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Author Archives: Christian Pedersen
Do you hate feeling judged in your relationship? Or you are you perhaps the one judging your partner? Either way, you and pretty much everyone else.
The judgments we have of one another comes out of our mouths as complaints, criticisms, and accusations. We say things like, OMG, “You’re so stubborn. Why do you always have to micro-manage me? You are totally self-absorbed! Why do you have to be so judgmental?!
When we talk to each other like that, we infuse our communication with irritation, anger, and hurt, and not only do we not get what we want in terms of listening, understanding, and harmony; it also sours the mood in our house; it feels bad.
On the other hand, theres’ no denying that as humans, we make up judgments. On one hand, that’s a good thing, right? We use our sound and positive judgment to navigate the world, to determine what activities are safe and what we should avoid, and to make judgments about what we value and what we don’t. So try as we might to be non-judgmental, these brains of ours are judgment machines.
But what are good ways to use our judgments, to build connection and understanding instead of distance and irrigation.
Try this quick experiment … think of a judgment you have about your partner or someone else? Do it now …
Ok, now ask yourself … “How am I just like that?”
The judgments we make about others are a reflection of aspects of ourselves that we don’t see or honor. For example, I have often judged other people – partners, friends, co-workers, politicians, you name it – for being judgmental and narrow-minded. How am I just like that? Well, in the same moment I judge someone else for being judgmental, I’m obviously doing the same thing.
But I’m judgmental in so many ways … I make up judgments about people who aren’t willing to work; or people who buy ten times more toilet paper than they need, and leave nothing for the next customer … at home, I judge Sonika for being too fuzzy with our cat, or for not using the chef’s knife correctly.
When I ask myself, How am I just like that?, I even the playing field. I stop making myself superior to you. Cuz that’s what happens when I judge you … I effectively say, I am better than you. When I judge you for being stubborn, I’m implying that I’m not; when I judge you for being selfish, I’m implying that I’m not … I’m basically declaring that I’m better than you. Most of the time, that’s rubbish. We both make up judgments about ourselves and each other. We both get irritated when we see behaviors we don’t like. At times, we both think we are superior to the other person, cuz we don’t do “that thing”.
Most of the time we are blind to how we are just like those we judge. Just yesterday I was coaching a man who is having a hard time being direct with his client who is always changing appointments on him last minute. He judges her as not being strong enough and direct enough with her employees who are requesting she cancel these appointments to accommodate their needs. He can’t see how he is just like her.
We worked with a couple last week who are on the brink of divorce. She is pissed off at how angry her husband is all the time (see it? She’s angry that he’s angry!) A woman who came to see us is emotionally shut down because her husband isn’t open to intimacy and connection. And a man quit talking to his partner because she isn’t available to physically connect with him as often as he wants. Each of these people are a match to those they are judging.
When we can slow things down to explore how we are just like the people we are judging in these specific ways, we open ourselves to seeing shadowed aspects of ourselves we wouldn’t be able to see otherwise. When I can see how I am just like you, it helps me to drop my arrogance, step into humility, and find compassion.
Not only that, but exploring “How am I just like that?” is a great equalizer … I’m just like you, at least in some ways. From that place, we can meet as equals, and if we still want to talk about changing our behaviors, interactions or patterns, we can do it with compassion and humility.
As a child, when I didn’t understand something my father was saying, he would simply say it again louder. If I still didn’t “hear him” the second or third time, he would continue to increase both his volume and enunciation of the same phrase over and over again to the point of yelling, which only culminated in his exasperation and me bursting into tears.
Can you identify with my dad? Ever feel frustrated or angry because your partner or kid or boss doesn’t hear you?
For some people, not feeling heard is a big trigger point and sore spot in their relationship. Conversations can easily escalate to the point of yelling or even violence if people feel misunderstood and not heard.
Feeling heard is an essential part of the two-way communication process. One person speaks, or delivers a message non-verbally, and the other person deciphers that communication in the form of listening and receiving.
Hearing is an important part of the communication bridge in relationship that makes connection and the coordination of action possible. If we miss the communication, if we don’t “hear” what the other person is trying to convey, we fall off that bridge of connection.
In extreme instances, miscommunications like these can be life threatening. But even if the misunderstanding is about something as mundane as whose job is it to do dishes, while not actually life threatening, we can still feel as if we are going to explode if the other person doesn’t get our side of things.
What are we actually going for when we want to be heard? And why is it such a big deal when we don’t have that experience?
Below, I’ll share some of the reasons why being heard is important, I’ll give examples from coaching sessions, and finally, I’ll share how this is useful in your relationships.
For some of us, being heard means we will get what we want. We believe that the experience of being heard will result in the other person seeing our side of things, agreeing with us, and that will increase the likelihood that we will get what we want.
I remember having a heated conversation with our son in his teens, when he was trying to talk Christian and I into having a drug/drinking pool party at our house without adults on the premises. We were not willing to budge on our decision, and even though I was hearing my son and repeating back his well-intentioned points, he insisted I wasn’t hearing him because we weren’t changing our minds. He was confusing hearing with agreeing.
Call to Action
For some of us, being heard means you get my words and the call to action behind my words. In the example above, my dad was confusing me not understanding what he was saying with me not being able to hear his words. He spoke to me like I was someone who was hard of hearing or didn’t speak or understand English.
But it wasn’t because I wasn’t hearing his words. It was the meaning behind his words that I couldn’t hear or make sense of, which hindered my ability to take the action he was requesting of me. When he asked me to get him a wrench, for example, and I had no idea what a wrench was. Him yelling louder about it didn’t change anything about my understanding or ability to fulfill his call for action.
In order for us to hear a request that requires a response or action on our part, it helps if the speaker is direct with their requests. However, in the world of relationship, we are often indirect in our communications. For example, if I say, “the garbage is overflowing”, I am likely to not feel heard if you take what I said as an informational report rather than as a request: “Will you take out the garbage?”
A man recently sent us this in an email … “I feel as a man that being heard is a real issue. I grew up not trusting anyone with my innermost secrets and feelings. [Despite my] really working on and making efforts to be accountable, honest and open, I don’t feel heard in my relationship. Seems to me my wife wants me to “talk” and “share feelings” and “be open” so long as it fits her agenda or ideals. This just sends me back to the point where I feel “sharing” is not worth it.”
For many of us, sharing and being heard is a way for us to know ourselves, and to experience feeling known by others. When we put our internal experience on “loud speaker” and are able to freely explore our thoughts, feelings, values, dreams, desires and inner workings, we come to accept and know ourselves more deeply.
When someone hears our ruminations with curiosity and interest, without judgment or interruption, we feel known, seen, witnessed. We feel close to the listener. We feel less alone in our separate existence and experience. Not only that, but we are more inclined to want to continue sharing ourselves if we are received and heard when we do.
