Can My Relationship Be Saved?

Can My Relationship Be Saved?

Most of us want security in our relationships. We’re wired to be social so, when we feel like our social standing is threatened or that our intimate connections are unreliable, our brains process it as actual danger, and we freak out.

Some of us crave security and validation of our places and safety in our relationships but can’t seem to find partners with whom we get that. We tend to find and are attracted to people who provide us with incredible highs (and incredible lows), drama and a push-pull style of interacting. When we’re in relationships with partners who help us to feel more secure and receive validation of being loved, respected and cared for, we often feel bored. We mistake the tension-relief cycle and the excitement of the highs and lows for love. This type of behavior is common in those of us who have an anxious attachment style. We think we want security (and we do but getting it also stresses us out) and then when we get it we’re not interested.

 

Look at this scenario. Let’s say you are in the middle of a pretty unstable intimate relationship with a partner. To friends and family, the relationship is fraught with various dramas and issues; everyone thinks it’s run its course and just needs to end. You acknowledge that there are problems, but think you can work through them. You might even believe that you can’t live without your partner or that there is no one you could ever love as much. Your partner is ambivalent about your future as a couple which is weird because when you first started dating, they came on strong and made you feel like you were the only person in the world. Now, you’re lucky if you get a text back. Much of the relationship consists of a good couple of months and then a breakup or the threat of a breakup. Even when things are good, there is a lot of discord because you don’t feel prioritized by your partner and they experience you as suffocating. When it’s good, it’s really good, but when it’s bad, you feel like you might lose your mind. When you’re at work or out with friends, you are often distracted and thinking of your partner, waiting for their text or call. If they do contact you, all of your attention is fixed on them. You often threaten to end the relationship, but when an actual breakup happens, it’s either initiated by your partner or because they are the one who follows through on your threat. You think the relationship would be perfect if you partner would make only a few changes to your dynamic. After all, you’ve sacrificed a lot of your expectations and some of your values in a desperate effort to make this relationship work. You often say you’ve never loved anyone so much until now. This is also one of the most unstable relationships you’ve ever had.

 

In this example, you are exhibiting anxious attachment behavior. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you have an anxious attachment style. During the course of our lives, we are in relationships with people who might connect us to various styles of attachment. If this relationship is representative of most of your intimate relationships, then it might be more likely that you have an anxious attachment style.

 

People with an anxious attachment style (or who have enough of a propensity for it) feel themselves pulled to people who have an avoidant attachment style. The partner above is a pretty good example of someone who might have an avoidant style of attachment or at the very least displays some features. This is usually pretty rough going because while one partner craves validation and is insecure about space in the relationship, the other partner is looking for more space and is insecure about giving validation.

 

This is a pretty crazy-making, taxing cycle. To add insult to injury, the more we engage in this cycle, the more insecure we become. I know it probably feels like there’s no winning here, that you can either be with someone you love but who can’t give you the security you need or be with someone who can give you that security but not a satisfying connection. I would love to talk with you more about this. Please contact me if you would like support.

 

I recommend reading the book Attached., by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller. It’s a great resource for people struggling through these and similar patterns.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

If You Want to Be Heard, Start Listening

If You Want to Be Heard, Start Listening

A lot of couples seek therapy looking for help with their communication. They want to feel seen, heard, and understood. Pretty much all of us want to feel this.

 

Often, what ends up happening is a lot of talking and explaining and scrambling but not a lot of listening. We want to be heard before we hear. We want to be seen before we see. It becomes a rigid bartering system with the understanding that “If you listen to me and understand what I’m saying, I’ll listen to you and try to understand what you’re saying.”

 

And it’s understandable. When an intimate relationship is fraught with miscommunication and misunderstanding, there are wounds. There is pain. Most of us don’t know how to navigate our pain and the pain we’ve caused our loved ones. We are defensive when confronted and quick to point out what the other has done to hurt us. It’s hard to forge ahead together with this strategy.

