviors that intensify conflict along with the behaviors that diminish conflict.  There are many areas in which differences may appear in our relationships.  We may find that we disagree about politics or religion, or we may have different styles of communication which could become problematic over time.  Healthy relationships expect and allow for differences – in a healthy relationship, you will find ways to work through them together.

Behaviors That Intensify Conflict

Criticism – Negating or blaming your partner in issuing a complaint.  “You are so inconsiderate when…” is a criticism that could provoke defensiveness in your partner.

Contempt – Scorn, disrespect, or disgracing your partner.  Some forms of contempt underlie verbal abuse.  “You are so dumb…”

Defensiveness – Denying a problem or denying your share of personal responsibility for problems in the relationship.

Stonewalling – When a partner is stonewalling in communication in a relationship, they are usually using delaying or stalling tactics, refusing to answer questions, doing what can be done to hinder or obstruct a discussion, or bluntly refusing to cooperate with their partner.  This behavior usually drives away and rejects their partner.

Flooding – Overwhelming the other person with a bombardment of words or emotional outbursts that do not allow a true dialogue between the two of you.

Behaviors That Diminish Conflict 

Set Boundaries – Boundaries are the limits we set to protect ourselves.  Some examples of boundary-setting for conflict are:  No name calling; no use of obscenities; no yelling; no going to bed angry; and, keep past arguments in the past.

Clearly Communicate Your Needs – If you want or need something from your partner, it should be your responsibility to communicate those needs clearly and directly.

Identify And Own Your Feelings – Using “I” statements helps describe your feelings.  For example – “I feel upset when you forget to call and tell me that you will be late for dinner.”  Describe your emotional reactions to behaviors and events.  Try not to attack the person or personality of your partner.

Learn The Art Of Negotiation – Every relationship we have with each other has a give and a take.  When you have differences, find ways to come to an agreement together that you can both be satisfied with.

Drop Your Assumptions – Step back from judging or assuming that you know what the other is thinking or feeling.  When we assume we know why someone said or did something, and then proceed with that as “fact”, it causes us to react to our assumptions rather than understand the facts of the situation.

Consider The Other Person’s Point Of View – Do not lose sight of the other person’s perspective – learn to value it.  Listen and acknowledge the other person’s concerns, then talk about why you perceive the situation differently.  Encourage your partner to explain their feelings and make assurances that you want to understand their perspective.  Then make an honest attempt to listen and honor their perspective.

Create Win-Win Solutions – Sometimes when dealing with differences or conflict in a relationship, we can get ourselves locked into position of needing to be “right” and make the other person “wrong”.  With your partner, forget “right” and “wrong”; the question should become whether or not what the two of you are doing is working in the relationship.  The disagreement then is transformed into a problem that the two of you can work on together to improve.  Be flexible; be open to new approaches in addressing conflict in the relationship.

Maintaining a healthy relationship takes time, energy, and work.  With these guidelines to lead as an example, relationships can not only maintain, but also grow.

Healthy Relationships – Part 1

Screen Shot 2014-05-15 at 9.36.05 AMHappy New Year!  Creating and maintaining a healthy relationship is something that can be done throughout the year.  However with many of us starting off each new year with resolutions and the intention to better ourselves, it is a wonderful time to focus some attention to our relationships, as well.

This will be a three part blog, with part two posting next week, and part three the following week.  In the first piece, we will go over the stages of relationships, as defined by Harville Hendrix.  Harville has crafted relationships into five significant stages.  As you read over them, begin to think about where you are currently in your relationship.

Stages of Relationships  

Romantic Love – Couples begin marriage in a state of romantic bliss.  During this euphoric phase, which usually lasts the first to third years or marriage, newlyweds wear the proverbial “rose-colored” glasses –  life and love are perfect.  Differences tend to be discounted and faults are few.  This is the time that spouses seek the intimacy they crave.

Disillusionment or The Power Struggle – This second stage is disappointment time, often with faultfinding.  Partners realize that the other’s behavior is irritating or even hurtful.  This stage can be frightening and it is when many couples see divorce as the only option.  Often, the lack of effective communication skills, problem-solving skills, and the ability to compromise and negotiate leave many couples stuck indefinitely in this stage.  Also, the battle of wills occur, and to successfully leave this stage each individual must find a way to adjust to the ways of his/her partner.

Cooperation: Knowledge and Awareness – Stage two can leave the couple feeling stung and hurt by the damage rendered by the turbulent times.  If the couple perseveres and is willing to learn the communication and negotiation skills to navigate the power struggle, a new sense of acceptance and willingness to change enters the relationship.  Learning new relationship skills, and cultivating creativity within the relationship often accompany this shift in thought.  Partners take responsibility for their own problems and shed the illusion that their partner is the key to their happiness.

Acceptance – Stage four is often called acceptance, commitment or mutuality.  You and your partner realize that regardless of whom you are with, there will be problems, so you might as well stay in the relationship and work them out.  Togetherness just feels secure, and there exists a heightened sense of belonging.  The unhealthy patterns that dogged their relationship seem like ancient history.  This acceptance is the bridge to ultimate transformation and a love that can be enjoyed for a lifetime.