I witnessed a coaching session last week that was deeply moving. The coach listened to his client talk about her mixed feelings about moving from New York back to Italy, her country of origin, after several years in the states. She spoke of herself as a risk taker, highlighted her successes, and spent most of the time talking about the challenging logistics of moving.
When the coach reflected back what he had heard, he added having heard her underlying fear and concern of looking like a failure to her family at returning home. She was deeply affected by his reflections, seeing the truth of his words. He had listened not just to her words, but to the deeper fears behind her story.
A client of ours was complaining about her husband’s preoccupation with work. His long hours at work meant less time at home and she was fed up with having to do everything herself. Instead of reacting defensively to her criticisms, with our help, he was able to listen “underneath” her complaint to her loving desire for more time together. Instead of hearing her disapproval, he was able to hear her loving call to connect with the man she loved. This allowed him to lean into creating more connecting time with his wife and family at home.
Sometimes what we want in our quest to be heard is validation and affirmation for who we are. We want to know that we are okay, that we are loved, and that we matter. When you hear my words, respond to my requests, meet my needs, mirror back my deepest feelings, I get to feel like I am important in your eyes. Your acceptance of me helps me accept myself. Your love for me helps me love myself more.
One of the best definitions I once heard of love is, “Love is granting space for something or someone to exist.” When you hear and allow what I say without resistance or judgment, it is like you are allowing me to exist in your acceptance of my communication. In this way, you could say that hearing me is one of the deepest expressions of love you can offer.
Recently, I coached a couple that was stuck in negative stories about each other. She was afraid he was withholding secrets from her and wanted access to his phone. He felt micromanaged and didn’t want to give her access to his phone to avoid feeling powerless. In each case, their listening of each other was shaped by their own fears and negative stories.
Every time she shared her fears, he heard, “I want to micro-manage you!” Every time he moved to protect his autonomy, she heard, “I am withholding secrets from you!” They couldn’t hear their mate’s underlying fears: “I am afraid to lose you if you talk to your ex” and “I am afraid of your rejection if I do something that scares you.” They were too busy fighting to be right about the other person being micromanaging or withholding.
Sometimes our communications are attempting to prove our innocence and goodness. If I can just get you to hear that the reason I didn’t make dinner was because I took care of the cat, then you will quit judging me as wrong and bad for not keeping my agreement to cook. Once you hear me, I will get to be right about not making dinner as promised.
How Can We Use This?
There are many different experiences and results we are after when we are going for being heard. The most important thing we can do to help ourselves feel heard in relationship is to first explore what we are after. Do we want to be known? Do we want to be right? Do we want to get our way about something? Do we want someone to act? Do we want something to change?
The next thing we can remember is that we human beings are closed biological systems with our own interpretations and understanding of things. If feel that you’re not hearing me, maybe there is something going on in you that is preventing you from hearing me. Maybe you have an old negative story about me that has you interpret what I am saying as criticism versus a compliment? Or maybe you have a different definition of “helping around the house” than I do and what’s required is more exploration?
Or maybe I am not being clear about my intention in sharing, and I can rephrase what I am saying in a way that produces my desired result and outcome. Instead of launching into a complaint about us not having sex anymore, which might have you rebuff me, I can slow things down and share how much I miss connecting with you in this really special loving way. Instead of complaining about how you are never home, I can make a direct request, “Would you be willing to come home early on Wednesday so we can have a date together, just you and me?”
If you find that clarifying your intentions and making clear requests before going for getting heard doesn’t work, get support from an experienced coach or therapist to help you bridge the gap.
One couple who always fought when she wanted to share something she was triggered about and he disappeared to work in the yard as fast as possible, were able to understand each other’s differing responses to stress with the help of our coaching.
Now, when she wants to “talk”, he hears her desire to connect, and when he disappears to work in the yard, she hears his desire to avoid criticism and be a good man in her eyes. This different understanding has helped them be less reactive and they are better able to hear each other as a result.
Your desire to be heard is a good thing. Use it to bring you closer to all the good things you long for.
If you’d like support getting heard and deeply connecting with someone special, check out our upcoming Give Yourself To Love Workshop in Sacramento, March 7-8. And you’re always welcome to reach out to us for personal coaching as well.
“Listening is an attitude of the heart, a genuine desire to be with another which both attracts and heals.” L.J. Isham
As individuals, and in relationship, we have two conflicting needs. One is for stability, familiarity, intimacy, and safety. The other is for newness, adventure, risk, danger, and feeling alive.
[watch a short video version of this article on our YouTube Channel …]
When we get too much or little of one or the other, problems arise. When we feel totally comfortable, familiar and safe with each other, we often get bored and we begin to take our relationship for granted.
Couples will often unconsciously create fights or upsets, just to “shake things up” and create some aliveness. Unfortunately, that has unpleasant side-effects. If you’re familiar with Ester Perel’s work, you might have heard her talk about how infidelity often happens as an attempt to infuse adventure, risk, and excitement into a relationship that feels too familiar and routinized.
On the other hand, if we have loads of risk, adventure, and excitement, but with very little safety and familiarity, we get scared and can’t relax, and from there, might act in overly controlling, anxious, and jealous ways.
To change what you do and the results you produce in your relationships, you might have to stretch a bit, take some actions that will support you to feel better. You might not want to, but do it anyway. Make choices that keep the energy moving. Don’t wait until you “feel like” doing something before you do it. Just do it!! It always seems impossible until it is done!
“I don’t feel like it” is the great enemy of positive change. “I don’t feel like it” is the soundtrack of status quo. It’s tricky, because you are often trained and encouraged to listen to your feelings and follow your feelings. Heck, if you don’t “listen to your feelings” enough, you might even get criticized for it. However, in this context, waiting to take action until you “feel like it” results in stagnation.
Don’t use your feelings and body (depression, boredom, tired, etc.) as an excuse to remain disengaged in life. Instead of saying, “I am too tired to go out with you”, own your choice, “I am choosing to not go out with you.” This will help your body not have to get sick for you to express your feelings and desires. Or push past tired and depressed, and get yourself up and out anyway!
Instead of letting your feelings lead, let your vision of who you want to be and how you want to feel lead. This will more than likely help you feel way better than staying home watching TV or sleeping an extra hour or two anyway. This is true in relationship as well as in the rest of your life. If you keep waiting till “you feel like it”, how often would you go to the gym, eat a Buddha bowl instead of donuts, stay on top of your finances, take out your trash, or make sure you have quality time with your beloved?
To help yourself take new actions and risks, you might visualize doing them ahead of time in your mind. Abraham-Hicks calls it “pre-paving” the path ahead. Keep your eye on what good comes out of your new actions. What do you get out of setting time aside for intimacy? How good do you feel after working out? Lead yourself with what your new action provides.