 

If we’re unsure of how to navigate our hurt, we usually use anger as a secondary emotion. During an intense discussion or argument, we become angry enough that we forget we love the other person. Our stance becomes adversarial, and in a minute we say something deliberately hurtful. This kind of defense amplifies our communication problem and is a devastating hit to emotional intimacy.

 

In the heat of the moment, it’s hard to slow down. It goes against everything our nervous systems are telling us to try hear and see the other person’s experience. But if we want to deepen and maintain our bonds, we have to learn how.

 

When we’ve experienced trauma, hearing and seeing while regulating our emotions is especially hard. Fatigue, hunger, and loneliness also stack the odds against us.  There are a million reasons that contribute to the challenge of hearing and seeing. And there is one big reason to keep trying- increased peace and understanding within ourselves and our relationships.

 

To be proficient in inquiry of others’ experience, it’s helpful to start to with ourselves. It’s also helpful to start by being pretty basic about it. Initially, try it when you’re feeling relatively calm. Pause and see what you notice. What’s happening? What do you hear? What do you smell? What do you notice in your body? Then, try it when you’re feeling slightly irritated. The more you practice it (or anything), the more available it will be to you when you need it. Eventually, you’ll try this when you are really struggling whether on your own or in relationship. If you’d like to talk more about this or have any questions, feel free to reach out.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

Identifying Dependency in Relationship

Identifying Dependency in Relationship

I wanted to write something about dependency in relationship because I haven’t in a while and it keeps coming up in various conversations with people. First off, it’s pretty commonly confused with love. Secondly, it’s not love.

Most of us work best in relationship when there is an interdependence, when we can rely on and trust one another, share our gifts and strengths, give and receive support. We thrive when we allow ourselves to learn and teach, explore on our own and then come back to share our experience. The experience of being appreciated by someone for who we are and what we bring to the world is pretty profound.

And that’s my cue to make an important distinction. Appreciating someone for who they are and what they bring to the world is different from appreciating them for who we think they should be and what we think they should bring to our world. The latter is consistent with dependency in relationship. Some people feel safe in a relationship where their partner is dependent on them. Others feel safe when they are the one who is dependent. Some people feel safe in the familiarity of a codependent relationship. There are many reasons why that happens although I won’t explore it in this post. Instead, I will talk about some ways to identify dependent behavior (in either yourself or your partner). (There are many people who are not dependent in relationship, but for different reasons find themselves exhibiting these traits with someone. I’ll also talk about that at s later time.)

 

  • Making demands. This could be anything from telling someone who their friends should and shouldn’t be to how they spend their free time to their life goals. We can’t tell each other who to be friends with, how to be, or what to want. It’s not fair to demand that anyone change to make us happy.
  • Constant validation. It’s nice to hear that we are loved, why we are loved, why we are special, etc. It feels good, and it usually makes us feel close to the person telling us those things. Sometimes, though, we have difficulty internalizing those sentiments, and we just can’t hold onto it. We need to hear it all the time, and we feel that our loved one is withholding if they don’t tell us all the time. The problem with this is that it’ll just never be enough. When we can’t internalize something, we’re like a bucket with holes. Stuff just seeps right out, and we need more and more and more.
  • A feeling of emptiness. This feeling is usually looming, and we feel like it zeroes in on us when we are not with our loved one. We need to be with them all the time and if we’re not with them, we need to know where they are at all times and know that they are accessible to us (usually so that we can get the validation that they love us/miss us/ aren’t putting anyone before us/that they are ok). We usually panic if we cannot get in touch with them.
  • Cancelling plans. When we feel dependent on a partner, we will cancel plans to be with them. We will also want them to cancel plans to be with us. Sure, it’s nice to ditch something and stay home to be cozy together every so often. This is not the same thing. The stakes are higher, and it needs to happen more frequently than a once-in-a-while treat.
  • You’ve probably vibed that there is a pretty big need to feel in control when someone is experiencing dependency. You’re right. We usually feel dependent because we are anxious. (The higher the anxiety, the greater the feeling of dependence and vice versa.) When we’re anxious, we really need to find something to control. Another way to feel more in control is by demanding that a partner act and speak the way we want them to. “Don’t do (blank)! It makes me feel like you would rather be with someone else.” “Don’t say (blank)! It makes me think you don’t love me as much as I love you.” And I’m not talking about someone setting a healthy boundary like, “Don’t see other people when we’ve agreed to be monogamous.” The controlling behavior is demonstrated more often than something like that, and it usually leaves a partner feeling limited and boxed in. It might look like, “Text me every hour so that I know you’re ok.” or “give me all of your passwords so that I know I can trust you.”
  • Giving things up. This can mean giving up hobbies, ideals, political or religious affiliations, practices, anything. There are a million reasons we might ask someone to give up this part of their lives- “It goes against my own set of values,” “It takes you away from me so much,” “It makes me feel like you would rather be doing that than spending time with me.” The list of reasons goes on and on. When we are dependent in a relationship, we cannot tolerate feeling separate from a partner. We need to merge our lives and our experiences. We can’t and don’t respect a partner’s need for individuality. We feel threatened by it.
  • And this is definitely not limited to feeling jealous of someone with whom we think a partner might fall more in love or experience more attraction. This jealousy can extend to friends, family, work, even the partner themselves for wanting any alone time. Anyone who is not us is a potential threat to our time together. We will take it personally, and we will flip the heck out over it.