Transformation – Couples who put in the time and effort reap this final reward.  Intimacy is second nature.  The attitude is “we grow together.”  This is also called “co-creativity.”  Stage five couples develop a web of meaningful relationships that support the marriage and deepen the joy.  In this final stage, couples know what the fairy tales neglected to mention: Love is hard work.

Were you able to identify where you currently are?  Next week we will go over the behaviors that intensify conflict (and behaviors that diminish conflict) along with how to deal with differences. Until then, may your new year be off to a wonderful start!

Communicating With Family During The Holidays

Man Carving Turkey at Christmas DinnerHappy Holidays!  This week’s post is about family communication, which tends to be more prevalent during the holidays.  Building healthy families is about learning to communicate openly, honestly, and sensitively to maintain relationships that can withstand the challenges that families often face.

All families experience problems at one time or another, especially during the holidays when people tend to be under more stress due to extra events and added expectations (click here for how to manage stress during the holidays).  Differences of opinion and disagreements are a normal part of having relationships with people, especially with the ones you live with and call family.  It is likely that you are not exactly the same – you probably come from different backgrounds and have had different experiences.  Keeping that in mind will help to keep the situation calm when differences arise.

Setting The Stage For Great Family Communication 

Share Your Feelings – When you communicate how you feel, you create an atmosphere that encourages and allows others to respond in a kind way.  Often times, if you do not speak up about whatever it is that you feel, it will not get addressed and could possibly build up into something more stressful down the line.

Listening and Understanding – Paying attention to one another is of essence to understanding one another.  Having non-verbal cues in communication is important; how what you do not say with words can be more vital than the words you do say.  Take notice to what your partner or child (or other family member or friend) is communicating through their facial cues and posture.  Also ask questions to receive the best clarity.

Be Flexible – As with any changing and or forming relationship, flexibility is important to keeping the relationship on track and satisfactory to all parties.  Once you have said what you needed to say and have heard what your partner needed to say, begin to practice changing for the situation to get better.

Show Your Appreciation – Tell the other person how grateful you are for them and all the wonderful things and feelings that you get to experience because of them.  Having gratitude is often the key to a more successful relationship, especially when it is acknowledged by both parties.

Above all, the holidays are meant to be a special time with friends and family.  May your holidays be blessed with joy, laughter, love and successful communications!

Less Stress Over the Holidays

1311638486L09dK0It is that time of year again – the holidays. One of the busiest times of the year, along with one of the most exciting times of the year, the holidays can often add on extra stress to our already busy lives. It is fairly normal to experience one or a few of these holiday stressors – extra responsibilities, multiple planned activities, heavy schedules, extra and over spending, social pressure to feel “happy,” the focus on material things, family disappointments, and unfulfilled resolutions.

For instance, I planned on having a holiday dinner at my house this year and inviting all of my family to join. But then I found out that my daughter and her husband had already committed their holiday to his side of the family. This is a very common situation that many of us have to tend to that often will bring up stress. One thing that I was able to do to help relieve the stress was to be self-compassionate towards myself, remembering that there was no need for me to be hard on myself if the plans were not exactly coming together as I had thought they would. I also was able to do some of the following exercises that helped calm me down.

Managing and Releasing Holiday Stresses

These quick actions can reduce the severity, along with long term effects, of stress.

1. Deep Breathing – Sit up right to fill your lungs with oxygen and close your eyes.  Breathe in slowly through your nose while counting silently to three.  Feel your body expand with the intake of your breath and hold the air in for a second.  Then let the air out slowly through your nose while counting “four, five, six.”  Repeat two more times.  Find a quiet room to sneak away to for a few minutes to revitalize.  This is great quick way to reconnect with yourself while at a family event that may be triggering stress.  This can also be done, with eyes open, while driving in frustrating holiday mall traffic.

2. Muscle Relaxation – Many of us carry large amounts of stress in our muscles.  To release the tension, sit comfortably in a chair with your eyes closed while clinching your right fist as hard as you can, then relax it, letting your whole arm go limp.  Repeat the same process with your left arm.  Then, with your arms hanging relaxed at your sides, raise your eyebrows, crinkle your forehead and tense the muscles of your scalp.  Continue the process – relax, tense, relax – until your body feels lighter of the stress it was holding.  Continue to “relax, tense, relax” with your jaw and neck, eyes and nose, chest and stomach, shoulders, the muscles of your buttocks, then your thighs, calves, ankles, and toes.  When you finish with each part, you should feel calm and totally relaxed.  Sit quietly for a few minutes to absorb in the calmness, then open your eyes and carry on with your day.

3. Practicing Gratitude – We live in a world where we are always on the go, it is often difficult to remember to slow down for a moment and be thankful.  Luckily, the holidays help us remember to do so given that one of the holidays is dedicated to being thankful – Thanksgiving.  Coping with the extra stresses of the holidays is a matter of focus.  Instead of focusing on your stress or on creating big moments, practice gratitude by savoring all the little joys that come each day during the holiday season.  Some of the little joys may include the special food, people’s generous spirits, beautiful music and the festive decorations.