A couple who participated in our Mastery Program had a big breakthrough in their sex and intimacy. Having cleared up a bunch of old hurts and misunderstandings, they did exactly what we’re talking about here, and set aside a few hours on every Saturday or Sunday morning as time just for them to snuggle, sleep in, make love, or just talk. They now reserve that time whether they “feel like it” or not.
You can also find an accountability partner. Tell someone about the risk you will take. Make a promise. Make a plan to do it with someone else. Support yourself to do what you know will benefit you by enrolling outside support.
Your vitality and the vitality of your relationship are too important to be guided by what you “feel like” in any given moment.
“Hey honey, check out what I found on Facebook!”
“No! Stop wasting time on your phone! I have real problems to take care of!”
Anyone who’s been around children knows how much they enjoy showing their creations. They’ll make a drawing and bring it to mom or dad and say, “Look!” As the adult, in that moment, we face a relationship-building or relationship-breaking decision.
Choosing the former, we might say to our child, “That’s wonderful, thanks for showing me”. But if we choose the latter, we might say, “I don’t have time for that! Besides, it doesn’t look like anything but scribbles!”
When we go with the first option, our child feels validated and encouraged and will typically return to playing. With the latter option, our child will feel deflated, rejected, and hurt, like she or he just received a verbal slap across the face.
Adults are no different than children. We too want someone to see our creations, to listen to our musings and celebrate our accomplishments. We want someone to notice us, to see us, to step into our world.
When the child above brings a drawing to mom or dad, it is called “making a bid”. It’s an offer to share or show something. What the adult does in response is either “accepting or rejecting the bid”. If the adult turns towards the child positively, they are accepting the bid, and if they turn away, they are ignoring or rejecting the bid.
I first heard this term from Dr. John Gottman’s research into what makes some relationships succeed and some fail. From Dr. Gottman’s website :
“In his research, Dr. Gottman observed that happy couples turn towards their partners approximately twenty times more than couples in distress during everyday, non-conflict discussions. In a newlywed study, newlyweds who were still married six years after their wedding had turned towards each other 86% of the time while in the lab. Those who were divorced six years later, however, had only turned towards each other 33% of the time.”
As adults in relationship, we make a lot of bids of our partners or prospective partners. Some of these bids we make consciously. “Wanna go to a movie?” “Can I get your phone number?” “Will you spend time with me?” These are all examples of bids we make deliberately, in search of a response.
We also make lots of bids embedded in everyday conversations. “Look what I found on Facebook!” “Did you see that bird?” “We sure haven’t had sex for a long time.”
On a deeper level, making a bid is an invitation for someone I care about to step into my world, sometimes for just a moment. It’s a request for someone to see me, to join with me, to validate me, and to take an interest in me.
In that way, we are all still like kids showing off our drawings in the hopes that someone will say, “Wow, you did really well with that”. When someone receives our bid, we feel validated and witnessed and it gives a little jolt of “I matter”; which is a powerful antidote to the negative sound tracks many of us have running in our minds. When someone rejects our bids, we feel a little “ouch” inside.
If our bids are rejected with force, like “I don’t have time for your nonsense!” it can really sting. And what do we tend to do when we feel stung? We counter-attack, get defensive, or withdraw, all of which contributes to the pollution of our intimate environment. If our bids keep getting rejected, we might eventually stop making bids altogether and resort to feeling resigned and distant in our relationships.
Many couples, for example, who have stopped sharing touch, sex and intimacy, have often had their bids rejected repeatedly over time (and/or the bids weren’t skillfully made, but that’s material for another article). In response, to avoid the pain of rejection, they eventually stopped making bids – and with negative consequences.
As Dr. Gottman’s research suggest, accepting or rejecting your partner’s bids will quite literally make or break your marriage or relationship. Once you know these concepts, it’s easy to recognize the positive and negative consequences of receiving and rejecting bids in both your own relationship and in observing others. Want to be a “relationship scientist” and make a prediction about the quality or stability of someone’s relationship? Watch if the partners reject or receive each other’s bids.
The studies quoted above are about married couples, but making bids is just as relevant for singles. The dating process is essentially one long string of bids that either get received or rejected. Someone who likes your profile is offering a bid. Sending someone a message is a bid. When you reply to a message sent to you, you accepted someone’s bid. Asking for a phone number or a coffee meeting is a bid. You might even say swiping right is a sort of indirect bid that you hope will be received. We talk to so many singles who get fatigued or guarded because they feel discarded and rejected from having so many of their bids for connection declined or ignored.
In LoveWorks, we are big proponents of receiving bids with grace and kindness. For one, it’s effective communication and relationship behavior. It secures loving stability. Secondly, when someone makes a bid, that person is taking a risk, putting themselves out there in a somewhat vulnerable position, just like the kid showing off a drawing. Making a bid opens the person reaching out to rejection, and we generally think that should be rewarded kindly. But doesn’t mean you have to say yes to what is asked of you.
Yes, you can receive a bid kindly and still say no to the request. Say someone asks for your phone number, but you don’t want to give it. You receive the bid first by saying, “Thanks for asking for my number, I’m honored you would ask”. Then, you can give your reply, by saying something like, “I’m not prepared to share my number with you right now (or quite yet); but I’d be willing to take yours”. Point being, first receive with kindness, then give your response.
One couple who came to our workshop and heard about this concept of bids, realized that their temper tantrum child was making several bids of them a day that they were missing. This allowed them to completely shift their interactions with him and dramatically improve their relationship.
Another couple, who frequently got in fights when she came home late from work to her retired stay at home husband, realized that his anger at the door was the result of an unspoken bid for more attention and quality time together. This awareness shifted their interactions with each other. They deliberately created a weekly date night and began offering up more verbal appreciations of each other on a daily basis. Recognizing bids and responding positively to them significantly reduced the distance and tension in their relationship.
In a recent article, we quoted a movie character for sharing her theory that why we get married is so that we have a witness to our lives. In a world of billions of people, what does one life really matter? But in a marriage or committed relationship it’s as if we say to each other, “Your life will not go un-noticed, because I will notice it”.
Philosophically, we believe there’s a lot of truth to that theory. Practically, in our day-to-day lives and relationship, this philosophy gets played out by the making and subsequent reception or rejection of bids.
Our invitation to you is two-fold:
- Notice how and where you make bids in your relationship. Do you do it consciously or unconsciously? Do you do it a positive way? (You can make bids negatively. “We never have sex anymore!” sounds like a criticism, but is often a bid for more sex and intimacy).
- Receive bids with kindness and compassion. Even if you can’t say yes to the request, you can still receive the gift of the bid.
Making bids consciously increases your chances of getting what you want. Receiving bids kindly and generously makes your partner feel seen and validated and makes them want to give to you as well. Even if you say no to the request, a kind reception of a bid encourages them to keep putting themselves out there.