This list is not exhaustive. It’s a good insight into what it feels like to be in a relationship in which dependence plays a role. The funny thing is, some people who experience it don’t do so with each and every partner. Some people bring it out in us or we bring it out in them, and there are a lot of reasons why this can happen (attachment styles, relationship trauma, etc.). There are those of us who experience it as a relationship pattern and might be confused about why. The point is, it happens, and it’s helpful to identify it before too many fights and too much suffering. It’s absolutely workable and doesn’t have to mean the end of a relationship as long as you get help and learn how to manage the feelings and beliefs that drive it.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

Giving Versus Giving In

Giving Versus Giving In

Being in a successful, healthy relationship requires prosocial behavior. We must employ tools such as active listening, curiosity, giving the benefit of the doubt, assuming the best intentions, empathy, honesty, cooperation, and sharing. All of these actions sit under the umbrella of giving. Most of us are familiar with the saying “relationships require give and take.” Giving is an essential part of any relationship.

I’ve seen a lot of people who confuse giving with giving in. And the two have very different implications for a relationship.

Giving comes from a loving, strong, and often courageous place. When we give someone the benefit of the doubt, for instance, we’re allowing ourselves to trust, to be in a vulnerable position. We are not defending ourselves with skepticism or assumptions. We’re giving out of love and in doing so enriching our relationship.

Much can be given from such a loving, strong, and courageous place within ourselves- boundaries, empathy, second chances, forgiveness, patience. We can navigate our own limits of giving with more confidence and self-assuredness when we come from this place. We can teach cooperate, receive and give back. We can truly give.

But sometimes it’s hard to inhabit this place that lives within us. We feel drained or exhausted or alone or overwhelmed. We want to avoid the feelings we’re experiencing from the situation that’s causing us to have to decide what and how much we will give.

Most of us have been there. Most of us have found ourselves saying something like, “Fine, take the ice cream.” Or “Yeah, I’ll just do it. Whatever.” Instead of giving, we’re giving in. If we do this enough, we can build some pretty hefty resentment. We start to feel totally disempowered, that we have no voice (or that our voice doesn’t matter). We might even begin to assume that this is what everyone expects- for us to just give-in and soon we believe that everyone has an agenda. We start to feel defeated.

Some of us give in more than others. When we are afraid of confrontation, we give-in. Some of us do it because we’re afraid we’ll be rejected if we don’t. Some of us believe that that’s our role, to give-in endlessly. Some of us would have been hurt in the past if we didn’t give-in and defer to someone else, so we’ve learned to do it as a way to keep ourselves safe. Many of us give in because that’s what we’ve been conditioned to do; we don’t really recognize it as giving in.