Above all, the holidays are meant to be a special time with friends and family.  If you find yourself experiencing stress of any kind, remember these tips and practice them to get back to your best self.

Having Holiday Self-Compassion

holiday_shoppingDuring the holiday season, we sometimes find ourselves emotionally distraught, distressed or just run down due to the overwhelming amount of events going on.  We likely will turn to others (partners, friends, parents, children) for comfort and guidance, and visa versa as the relationships we have with one another are one of our most important sources of well-being.  A great way to navigate dealing with any holiday stress is to have compassion.  Not only compassion for others and the situation, but compassion for yourself.

Self-compassion is when you are aware and honest, with a willingness to be non-judgemental, towards yourself.  No one in the world knows your feelings as well as you do. Because of this, you are the one most qualified person to bring compassion to yourself, which includes care, sensitivity, warmth, awareness, and kindness.  Having compassion for yourself will help you to bring compassion to others and your relationships with acceptance, unconditional love, and understanding.

Having Self-Compassion During The Holidays

Remind yourself to slow down.  Take notice of when you become irritable or angry, maybe at a large line in the toy story or in rush hour mall traffic.  Especially take notice if you are angry towards yourself.  Meeting yourself where you are in the moment will help to you to accept the situation, calm yourself, and slow down.  Also remember to breathe!

Ask yourself how can you be happy right now.  Enjoy what you want for the fact that you like it or the activity of it.  This brings in self-compassion by helping bring more awareness about yourself and what makes you happy.  Counting the things that you are grateful for is also another wonderful way to stay present.

Keep a sense of humor.  Remember that all of the holiday stress you are under now will likely lighten up as soon as the holidays are over, and back to your more regular schedule.  If things go a little awry, try to laugh with it and keep it light.

Learn to generate a kind voice in your own head.  Think of something that you do not like about yourself – as if you have a critic.  What is the critic saying and what emotions are rising as you hear them?   Invite and acknowledge all of these feelings and emotions, whatever they are – anger, sadness, fear, resentment, envy.  Try not to judge any of it as they are simply just thoughts and feelings moving through you. It is neither bad nor good, just awareness.  The compassionate self must be built – this is a great awareness exercise for building it up.

During this holiday season as you practice self-compassion, you will likely discover the awareness of being present.  You will feel more freedom to show up as you are and a greater sense of well-being, for yourself, your work, and  your relationships – which will benefit everyone involved.

Expecting Your First Child?

Infant Grasping Mother's FingerHaving a baby, your first baby, is exciting. You’ll spend the first half of your pregnancy guessing and wondering what that little baby will be. Do you need to decorate in pink? Go boyish and blue? Unfortunately the only way to really tell how your nursery will look at the 40 week mark is by ultrasound. Though they’re fun, most old wive’s tales for gender prediction have been proven to be nothing more than a 50% chance of accuracy.

How You’re Carrying – It is said that carrying a baby high means it’s a girl, while carrying low means it’s a boy. How you carry depends on a variety of things, including your physical properties and just the pregnancy in general. Most women will tell you they’ve carried low and had a girl.

 Heartbeats – Some women use the heart rate as a predictor for gender, but doctors have already proven this wrong. Since a baby could be wiggling and moving at the time their heart rate is measured, you’re going to get results that bounce all over the place anyway. The tale, however, states that a girl will have a heart rate of 140 or under, while a boy rests above 140.

Cravings – “Sugar and spice and all that’s nice…” is a common nursery phrase for little girls. So it’s no wonder that the old wive’s tales state if you’re craving sweets you’re having a girl. If you’re craving salty foods – especially meats and cheeses – you are carrying a boy.

Morning Sickness – Morning sickness isn’t pleasant no matter how light or intense it is. Some believe that the worse your morning sickness is, the more likely it is that you’re having a girl. The morning sickness, however, simply depends on your HCG levels and how well you handle them – but has nothing to do with your baby’s gender.

Sexual Positions – If you were dreaming of having a bouncing baby girl or rowdy baby boy, you might have noticed websites online discussing sexual positions that promote one gender. While these are of course fun to try out, they really don’t help your odds of getting baby blue or precious pink. In fact, it’s all up to your husband’s genetics. Of course, there’s no harm in giving them a shot – you never know!

Old wive’s tales may be false 50% of the time, but they’re still a fun way to help take off those first-time parent jitters. Throughout your pregnancy promote a stronger bond between you and your partner. Have fun with the old wive’s tales and perhaps even set up a couple’s wager for your baby’s gender, weight and height just to add some fun into the mix. Remember that the first baby is certainly nerve wracking, but as long as you and your partner support one another, you’ll get through it in the end.

Consider sitting down and discussing your baby jitters with one another. Be outspoken about how you want your partner to help you through your pregnancy and especially labor. That way you’re both on the same page for when the day comes that you can welcome your little boy or sweet girl into the world.