Will this year be your year for love? Will you put relationship at the top of your priority list? Will improving relationship be one of your primary 2020 New Year’s resolutions?
Over the holiday break, we received many calls from singles feeling alone at this time of year, and from couples in crisis. Needless to say, they did not have a great holiday experience.
Perhaps it’s not so surprising. Both research and direct experience show that the quality of your life is directly tied to the quality of your relationships. Some studies reveal that loneliness, a rising social epidemic in this age of technology, has disturbing negative health consequences.
“Single Life Is Deadly. Be sure to find someone to live with. Or move into a co-housing situation or some other form of dwelling where there are other people you can be around. Whatever you do, avoid moving into an apartment by yourself, where you only meet other people when you pass them in the hallways. If you do, it could cost you your life.”
That’s the dramatic beginning of an article (translated from the original Danish article in the Berlingske newspaper. The article describes a large Danish research study which documents a 36% increased risk of dying from coronary or other life threatening diseases if you live alone. The study followed 3,300 men for 32 years, and is being published in the European Heart Journal here.
Granted, this study followed only single men, but even if you’re not a man living alone, you are not immune from loneliness and its effects. We all live in a world affected by the use of technology and changing demographic patterns, such as the consistently increasing number of people living alone.
In one study documenting the negative effects of social media use on interpersonal relationships, the author writes, “The top three responses for negative effects of social media use on interpersonal relationships were distraction, irritation, and decreased quality time with their significant other in offline settings”.
From our vantage point as relationship coaches for both men and women, singles and co-habitating couples, loneliness and disconnection are a manifestation of a deeper problem that can befall anyone.
When we add a bunch of extra expectations, as happens during the holiday season, to our loneliness and disconnection, we get even more relationship breakdown!
In the big US holiday season, from Thanksgiving to New Year’s, we received phone call after phone call from distressed couples who were suffering under the real and imagined increased pressure of the various extra activities and expectations surrounding the holidays. Couples told us they couldn’t take it anymore, that the stress of the season was turning into shouting matches, disconnection, and short fuses all around.
On a coaching call I did with a man in the throes of separation, he expressed how painful it is for him that his partner is no longer giving him affection, touch, love, and appreciation. He no longer felt loved and cared for.
On first look, it might seem that men living alone, couples preparing for the holidays, and a guy separating from his wife are such different groups of people that they couldn’t possible have the same problems.
So what is this thing that afflicts us, this loneliness that is so severe the authors of the above mentioned study stated that, “We have to look at loneliness as a separate risk factor that is destroying people’s quality of life and increasing mortality”? According to this study, loneliness is as dangerous as smoking and alcoholism!
For some, like the men in the study who live alone, we might say it’s just because they’re never around other people. They’re alone as well as lonely. For couples, it’s certainly not because they are alone; most of the couples we talk to still live together, often with children in the house.
When my client was sharing his agony over not being loved by his wife anymore, I offered that perhaps it was not just because he wasn’t receiving the love and affection he wanted, but just as much that he had no one to give his own love and affection to.
We believe that we are loving beings, and that we thrive by giving love, care and interest to others. If we have no one to give our love to, it’s as if our love gets stuck in our hearts, and we get mad or depressed when we don’t get to give.
The loneliness so many feel is a combination of not feeling seen and acknowledged by others; not getting to share our own love with others; and finally, not having the opportunity for meaningful contribution.
In the absence of those three essential human needs, we feel lonely, empty, and without worth, no matter how many people we are around. Everyone knows you can’t fix loneliness by simply going to the nearest Starbucks and sitting among 40 strangers. Heck, sitting in a crowd by yourself can magnify your loneliness instead of cure it.
Theoretically, it’s easier than ever to find someone to hang out with or date. Just grab your phone, launch Tinder and in seconds you can check out dozens of potential dates and set up a meeting with someone. But that doesn’t seem to have cured our societal loneliness.
Why? Because the three human needs I mentioned don’t get satisfied just by getting together with someone. What we need is a certain quality of “being together”.
If you know about our work you’ll know we offer in-person workshops. We do that not just because it’s a highly efficient way to learn and practice new skills, but because in that setting, participants get to fulfill some of those human needs, right there on the spot. They get to connect with other human beings in meaningful ways. They get to both receive and give love, interest, and appreciation.
In any one of our workshops, you can find single people waking up their hearts after years of feeling unseen and “un-given” (to borrow a poignant term from David Deida). Couples reconnect in ways they didn’t even think were possible anymore because they get to share their love and appreciation with each other in a safe and focused manner.
There’s no replacement for getting to connect deeply and meaningfully with another human being. There is no substitute for giving and receiving love and appreciation. Seeing other people’s lives on a screen cannot replace your own need for being seen as a good person with something to offer.
In the 2004 movie, Shall We Dance, Susan Sarandon’s character is reflecting on her troubled marriage. She says to Richard Jenkin’s character, a PI she hired to spy on her husband): “Why do you think we get married?”
Jenkins says confidently, “Passion!” To which Sarandon replies, “No. It’s because we need a witness to our lives. There’s a billion (sic) people on the planet, what does one life really mean? But in a marriage, you’re promising to care about everything, the good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things. All of it. You’re saying, ‘Your life will not go unnoticed, because I will notice it. Your life will not go un-witnessed, because I will be your witness.”
So when you’re feeling the stress levels rise; when you find yourself snapping at your partner; when you’re feeling lonely because no one is there to witness you; or when you have no one to share your love and affection with … instead of getting mad or depressed or lonely, ask yourself some simple questions, such as:
- Who can I reach out to?
- Who can I give to?
- Who can I ask for a minute or two of their time?
- To whom, or where, can I offer appreciation, interest or a helping hand?
And then take action according to your answers.
In today’s world, for the first time in history, it is possible to work, shop, date, and talk to other people without ever leaving our homes, or without ever being physically in front of another person. That’s amazing! And sad, too!
Because nothing replaces physical, in-person interactions, where we can see, feel, hear, and touch another human being.
Remember, research and direct experience show that the quality of your life is directly tied to the quality of your relationships.
\When your relationships are humming harmoniously, when you are having great sex and quality intimate conversations, when laughter and play are a regular part of your days, life feels sublimely rich and satisfying.
One couple who came to work with us declared that this was “The Year of Us”. In previous years, they had focused all their attention on their kids, on their respective careers, their home, and a myriad other things. But they’d never given any real attention to their relationship, and it showed. So they came up with The Year of Us.
They devoted an entire year to attending as many workshops and weekly support calls as they could, for the benefit of themselves as individuals, for their marriage, and for their young children. During that year, they told us, “It made all the difference. We are far happier and closer now.”