A good way to check-in with ourselves to find out if we are giving or giving in is to pause and see what our intention is. Do we want to get this conversation over with or avoid a feeling we don’t like? We’re probably giving in. If we pause to take the temperature of our intention and our feeling, we’ll start to see how we feel when we are giving in and how different we feel when we are giving.

If we can, we should try not to judge ourselves (or others) for this. It’s something that happens.  We get tired or overworked and make mistakes. So, every-so-often giving-in is bound to happen. We can keep an eye on it and make sure we’re keeping it in check because the less we give in and the more we give, the more we will serve our relationships.

I know it’s not always easy to change behavioral patterns. Identifying it is the easy part; changing it provides much more challenging work. I’d love to talk with you more about this if you have questions about it. We’ll figure it out together, little by little.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

9 Behaviors for a Healthy Relationship

9 Behaviors for a Healthy Relationship

I get a lot of questions about what makes a successful relationship, and while each relationship is unique, there are some standard behaviors you can employ that will propel you toward success. At first, this shift in behavior can feel clunky and even a little stressful. Don’t worry about it. If you practice this stuff enough, it’ll become a habit. And don’t get me wrong. Sure, on the one hand, it’s a challenging shift, but it’s also totally worth it.

Ok, so here we go.

1) If the iconic ‘80s show, The Facts of Life, taught us anything it was that “you take the good, you take the bad, you take them both.” Accept your partner for the whole person they are, someone with wonderful gifts, adorable traits, and irritating quirks. It’s along the lines of a pick-your-battles situation. Everyone has flaws. You can’t change that. And seriously, you cannot change that so don’t try. It’s fine to fight about them. In fact, you will, and this is totally healthy (as long as you’re using fair fighting techniques). But if you want your relationship to be successful you’ll need to be able to accept your partner’s flaws and remember why you’re with them. Don’t be with someone if you think they’ll make a good partner as long as they change core parts about themselves. It’ll only invite hurt, drama, and resentment. Be with someone whose imperfections you can deal with on a regular basis.

2) Empathic honesty without blame is what it’s all about. You don’t have to be brutally honest. In fact, I don’t recommend it. You love this person and you’re expressing yourself honestly for your relationship to overcome something so, there’s no need to take an aggressive approach. You’ll also want to move away from using blame while delivering your honesty. It will be easier for your partner to listen and you’re message will be clearer if you leave blame out of it.

3) Communicate your needs, feelings, and experiences directly. Don’t expect your partner to read your mind; say what you need to say. Open and honest communication can be intimidating for a myriad of reasons, but it’s worth it. The alternative is clamming up about it and relying on dropping hints and passive aggressive communication. For the love of everything holy, please don’t do this. Your partner ends up getting confused (understandably) and you end up building resentment toward them when they inevitably don’t meet your needs. When you clearly and directly state your needs you not only avoid unnecessary strife, you also give your partner a chance to show up for you which builds trust and intimacy.

4) Don’t be a victim. Engaging a victim perspective positions you and your partner against one another which strips away the intimacy you’re working so hard to build. Instead, be a champion for yourself and advocate for what you need. Using number 2 and 3 is a great way to do this. When you communicate using empathic honesty and direct messaging you’ll feel empowered, and your partner will feel like a valued member of your partnership.     

5) Look for the best in your partner. You started dating this person for a reason. You’ve continued dating them for a reason. Once the initial excitement wears off, and you’ve gotten a few fights under your belt, it’s pretty easy to let those reasons fade from memory. The solution isn’t always easy, but it’s simple. Look for the best. Look for what your partner does right, for the loving intentions behind their behavior, and for what gifts your partner brings to your life. When you actively look for the reasons why you love your partner you become more supportive, more charitable, and more loving. You become a better partner. (Looking for the best in your partner also makes it much easier to put their mistakes and flaws into reasonable perspective.)