What kind of year is 2020 going to be for you? Is this your year to make love and relationship and real connection a priority?
If this is the time for you to put yourself in our loving workshop space, check out the next dates here …
Wishing you a connected, meaningful 2020.
❤️Sonika & Christian
We all know what it means to take stuff personally, because it’s really irritating when it’s happening to you. Sometimes you’re trying to share something meaningful or vulnerable, but when your conversation partner takes it personally, the deep sharing is over, right?
What you might be less aware of is when you’re the one taking things personally.
Taking things personally happens all day every day for most people in most relationships. It’s been my experience that unless you’ve deliberately practiced how not to take things personally, you’re most likely doing it at various times. I certainly used to, and I have practiced very diligently how not to take things personally.
In case you’re wondering, “What are you doing when you’re not taking things personally”, here’s my definition: You’re listening. You’re observing. You’re calm. You consciously choose your response to a given input.
Let’s break it down a bit more.
Taking things personally starts with me taking in some stimulus through my senses. I hear something, see something, smell something, feel something, or taste something. In addition to stimuli I take in through my senses, taking things personally can even start in my own head, by remembering something, or activating a certain thought.
I then make up a conclusion about what this stimulus means. Which in turn creates a certain feeling in me. And from that feeling, I take some sort of action.
As a formula, we could say, a Stimulus leads to a Thought leads to a Feeling leads to an Action.
Taking things personally can show up in an infinite number of ways, some where you take things personally, some where it’s the people you relate with …
- You’re sharing something about yourself or about your day with your partner and he makes it all about himself instead of just listening.
- You go on a date, enjoy yourself, the next day you send your date a text and you get no response. You immediately think, “I know I didn’t show up very well; I’m not very attractive; I’m too old; I never get a second date”.
- Your boss says, “We really need to shore up our numbers this quarter”, and you immediately think, “I knew she didn’t like me; I’m going to lose my job”.
- You partner initiates sex, but you’re really not in the mood, and ask for a rain check. Your partner says, “Why don’t you love me anymore?” That’s your partner taking it personally. Or you might think, “Why am not turned on anymore? What’s wrong with me?” That’s you taking your own lack of desire personally.
- You want to find a solution to an issue with your partner or someone. Could be about where you live, where you go on vacation, how you earn or spend money, how you have sex, how you raise your children or any other topic. You say, “there’s something I’d like to talk to you about”, and your partner says, “Now what did I do wrong?”
- Any time you think or say things like, “I don’t deserve it; I’ll never get what I want; no one loves me; I’m not attractive; I’m not successful enough” Those are all versions of taking things personally, that is, you’re making whatever is happening about yourself.
- Any time your partner or your kid or someone near you gets upset, and you think, “Now what did I do?” That is, you assume their upset must be because of something you did or didn’t do, that’s you taking it personally.
Let’s play out one example, a variation of what I heard from a client this week:
We’re trying to get out the door for an event. It’s getting a little tight on our timing. My partner says, “Where are the car keys?” That’s the Stimulus. In my mind, I think what she’s really saying is, “You lost the car keys! Where did you put the car keys? I told you a gazillion times to put them in the basket by the door! Can’t you do anything right?”
That’s the thought, or conclusion, I make up about the Stimulus (we call these conclusions simply “make-ups”).
I now feel irritated, angry.
The action I take is to shoot right back and say, “I didn’t put them anywhere! They’re probably in your purse! Like last time!”
This is a simple example of taking something personally. She didn’t actually make a statement about me, but in my mind, she was saying all kinds of things about me. Negative things. About how I can’t do it right, and I always lose stuff.
Here’s the first important lesson: Whether or not a statement, or a stimulus is about me, I can easily make it about me. And whether or not it really was about me, I’m still better off not taking it personally.
What happens when I take things personally – what we sometimes call getting triggered – is my brain kicks into fight-flight-or-freeze reaction mode. From that place, I’m not making conscious choices. I’m simply knee-jerk and either lashing back, defending myself, or checking out. It’s not a conscious decision on my part. I didn’t stop and think to myself, “Hmm, in the face of that statement, I’m going to choose anger”. Anger just showed up!
In short, I took it personally. I made up that it meant something bad about myself.
Next important lesson: When you take things personally and get triggered, you’re no longer the one who controls your own mood or your own reactions.
In this case, my partner saying, “Where are the keys”, activated my thoughts, which activated my anger. And from that point of view, the only way to feel calm is to convince my partner that it’s not my fault, and she should not use that tone of voice, and that the keys probably are in her purse. Now we’re arguing, and it sucks.
Perhaps even sadder is what happens to my communication partner, and to the space of deep sharing, when I take things personally.
When my partner, or my child, or my friend, is trying to share something with me, and I start taking things personally, I immediately shut down the space of open sharing and invalidate the other person’s experience.
You know the stereotypical experience of a woman saying to her man, “Stop trying to fix me!” Well, when I’m the one trying to fix someone, that is a variation of making it about myself.
Let’s say my wife is sharing something about her day, or about her friends, or about a difficult situation in her life. After 5 minutes, I begin to feel uncomfortable or impatient, and I jump in and say, “Look, you just tell your friend to mind her own business, and you can be done with it!” That’s me making it about myself, because I don’t want to take the time to listen, or I’m getting impatient.
This happens with children and parents all the time. A child comes home from school and starts talking about something that happened at school, and before the child is finished the parent says, “Oh, that’s nothing to worry about; it’ll pass, don’t pay attention to that”. That’s the parent making their own time or experience more important, and it shuts down the space for the child to share.
In fact, partners in long-term relationships often come to us with their number one desire being to be heard without their partner taking it personally. That’s the only way they’ll ever get to actually share fully what’s on their minds and in their hearts. I can’t tell you how often it happens that Sonika wants to share something with me, and when I don’t take it personally, that is, I just remain present, calm, interested, and listening, she will work her own way through whatever difficulty she’s talking about.
So the big lesson here is, when you or I take things personally, we shut down the space for deep sharing and exploration. Conversely, not taking things personally is one of the biggest gifts you can offer to anyone. Because they get to experience themselves and find their own solutions.
Of course, it’s extra tricky to not take things personally if my partner is talking directly about me. But remember I said earlier, that even if a communication has your name in it, you still don’t have to take it personally. Say my partner is launching into a speech that goes like this: “You just don’t listen to anyone but yourself; it’s impossible to trust you; you keep saying one thing and doing another; I can’t count on you!”
Most people do indeed take words like these personally when they’re coming from someone they care about. Those are statements, or accusations, that hit directly towards my core values, so it’s only natural I’d be triggered and want to defend myself, right? Yeah, it probably is; but when I do, it still only creates arguments and distance, and once again, shuts down the space for open sharing.
It is a masterful skill to not take it personally even when someone you care about is throwing direct accusations your way.
I personally made a decision long ago that I would free myself from being run by other people’s opinions about me, and it’s served me wonderfully. Even more so, it’s served my wife, kids, and friends, because I have developed the capacity to just listen and remain calm and open no matter what or whom they’re talking about, even when they’re talking about me.
So how do you get to that point?
You start by remembering that annoying thing your teacher told you when someone had just called you a ninny or smeared their sandwich in your face in the schoolyard. My elementary school teachers always said, “It’s not about you, it’s about them”. Every time I heard that, I wanted to tell the teacher that sounded ridiculous, but I didn’t.
That idea is a good start, because there’s a lot of truth to it. Whatever another person is sharing with you, even if your name is in it, it’s still primarily a reflection of their own internal experience.
Look at what productive conclusion or meanings you can make up about a given situation, instead of taking it personally. Remember, when I take it personally, I’m typically making up that it’s my fault, that I should know better, that I don’t deserve it, that I can’t get it right, that I did something wrong, that people don’t love me, etc., etc. All makeups that have a negative meaning about me.
What else could I make up? For instance, one of the makeups I’ve taken on is whenever my partner is sharing something, whether about me or not, I make up that it’s a chance for me to practice staying calm and open in the face of anything.
I make up there’s important information in what she’s sharing that I might learn from. I make up that by my just listing and remaining calm and open, we’re going to be closer and stronger together. I make up that by not taking it personally I give her a gift, and I make her happy, and that makes me happy.
What could you make up? Specifically with the purpose of you remaining calm and open, instead of taking it personally?
It’s always struck me that taking things personally has a good deal of arrogance behind it. When I take things personally, I’m assuming that everything is about me. It’s a sobering thought to step back and reflect on that thought … Am I really so important that everything you say, or all your emotional upsets could be because of something I did? Not likely! And since I don’t want be to an arrogant person who takes himself overly seriously, that’s another good motivation for me not to take things personally.
Here’s a quick recap:
- When I take things personally, I take a given stimulus or communication, and I make it mean something, typically negative, about myself.
- Whether it’s about me or not, it always serves me and the other person or persons if I can remain calm and open, instead of taking it personally
- When I take things personally, I’m no longer in control of how I feel and how I act. I’ve given that power over to outside stimuli.
- When I take things personally, I shut down the space for deep sharing and exploration, and I deprive my partner of the opportunity to explore him or herself.
- Remaining calm and open, instead of taking things personally, is one of the biggest gift I can offer to someone, or to my relationships.
A couple we met with reported that they had been fighting for months. She was sleeping downstairs on the couch and he was sleeping upstairs alone in their king sized bed. They both felt angry and hurt, yet truth be told, they missed each other terribly. They wanted to get back to feeling connected and in love again, but each was too afraid to make the first move back to each other.
A single woman wanted to begin dating again, but she was so afraid of being judged for not being beautiful and young enough that she was reticent to put herself out there. She was sure she wouldn’t be able to handle rejection from potential suitors. While she wanted to be in a relationship, she opted for the safe sanctity of solitude over the discomfort of meeting new people.
Why do we sometimes choose loneliness over connection?
Because relationships are risky.
Every time we reach out to connect, vulnerably share our feelings, make a request for support, initiate a date or an intimate conversation or a night of lovemaking, ask forgiveness for a mistake we made, we enter into unknown territory.
Will we be loved? Received? Met? Accepted?
Or will we be judged? Shunned? Rejected? Pushed away?
The possibility of rejection and pain sends most of us slinking back to our comfort zones. We would rather stay safe in our known but lonely worlds than risk feeling hurt by the people we love. Unfortunately, this means we don’t have the connection, passion and intimacy we long for in our relationships. The safer we play in our relationships, the more disconnected and dull we feel, and the more dissatisfied we are.
Creating great relationships – growing, learning and developing skills in love, intimacy and sex – all require that we courageously and repeatedly risk fully stepping forward, going for what we want and vulnerably expressing ourselves.
Passion arises from breaking patterns, taking risks, stepping out into unknown territory and embarking on new adventures. Intimacy arises from uncensored honesty in both words and action. In order to create intimacy and passion, we need to make peace with discomfort, because risking like this in love is uncomfortable sometimes.
We need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
When I dare to share my fears, a wild sexual desire, some lofty goal, or a weird wayward thought in the middle of thinking it, I expose myself. When I express my doubts and insecurities, reveal my judgments, get triggered by something you said or did, I reveal the unacceptable parts. I am splayed out, open for you to see it all – the good, the bad, the crazy, the wild, the ugly, the beautiful, the profound, the innocent, the wicked, the brave, the fearful …
The more I reveal, the more vulnerable I am. Sure, the more you know of me, the more you have to love of me. But the more you have to judge of me as well. That is a scary prospect when I love you and want you to love me forever. So many of us resort to sharing less and less of ourselves to ensure our partner will love us forever.
But this creates another problem, summarized in this saying, “Every over-determined effort produces its opposite result.”
The more I try to protect myself from rejection and judgment by staying safe, the less alive, in love and connected in relationship I feel. I quit initiating conversations, because you never share anyway. I don’t ask for sex, because you said no the last 20 times. I don’t ask for a fun date night out at a hotel, because you will judge me for wasting money. Before we realize it, we have both quit initiating any kind of connection, and have devolved to living like roommates tending to logistics barely noticing each other. The retreat to safety, while intending to keep love alive, actually kills off the very love and passion we are trying to protect.
Many couples who call it quits are often surprised at the depth of intimacy and hot sex they experience amidst their divorce conversations. Declaring their marriage over eliminates any need for playing it safe – the worst imaginable fear has already happened. They are now free to unleash pent-up feelings, share their deepest desires and regrets, to openly and authentically reveal themselves. This has them feel closer to each other, intimately connected, compassionate and even appreciative. Their newfound intimacy, combined with their now unknown future, fuels their sexual passion, and they find themselves making love with a fervor that has been missing for years.
But we don’t have to wait until love has soured and we are sleeping in separate beds and contemplating divorce, before we risk in love. And we don’t have to wait until we are crying ourselves to sleep alone every night. We can take risks now.
Ask yourself, “Where do I hold back? What am I not saying? What would I do if I weren’t afraid of rejection? What risk would I take if I knew it would turn out? What do I really want to do that scares me to even think about?”
These types of questions will point you to areas you might want to change and take risks around.
One way to make it feel safer for yourself to risk is to be upfront and vulnerable about the risk you are taking or are about to take. “I have never gone up to someone I didn’t know and asked them to go on a date with me before, so I am feeling pretty vulnerable right now.” Or “I am definitely stepping outside my comfort zone on this one, but I just want to say that I would really love to have sex with you tonight.” Or “I notice I am scared to tell you that I miss being close to you and I just want you to hold me in your arms right now so bad.”