6) Stop keeping score. This is a kind of opposite to looking for the best in your partner. With score-keeping, not only are you looking for all the things they did wrong, but you’re also not letting mistakes become part of the past. There are many reasons for doing this. You might keep score so that you can hold it as currency. You might use these wrongdoings as reasons to do something you shouldn’t or to not do something you should. Or maybe you use them as a way to absolve yourself from your misdeeds. This hurts the relationship because you set the default to “look for the faults” with your partner instead of “look for the best.” Use number 1 to help you out with this. Remind yourself to be with your partner now, not yesterday, a week ago, five years ago. Remind yourself that you choose this person which means you choose to be with their mistakes. You might also feel tempted to keep score about sacrifices you make for the person, good deeds, and favors. Don’t. This is an effective way of building resentment on your end and mistrust of your gifts on theirs.

7) Spend time together, time engaged in parallel activities, and time apart. It’s not healthy to spend every waking second together so don’t. Couples need a balance of time together with various levels of engagement and time apart. The time you spend directly engaged with your partner is beneficial for building and maintaining intimacy. It gives you the chance to have shared experiences which can enrich the narrative of your relationship. Time spent together, but less engaged (like when one of you is playing Angry Birds, and the other is cooking, or you’re reading separate books) is also enriching and allows you to maintain your individuality while simultaneously enjoying the company of the other. The time you spend part from one another is critical for maintaining your relationship with yourself, your individuality, and your self-sufficiency. When you prioritize time apart, you allow yourselves to experience new things to take back and share with your partner which is also pretty attractive.

8) Let go of some conflicts. Of course, it’s important to address conflict and find resolutions, but there is such a thing as resolving something to death. The truth is, you’re just not going to resolve every single problem, and that’s ok. This is where numbers 1, 5, and 6 can help you out. Accept the other person’s differences and flaws, remember why you’re with them and don’t keep a tally of all the times they’ve hurt you or pissed you off. And know that you are going to have recurring disagreements and arguments; it’s part of being in a long term relationship.

9) Know when to let go of the relationship. This plays as big a role as the others in creating a successful relationship because said relationship might be the one after the relationship you’re in currently. Sometimes you’re ill-matched and there’s nothing you can do to change it since changing it would mean altering core parts of yourselves. Knowing when to end it helps you to bring the relationship to a close in a healthy way and move onto a more successful partnership whether that means being with yourself for a while or being with someone else. The important thing is to be in integrity with yourself and your values.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

After the Hurt

After the Hurt

We’ve all said or done hurtful things either by accident or intentionally. If we’re in a relationship long enough, it’s bound to happen. The injury can happen for many reasons. Sometimes we feel hurt so we hurt back. Sometimes we’re carrying around so much hurt from past relationships that we act from a defensive (or offensive) place. Sometimes we expect to be hurt, so we hurt first.

After we’ve hurt someone we love so many feelings are likely to surface. We might experience guilt, shame, residual anger at the other person, anger at ourselves, and sadness. We want to apologize for our actions, but we don’t know how or where to start. And the difficulty of extending an apology is exacerbated by our anger at the other person if we feel hurt by them, too. It’s pretty common to succumb to the temptation of sweeping it under the rug and forgetting about it (until the next time).

And while it is easier to forget about it in the short term, this is a dicey way to go. When we don’t hold ourselves accountable for wrongdoing, we send messages to our loved ones that we aren’t prioritizing their feelings, that dealing with conflict is too scary, that we aren’t concerned with their experience, and that we have difficulty with interconnectedness. Withholding an apology is a way to cut off intimacy and garner fear and resentment in the relationship, things that, over time, can kill a relationship. Most of us let this happen unintentionally. We’re not necessarily trying to sabotage the relationship (at least not consciously).

So, how can we do our part to keep this from happening? We have to show our loved one empathy and take responsibility. This starts with getting ourselves back on track. We have to remind ourselves what our values are and the importance of the relationship. This will help us stay in integrity with ourselves when we start the conversation and maintain our resolve when it starts to feel uncomfortable (because it will).

Once we’ve grounded ourselves in our values and our commitment to our loved one, we can come to them in an attempt to make peace. Sometimes we come to them, and they’re not ready to talk about it. That’s ok. This process is not about absolving ourselves of anything; it’s about showing integrity and love to the other person. It’s important to give respect and wait until they’re ready.