Or you can just go for it. Jump. Be brave. Take that action. Get off the couch and march upstairs and climb into bed with your husband. Ask your partner to chase you around the house or jump your bones. Give that person you are attracted to at work your phone number or ask him or her out for coffee. Lean in and plant a passionate kiss on your partner’s lips. Share something about yourself to your partner that he or she doesn’t know. Plan a weekend getaway to a place you have never been before. You just might be surprised by how refreshingly welcome your risk-taking advances are!
Now, we are aware that not all risks are lovingly received. So, what if the worst thing happens, and you get a rejection, a judgment, or a No?
Stay in there. Lean in. Don’t be so quick to give up and back off. Stay in there and take the next risk!
Share your feelings. Be transparent about your experience without blame or make wrong. Share what matters and why something is important to you. If you can’t do it with one person, do it with the next one.
And hear them out. Give them a chance to come forward, to meet you. Elicit any concerns or conflicting desires they might have. Ask them, “What would it take for you to be a Yes? Let them know you care about them and their needs too. “Is there anything you need to be able to give me what I need?” Keep exploring options when they back away or decline. “What would you be willing to do?”
In other words, keep risking! Over and over again! And if someone takes a risk with you, reaches out to you, asks for your time, connection, or phone number, receive the risk kindly (even if you say no). That way, you’re rewarding someone taking a risk, just like you’d like to be rewarded when you reach out.
All relationships start with someone making a first risky move that ignites a spark. So whether you’re wanting to start a new relationship, or re-start an existing one, risk reaching out to connect.
PS. Literally in the middle of writing this, Christian came over to my chair, got down on his knees, looked in my eyes and said, “I love that I can still say after all these years that you are my best love story.” And then he kissed me passionately. I kissed him back. I rewarded his risk.
Last week, I sent out a video about men losing power with women (here ).
Seems to have struck a nerve. In response to that video, Brian sent me this email …
“Wow, what timing! I was just telling a friend of mine, “I want my power back!” Just like in your video, we talked about exposing my vulnerable spots and my emotions to her.
It’s a scary spot to go with my partner. Feels like if I go there she will use that against me in some way that will hurt me or the relationship. It will get out that I’m really not a man; I’m a wuss that can’t even stand up to his woman!”
Boy, could I relate to that! For the larger part of my life, I did not show a shred of vulnerability to my woman partners, for exactly the reasons Brian stated.
I thought it would make me look like a wuss! That I’d lose all my power and be totally humiliated.
This was probably the biggest reason I crashed and burned relationship after relationship.
Now, I know you might be thinking …
Isn’t that just because Brian (or me) are old-fashioned and haven’t caught up to the new Times of Equality? I mean, c’mon, men today know about feelings and being vulnerable and embracing their feminine side.
Yes, many men are certainly a lot more comfortable with emotions, vulnerability, and sharing openly than our fathers or grandfathers ever were, no question.
But I have a theory – based on work with hundreds of men around these issues – that even though we are in “new times” where men can be sensitive and feminine, as well as powerful and strong …
That deep in our psyches, there is still a strong voice that says to not get too open, too vulnerable, too feminine, with our partners, or with anyone, for that matter.
I think we men have a built-in, ancient, protective mechanism that has us either clam up or get pissed when we feel questioned, threatened, unappreciated, or put on the spot in our intimate relationships.
Now, I’m well aware that lots of men are highly conscious and engage in diligent self-discovery, shadow work, relationship work, you name it. I happen to know that Brian is such a man. I’d like to think I am, too.
Men like that now find themselves in the historically ironic situation that it’s easier for them to be real and open with other men, for example in their men’s groups, than it is with their woman at home.
Which sounds kinda crazy. According to stereotype, she should be able to be empathetic and understanding of our fears and vulnerabilities, right?
Those same stereotypes would suggest it should be way more risky and difficult to be vulnerable in a group of men than with a woman we’re intimate with.
Brian even said as much: “Crazy thinking for sure but then again sometimes I’m not too far from that craziness!:)”
In other words, he knows it’s crazy, but finds himself doing it anyway.
So back to the question about losing power with women …
If you or me or Brian, or any man, is afraid to show his vulnerability and feelings to his woman, and thinks to himself: She will use that against me. It will get out that I’m really not a man; I’m a wuss that can’t even stand up to his woman!”
What impact do you think that would have on his relationship with his wife/girlfriend/partner?
Well, for one, he would have to protect himself from his own partner. NOT a good situation, to say the least.
And even more importantly, what impact would it have on himself? On his sense of worth? On his ability to be a powerful, whole man?
You bet. Detrimental. Self-sabotaging. Painful. Fucking “ouch”, man!
Food for thought, I hope …
And if you’re interested in diving into your own dynamics around your power as a man, how you deal with your partner, and how you find your own authentic way to be a man, check out the small-group retreat I’m hosting, Power And Heart
To my thinking, it’s not so much about standing up TO your partner, but rather finding the power to stand up FOR your own worth, for connection, for equality, and for what you know to be true.
During any given year, I engage with hundreds of men, in private life coaching, in our workshops, and in men’s work. And one thing I consistently find is this:
Men lose their power with women!
You can find the men’s retreat here …
Margaret Paul, PhD, makes a great distinction about power.
She says, “Our society often confuses personal power — ‘power within’ — with ‘power over,’ which is about controlling others.”
She continues: “Personal power comes from an inner sense of security, from knowing who you are in your soul, from having defined your own intrinsic worth.” (article here …)
It is in this respect I see men lose their power with their women partners. Even though most conscious men today have no desire to have “power over” their partners, but they definitely DO have a strong desire to keep their “power within” in their relationships.
I used to think that “losing my power” was exclusively about backing down, not following through on commitments, or taking orders from anyone (i.e. my partner); basically not looking like, and acting as, an ever-confident, invincible, man-hero!
But it’s a lot more nuanced and complicated than that. Losing power takes place along the entire spectrum of states a man can find himself in; from weak to strong, fearful to heroic.
Losing your power is just as much about not standing up for yourself as it is about not daring to share your softest, weakest spots.
This may show up in different ways …
1. When your wife/girlfriend/partner gets upset and emotional. Especially when it’s about you or something you did. Because you feel uncomfortable in the face of the intense emotion, you want to get out of there or make it stop. Further, when she gets emotional, you might feel it’s a statement that you’re somehow lacking. That’s why we men often jump to offering solutions, aka “fixing”, because we try to bring the emotionality to an end.
2. You don’t dare share your vulnerability, your fears and insecurities. So you have to “pretend” you don’t feel those things. When you don’t express the full range of how you feel, you are out of integrity with yourself, because your insides and outsides are not out of sync.