When they are ready to start the conversation, we should begin by taking responsibility for whatever it is we did or said. The most important thing is not that we start off by effusively apologizing; that indicates that our primary goal is to be forgiven, that this whole process is about making ourselves feel better. The most important thing is to let the person know we see them, that we understand what we did wrong, and that we want to know how they experienced the hurt. So we listen.

Next, we validate them. We listen to them, and we validate their experience. We make room for them as they communicate how they feel about what happened. This is not the time for us to defend ourselves or to explain our actions. This is the time for us to listen to the other person’s experience.

Finally, we show empathy. We let the other person know that we can understand how they might be feeling. If this understanding eludes us, we can ask supportive questions to help us identify with them.

Ok, so we take responsibility, listen, validate, show empathy. There is a time in the conversation to explain what was happening for us, and it’s now. After we’ve taken responsibility, listened, validated, and shown empathy, we can communicate our experience.

It’s a little tough-going at first, but this process is incredibly rewarding. It nurtures the relationship. If you have any questions or need some clarification, please let me know.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

“This is all your fault.”

“This is all your fault.”

It’s important that we hold ourselves accountable. To be in a healthy relationship with ourselves and one another, we need to be able to accurately identify when we do something right and when we do something wrong. If we hold ourselves accountable, we learn what works, what doesn’t, and how to be a safer partner, friend, or loved one.

If I hurt your feelings, I need to take responsibility for my actions so that I can keep the integrity of the relationship. If I unintentionally hurt your feelings, I might say something like, “I can see how that would be hurtful. I’d be hurt, too. I’m so sorry that’s what it felt like to you. I would never intentionally do something to hurt you.” Then I’d probably ask you more about what it was that made you feel bad. I’d want to know what happened so that we’re both understood, make sure we increase our fluency of one another’s language, and sharpen my tools so that we have a better chance of avoiding a repeat. If I intentionally hurt your feelings, I might say something like, “You’re right. I was wrong to say that. You have every right to be hurt. I’m so sorry I hurt you.” I would do everything I could to provide a space where you felt heard and safe enough to express your experience.

The same would be true if I did something right. I’d need to be able to identify and take ownership of doing something loving or nurturing. Anything I might do in our relationship would be important information for how I feel about you, the relationship, and myself. My behavior is what I do, but it’s not who I am.

Think about that for a minute. Our behavior is what we do; it’s not who we are. One of the valuable gifts of accountability is that it reminds us of this truth every time we use it.

Blame is different. Blame tells us that our behavior is who we are. While accountability says, “I did this” blame tells us, “I am this” and is usually followed by some form of punishment and shame. Blame isolates us from our loved ones and our best selves.

When we blame ourselves, it usually sounds a lot like, “It’s all my fault. I always do this.” There is often a feeling of shame behind self-blame. We’re ashamed, so we blame ourselves, which makes us feel more ashamed, and it just goes on. Using blame also means that we are less likely to own our attributes in a positive way. There’s a better chance that we’ll throw our favors or good deeds in someone’s face, use them as weapons, or use them as tools to blame.

Anyway, we use blame will result in a negative outcome. It doesn’t matter if we blame ourselves or someone else. The message we are sending is the same- “one (or both) of us is faulty.”

When we practice accountability (whether we’re holding ourselves or someone else responsible), we increase our social and emotional resilience. We have a better understanding of what went wrong and how to prevent it from happening again. We become better partners, friends, and colleagues because we’re much less toxic. We don’t have to delight in others’ mistakes and minimize their attributes because we are confident in ourselves. Accountability gives us freedom.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

Problem Solving in Relationship

Problem Solving in Relationship

There are two types of problems in relationship, the solvable problems, and the logjam problems. Today, I’m going to talk about managing solvable problems. Solvable problems are usually every day disagreements or problems for which there are an ongoing discussion and strategy. This includes things like chores, communication issues, and other responsibilities.

A great start to problem-solving in relationship is mutual respect. When two people respect one another they want to know what they can do to be supportive. They’re curious about their loved one’s experience and how they are being perceived.