3. You say Yes when you mean No, or No when you really wanted to say Yes. In other words, you “bend” too much away from your own knowing of what is right and true. You either accommodate too much, or don’t go for everything you want. In either case, you shortchange your own desires to take care of hers, and you can only do that so many times before you get resentful.
4. You avoid engaging with her about emotional or triggering stuff. Instead, you keep quiet, you check out, you find reasons to be elsewhere, you stay busy with work or projects. This a favorite strategy of men (mine too, sometimes!), and whereas it might give the immediate “benefit” of avoiding trouble, it always comes back to bite you. Either because you feel shitty about yourself, or because she will make it unbearable to keep doing.
5. You don’t speak your truth. You feel you can’t say what’s REALLY on your mind. You don’t want to hurt her and cause another stir, so you keep it to yourself. Which ends up robbing both of you of your contribution. A man I worked with, who used to keep his thoughts to himself a lot, said it like this: “Before, I just didn’t think I had anything to contribute to the relationship … I didn’t have the tools to communicate to her what my needs were”
6. You’re afraid of her anger … or your own. Anger, hers or yours, is tricky in most relationships. Most men are – rightfully so – keen on NOT being like their angry dad or like the violent, dominant males they see in the world. So they try to keep their own anger contained and under seal. On the other hand, they are pretty sure their partner’s anger means they themselves screwed up somehow, and given how much self-criticism most of us men leverage on ourselves, we just don’t want anymore piled on top of it from her. I coached a man who said, “I’ll stand and face a gang of thugs any day, but when my wife, who’s 5-foot-1, gets angry at me, I get scared and I just want to run.”
I believe Margaret Paul has it right when she says, “All of us would love to have personal power — the power to manifest our dreams, the power to remain calm and loving in the face of fear, the power to stay centered in ourselves in the face of attack.”
And it is exactly this personal power that men often lose with their female partners.
When that man is you, there’s a very real cost to you. First and foremost, you don’t get to feel good about yourself. Every time you have an interaction where you don’t stay connected to your power, you feed the little voices in your head that says you’re no good, you don’t measure up, you’ll never make it, and you’re not good enough.
Secondly, by not being in your personal power, you inadvertently contribute to the breakdown and demise of your marriage or relationship. A healthy, loving, passionate, empowering relationship takes two people who not only stay connected to their power, but knows how to express it, in times of passion and love as well as in times of anger or conflict. When you don’t, the results are the “usual suspects” of less sex, less connection, more arguments, more distance, and so on. In plain language, it sucks! And it hurts.
A question for you …
Does any of this sound familiar? Do you recognize yourself in what I’m sharing?
I’d love to hear from you. Please send me an email and tell me where this hits home for you (or if it doesn’t).
Also, check out the private retreat I’m offering for a small group of men, which is all about your power as a man. Click here for more ….
We all know the value of exercising and staying fit. It’s practically recommended by every doctor and expert in the world. Does that mean we all do it? Not exactly.
It’s the same in your marriage and other relationships. Unlike our physical health, we often have the unfounded expectation that our relationships are going to stay fit and in good health with little to no effort.
The renowned relationship researcher, Dr. John Gottman, found in one study that couples wait an average of six years before they seek out counseling for their marital issues. Six years! Can you imagine having a twisted ankle or a serious stomach ache, but not consulting a doctor about it for six years?
We often get very nervous when it comes to talking about our relationship “stuff”. It’s no surprise, really. Many of us, myself included, were raised to keep our feelings and personal relationships very close to the vest.
As with physical fitness, there are myriad ways to keep your relationships fit and in great shape. Even if you’ve fallen out of shape, there’s still plenty of hope. You just start small.
Remember when you were newlyweds, how many nice things you’d say to one another? Turns out, appreciations spoken out loud are the pushups of relationship fitness, an absolute staple of personal and relational wellbeing. My wife and have had a simple fitness practice for over ten years: before we go to sleep, we both share at least three appreciations to each other.
Alongside increased appreciations, there is often a decrease in complaints, blame, and criticism. We all know how easy it is to devolve to routine bickering with our partner, but we might not know that it’s proven to be fateful to marriages. Dr. Gottman, quoted above, found by studying several thousand couples over many years that we need at least a 5:1 ratio of positive-to-negative interactions per day in order to avoid marital breakdown or divorce. That means for every critical or blaming remark, it takes a full five positive remarks to counter the negative effects. And if we want a thriving, healthy relationship, we should probably aim for a 10:1 or 20:1 ratio.
We’ve had several coaching clients over the past few weeks, both couples and singles, for whom the absence of the relationship fitness basics have taken a toll. A young couple with three kids, both parents working full time, find themselves feeling so drained and stressed by the responsibilities of work, kids, house, and family, that any advances from their partner seems like just another chore, and they inadvertently end up pushing each other further apart. When the general stress level is elevated is when we’re most prone to activate our own as well as our partner’s “hot buttons” and go down a rabbit hole of triggered reactions. And then we forget all about our relationship fitness basics.
For a single mom I coached, this shows up a bit differently, although it’s the same dynamic at work. She’s also feeling scared and pressed by the never-ending responsibilities of making life work, being the only adult to handle everything. Just like couples end up complaining to each other and rejecting each other’s advances, this single woman finds herself complaining to other people, to herself, and completely forgetting the relationship fitness basic of appreciating herself and finding space to recharge her batteries, another absolute necessity for anyone to remain sane, calm, and functional.
For both the couple and the single mom, the immediate remedy is to return to relationship fitness basics. Sure, there could be a bigger process about how to set up the life to function better, how to communicate better, and how to create structures that support deeper connections, even with a gazillion chores. But it didn’t take more than 10 min into our session, with some guidance to relax, connect, and express appreciations, before they both were crying and holding hands, relieved to be “back to basics”. They even expressed it themselves, saying that when they regularly engage in activities just for the two of them, like attending the workshops with LoveWorks, setting up time for fun, dance, music, and exercise, everything works out better.
As is true for our physical fitness, it’s no use if we just do it once or twice. We have to make appreciations and quality time, for ourselves and/or with our partners, an ongoing practice. It has to become a staple in our daily lives. We need to keep learning more effective ways to communicate, deepen intimacy, and resolve our problems, so that connection and intimacy are the rule, and breakdowns the exception. And when breakdowns do occur, as they will, we have the skills to deal with it them in short order.
Along with your mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual fitness, your relationship fitness will hopefully now become part of your regular routines. As one couple in our workshop said, “Appreciations are a lot cheaper than divorce!” We believe that keeping your relationship fit will pay dividends for the rest of your life.
If you’re ready for a relationship fitness kickstarter event, by yourself or with your partner, check out our Level 1 workshop, Give Yourself To Love. We still have room in our Oct 5-6 workshop in Auburn, CA. More info here ….