Keeping in mind mutual respect, let’s look at the first step to problem solving: a gentle approach to the discussion. Even if you’ve discussed a problem a hundred times, begin with softness in your words and your voice. When you speak harshly, contemptuously, with criticism, using blame, or defensively the other person almost immediately feels defensive and cannot hear your intended message. Instead, they hear something like, “you’re not good enough.” It’s crucial to begin discussions on a calm and respectful note because it’s much easier to maintain stability throughout the conversation. It’s possible to backtrack and try to smooth out a choppy beginning, but this is invariably more difficult. Setting a gentle tone promotes safety and stability. Now, some of you are thinking, “I do approach gently. Or at least I’ve tried it. My partner gets defensive no matter what.” Stay tuned for information about how to address this in a later post.

Next, practice extended and accepting relationship repairs. A repair is when either of you makes an attempt to de-escalate an intense (or intensifying) situation. This can come in the form of humor, soothing the other, taking a break to regroup, apologizing for any hurt/taking responsibility, showing appreciation, taking a step back to look at what’s happening, and being affectionate through disagreements. It’s just as important to accept these repair attempts from your partner as it is to initiate them. This keeps you from getting dragged down by the negativity and keeping the message afloat. You can try saying things like, “I’m feeling overwhelmed. Can we take a break?” or “I feel blamed. Is there a way you can rephrase that?” or “Something I admire about you is ______________. It makes me feel __________.” Let your partner know how you’re feeling and what you need in a clear and respectful way.

The third step is comforting yourself and your loved one. Taking care of yourself and managing your emotions is important when problem-solving because it keeps you in your rational mind (prefrontal cortex) and out of your emotion mind (limbic system). This helps you to keep the conversation productive instead of out of spinning out of control and being hurtful. Self-soothing can be anything from a deep breathe to taking a break and switching gears to something relaxing. Soothing your partner can be demonstrated by softening your tone, showing affection and or appreciation. You can also ask your partner what you can do to soothe them (both in the moment and during a less intense time). This is an incredibly loving act that carries a lot of weight with most people.

The fourth step is compromise. Keeping in mind the respect you have for one another (and messages in an older post about being open to influence from your partner), compromise is another critical ingredient for successful problem solving. Talk to one another. Find out what you have in common with one another, shared beliefs and goals. This common ground will make it easier to effect a compromise. Finally, practice being tolerant of each other’s faults. We all have them. You can’t change this. This acceptance is an ongoing practice.

Keep in mind that this is a condensed description! Please contact me if you have any questions or want more information about problem-solving in relationship.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie        

Do You Want to Increase Trust in Your Relationship?

Do You Want to Increase Trust in Your Relationship?

Not all couples are meant to stay together forever. Some couples are put back on the right track after they take a break from the relationship. Other couples regain stability after seeking professional help from a qualified counselor or therapist. And many couples need a few different strategies to get what they need from the relationship.

This week, let’s look at trust in relationship. What exactly is trust? What does trust look like in relationship? How can you improve the level of trust in your relationship? (And how do you know if your partner is worthy of your trust?)

Merriam-Webster defines trust as the “belief that someone or something is reliable, good, honest, effective,” an “assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something”. In relationship, some basic principles of trust look like this:

-Both partners attempt to make one another feel emotionally secure

-Neither partner humiliates nor disparages the other

-Both partners uphold their responsibilities

-Both partners have power and influence in the relationship

-Both partners express a desire to listen to the other, even in an argument

-Both partners demonstrate respect toward one another

Some relationships start out with a substantial lack in even the most basic aspects of trust. It’s not necessarily an indication of a doomed relationship; there are plenty of ways to increase trust in a relationship if the motivation is there. (Finding out if the motivation is there is related, but in the interest of a streamlined discussion about trust, I’ll keep it separate for now.) Considering the examples of basic trust above, let’s say that one or even all of these aspects of trust have recently been breached. Does it mean your relationship is unsalvageable? Maybe, maybe not. Let’s take a look at what is communicated depending on how a breach is handled.

Apologizing and Trust:

Can you trust your partner to apologize for mistakes? Apologizing is an excellent way to measure trust. In conflict, it’s important to be accountable to your partner, to show remorse when a wound has been inflicted. Even if one partner has to get through some skepticism, to communicate genuine atonement, the other partner must remain nondefensive and patient. Alternately, if one partner is making a concerted effort to take responsibility for any wounding, the other must also make an effort to work on forgiveness. (If there is an apology, but no forgiveness or no apology, but forgiveness it paves the way for diminishing trust and more hurt.) How do apologies work in your relationship?

Reconnecting and Trust:

To healthfully and sustainably move forward from a breach of trust, both partners must dedicate themselves to taking the relationship to a sturdier (and more satisfying) plane. This means each partner is clearly communicating their feelings as they arise. Couples are in for less welcome returns if one partner expects the other to be a mind reader. They must allow themselves to be curious about their partner’s experience and ask questions. (Remember empathic curiosity?) They must communicate to one another the compassion and empathy they feel. This will help each partner to feel more connected to the other, safer, and more trusting. Are these qualities present in your current relationship?

Everyone makes mistakes. And it can be pretty scary to trust someone when you feel wounded by a current or past relationship. A breach of trust doesn’t have to mean that your relationship is on the verge of collapse. (And there are useful tools used to look at your relationship patterns to see if it is unsustainable.) I’d love to talk more about it with you.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

Improving Communication to Get What You Want

Improving Communication to Get What You Want

In a relationship, when we have a wish or a need for something to be different, most of us would like to feel that we can speak up, be heard, and see changes. And most of us have at least a few stories to tell about times that didn’t happen. Either we found it difficult to speak up for ourselves, didn’t feel that the other person really heard us, or didn’t experience a change.

It can be scary to speak up for yourself when you need or want something because it leaves you feeling more vulnerable to rejection. Conflict is hard for people to manage for a variety of reasons. By not addressing your needs, though, you’re not avoiding conflict. You still feel those needs. And they are still unmet. That’s a pretty great recipe for resentment. In the short term, it might seem easier not to voice your concerns, not to ask for something to change. The longer you keep quiet, the longer your needs stay unmet and the worse it feels.

So, what can you do to express what you need in a way that someone is likely to hear?

To start, speak in an even, calm tone that conveys respect. Most people won’t readily listen to (or care about) what is being asked of them if you are defensive, condescending, or attacking. A calm, respectful tone helps the listener to feel safer. When someone feels safe, they are much more likely to consider what is being communicated to them. Likewise, by keeping yourself calm, you are more likely to feel confident about what you are saying. When you feel confident, you don’t need to rely on a defensive or condescending tone. Win-win.

Remember I-statements? Use them. Tell me what you think sounds better to you:

A)   “What the hell?! I thought you said you were going to wash the dishes before you went to bed! Why are they still sitting here sixteen hours later?! You had time to play around on your iPad two hours, but you didn’t have time to do the dishes? How many times are we going to have to go through this before you decide to stop being so lazy?!”

B)   “I felt mad and disappointed when I went into the kitchen and saw the dirty dishes still sitting there. When you don’t do something you said you would do, I feel disregarded.”

Would A or B help you feel more receptive to what another person is saying? I guess most people would choose B. Example B doesn’t attack, doesn’t condescend, and clearly communicates the speaker’s experience.

Keep it solution-focused, not problem-focused. Solution-focused identifies strategies to try that would produce an ideal outcome. Problem-focused highlights what went wrong and is a slippery slope on the way to both of you feeling polarized on the subject. Solution-focused says, “Tonight, let’s decide who will cook dinner and who will wash the dishes. Whoever chooses to do dishes will uphold their end of the bargain by washing them before we sit down to watch Modern Family.” By focusing on how you would like the situation to play out, you are keeping a hopeful and positive perspective while addressing what isn’t working. When you focus only on what isn’t working, the other person can feel blamed and criticized.

By using these techniques, you can help create a safer environment for your loved one to hear feedback and foster a dynamic of responsibility and respect.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie