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Category Archives: Marriage
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 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 ….
You know the situation: Your partner says or does something and you immediately get hot and triggered. Somehow, that one comment or gesture sent you from 0 to 100 in a blink of an eye. Just as often, you are on the receiving end of your partner’s reaction, where something you said set them off to explode or shut down.
What is going on when this happens?
On this week’s podcast episode, I interviewed Tania Choi, an MFT and trauma specialist who also did our workshop program. She said that any time you have one of those reactions where you go from 0 to a 100 in no time, you’re in trauma. A trauma got activated inside you.
Tania’s brief definition of trauma is “a point in time where you lost your sense of choice”. (Find this week’s podcast episode with Tania here…)
I used to think that trauma was only created by big, violent situations like incest, rape, battery, or war. Whereas those are sadly common, almost every child, even those who grow up in happy, peaceful surroundings, still experiences incidents that are traumatizing; incidents where they feel powerless to choose.
In these traumatic situations, we make decisions and formulate beliefs that shape us. They influence who we become, what we care about, how we feel, and what actions we take. They also become trigger points for us. When we are faced in the present moment with situations that remind us of these painful experiences from the past, our bodies respond the way our bodies responded back then.
We have heard hundreds of these experiences in our coaching practice and workshops. One student, an independent, resourceful, professional woman, shared how as a child, on a Tuesday afternoon after school, her mom gave her the choice between staying home with a bigger sibling to make brownies, or to go with mom and two other siblings to a local theater show.
No big deal, right? The kind of everyday situation that could happen in any family.
Well, as a young girl, she was traumatized by this event. She was torn about what to choose, concerned about missing out on either the brownies or the theater play. She was too scared to talk about her experience. She felt completely powerless and unable to come up with a choice that would prevent pain and loss. She was stuck. Paralyzed.
In that moment, she made an unconscious decision, “It is not safe to choose. No matter what I choose, there will be loss and pain.”
Guess how that’s relevant for her as an adult and in her relationships? Her whole adult life, she’s had a terrible time making decisions. She’s found herself unable to commit to a relationship and unable to end a relationship. She is unable to make a choice either way, always straddling that painful fence of “do I go stay or do I go? Do we move in together or not?” Anyone who’s been stuck in that kind of indecision knows how torturous it can be.
On the surface, it might sound implausible that trauma gets created by such an everyday, un-dramatic event. But for a young child who doesn’t have the wherewithal to look at all the angles and come up with productive solutions, an incident like that gets logged in their internal operating system as a painful “fact”. To this child, and later to this adult, it’s now “true” that making choices results in pain and loss. From that point of view, it makes perfect sense that she would want to avoid making choices.
So when she’s in the grocery store with her partner, trying to figure out which pasta to use for dinner, and he says, “What’s the problem? Just make up your mind already!”, she might have one of those 0-100 moments where she gets mad as hell in no time. Not because it’s a life or death matter if they use Barilla or DeCecco pasta, but because her childhood trauma just got reactivated, and she is back to being eight years old again.
It’s as if this trauma and the associated beliefs create an internal landmine that it is only a matter of time before someone, typically someone close like a spouse, a child, or a family member, detonates by saying, “Just make up your mind already!”
How is this important for you and your relationships today?
Most of our traumas and the subsequent decisions we make and the stories we live are unconscious. To create change and become authors of a new story, to consciously craft a new set of beliefs and behaviors that we live by, we need to bring our patterned responses up to awareness. We can’t change what we can’t see.
Triggers are a great way for us to slow things down and become aware of the landmines that live in us and get at their source. From there, we can decide to not let these past traumas run our lives. We can take the time to unpack and re-work these past experiences, to do “do-overs” in our minds and bodies that allow us to emerge empowered and with a new set of embodied decisions from which to live life.
One of the most popular and effective tools we teach our students is indeed based on these kinds of do-overs.
Brian Lewis, a local MFT and art therapist said that trauma happens when pieces of our soul get snagged on the jagged points of life. (Find our interview with him in episode 24 of our podcast here…).
Those snagged pieces of our souls can be set free and healed. They might have negatively impacted our past, but they need not dictate our futures!
In our workshops, we teach a triggers process that allows people to become aware of past stories that are reactivated in challenging situations. This step-by-step process allows people to move from victim to power, from having no choice to having choice, from not having what they want to getting what they want. It gives people a quick opportunity to turn a traumatic retriggering event into a positive empowering experience. Plus, it gives a way to communicate with a partner or loved one even in the midst of feeling triggered.
You might have heard the saying, “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.” Well, it isn’t. With support, we can heal and shift almost everything in our past with conscious attention and re-patterning.
For more information on our workshop, go to loveworksforyou.com/gytl
A comment we receive a lot in our relationship coaching sessions is this: “I don’t want to say anything to him about how I feel because I don’t want him to feel bad or wrong.
For women, it’s easy to put another’s needs ahead of our own. We are biologically wired to put relationship concerns ahead of our own personal needs. It is how we ensure the kids are taken care of and our husbands are nurtured, so they will love us, take care of us and go “hunt” food for us again day after day.
There is a real fear in the background of our animal brain that if we say or do the wrong thing, he might not love us or hunt for us anymore. From men, we consistently hear that you censor yourself because experience has taught you that emotional uproars are likely to occur when you try to share what’s on your mind. Many men have a deep fear of their partners getting mad at or disappointed with them, so it seems easier to just not say anything.
But there is a very real cost to not saying what we feel and need.
Imagine that you and your partner are looking into each other’s eyes, melting into this beautiful place of oneness, and there is nothing blocking the incredible flow of love between you.
Now imagine that there is something you want to say that you don’t say, and let’s symbolize this something as a brick that is now placed between you. At some point, there is another thing you don’t say, and so another brick is laid. Pretty soon there is another, and another. Everything you don’t say is another brick in the wall being built between you and your lover, obscuring your vision and flow of love.
Before long, there is so much that isn’t said between you, that you can barely see each other at all. Instead of having a relationship with your partner, you are now in relationship with all of the things you are not saying.
Needless to say, the love you feel gets more and more obscured as well.
Our relationship advice is this: Say it! Don’t hold back! Take the risk to speak your heart. And of course, say it in a way that optimizes your chances of being heard.
One of the best relationship tips we can give is to be transparent, withhold nothing, to say it all. When we share ourselves completely, that is when our light shines brightest. It is when we are real, vulnerable and open that we are the most attractive.
As mentioned above, the reason we tell ourselves for not sharing something, is most often a variation of “I don’t want to hurt my partner”, or “I don’t want to cause a stir”.
In our experience, what this really means is, “I’m scared of what’s going to happen if I say this. I could get in trouble”. It’s often our own fear, more than our concern for our partner, that makes us choose silence. Or perhaps you’ve tried sharing yourself in the past, and based on those experiences, you’re pretty sure your partner is going to feel offended, triggered, or hurt; or that you’re going to end up arguing about something.
We suggest that you don’t take this as evidence that you shouldn’t say something, but instead as evidence that you and your partner need to learn a new way of sharing and listening, or get some qualified help to facilitate the conversation.
Despite the risks you might feel when sharing something that’s on your mind or heart, it is your openness that will call your mate to meet you with openness and presence in return. We’d even say that you must find a way to share yourself, because if you don’t, the wall built between you will eventually negate to your love and connection altogether. So there’s really no other good choice!
Now, there are ways to share and ways to not share. Here are ten tips for sharing:
- Set your partner up to listen. Ask him or her to listen without interruption or without trying to fix anything.
- Give your partner a time limit. Men in particular will be more present with your sharing if they know it will end in a certain time, say 15 or 20 minutes. Men are not as comfortable with and don’t enjoy long-winded sharing sessions that go on for hours as much as women tend to do.
- Let your partner know you want to share something with them. Reassure them that it is not because they did anything wrong. Promise you will not turn your share into a dumping or complaining session. This will help them to relax and hear you better.
- Be as vulnerable and real as possible. Share your feelings of anger, hurt, sadness and fear. The more vulnerable you are, the more likely your partner is to meet you with compassion and empathy.
- Use I-statements. Avoid You-statements. “I feel scared when you leave the room.” Or “I miss feeling close to you.” Owning your own feelings will minimize defense and inspire listening and interest. (Note, “I feel like you’re an immature jerk” does not qualify as an I-statement:)
- Tell the microscopic, unarguable If you say, “You don’t love me”, your partner is going to argue with you about that. But if you say, “I feel scared. I notice that there is a knot in my stomach. I am thinking that you might not love me”, there’s nothing to argue about; it’s simply your internal experience.
- Ask directly for what you want. Say, “Would you be willing to ______?” as this engages your partner’s will and inspires a specific response to your question.
- Say what you DO want and why you like it, not what you don’t like. “I really like it when ________” is much more useful than, “I hate it when you ________”.
- When you’re done with your share, thank your partner for listening. Remember, your partner wants you to be happy and to feel heard, and they want the same for themselves. The more you acknowledge them for listening, the more they will want to listen to you again later.
- Get help from a professional if your sharing leads to distance and defense, or if it is too scary to get started. There are many ways in which a coach or therapist can help to create a safe space for sharing difficult things.
The most important thing is to keep practicing sharing your innermost feelings and thoughts every time, and as they arise! The love that flows from regularly and steadily removing bricks is reward enough and will soon raise the bar on the value of sharing everything in your relationship.
And remember, practice makes perfect. It does get easier over time! Listen to an expanded version of this article on our latest podcast episode here …
You know those times. You and your lover are hanging out in the kitchen and everything seems great. But then something is said or done that triggers one of you, and within seconds, you are yelling at each other and engaged in an all-out fight about something that took place years ago.
Perhaps you are that someone who remembers when something was said or done that produced a rift in your relationship. No matter what you do, you just can’t seem to let it go and forgive. The moment replays over and over in your mind, and the pain from that event seems un-healable. The silliest little things send you back to that time. It doesn’t matter how many times you hear “I’m sorry”, you just can’t open your heart all the way again like you used to. You wonder if you will ever be able to fully love again.
Or maybe you are on the other end of this dynamic. You said or did something hurtful and you are now genuinely sorry for your mess-up. You are desperately seeking forgiveness and redemption. You have learned from your mistakes and are sincerely moving ahead with committed resolve to be a better person. You need your partner’s support as you make these changes, but your partner just can’t give it to you. You feel pigeonholed, punished, unseen and disempowered. You wonder if you will ever be forgiven.
What can we do with such moments in relationship? How can we heal and move forward in partnership without being blindsided by the pain of past wounds?
We are biologically wired to focus on injury – doing so helps us protect ourselves from threats to our survival. But since we aren’t usually defending ourselves against real tigers, our painful memories don’t serve the same practical purpose.
We humans have a unique way of recovering from trauma: we need to share our hurt and pain with a compassionate, nonjudgmental person in order to heal. We generally feel lighter, more uplifted, and less alone when we share our story with someone who really gets the depth of our painful experience and allows us time to sort through the maze of our conflicting feelings.
However, if we take this too far, sharing our hurt and pain can have an opposite effect. If we focus on the negative and repeatedly tell our sorrowful story, we essentially experience the tragedy over and over again. So instead of feeling lighter and freer, we feel unhappier, and more depressed, stuck, gloomy, and hopeless.
Simply stated, there is a difference between honoring and sharing our feelings for the purpose of healing, and wallowing or stewing in them. You can know you are wallowing if you feel worse when you talk about your painful experience, if your thoughts keep drifting toward the same old story of loss or injustice and you can’t seem to let it go, or if your loved ones are sick of listening to you talk about it!
How to get out of wallowing? Change the end of your story. Do a ‘do-over’ in your mind, or better yet, do a ‘do-over’ in real life. Replay the event until you emerge from your story empowered, uplifted, and transformed. Instead of being a victim in this past event, you are now a survivor, a hero or heroine, a miracle maker, a master creator.
If he kept a secret from you, replay the event where he comes forward and tells the truth. If she stole money from you, replay the event where she comes forward and vulnerably shares her need for financial support and asks to borrow money. If he made fun of you for wanting sex, replay the event where he instead appreciates you for your sexual desire.
Do-overs don’t disappear the original injury, but research shows that when we end a negative experience with a positive one, the pain of the negative experience is dramatically reduced!
In the 80’s, I participated in a special self-defense class where I witnessed several women who chose to reenact rape scenes with male volunteers in order to create a more empowering end – one in which they were able to successfully disable their attacker and emerge victorious. This reenactment went a long ways in helping these women recover from traumatic experiences and find their power again.
Recently, a man who felt unjustly judged by his wife, was able to fully forgive and let go in a ‘do-over’ with a friend who acted as a stand-in for his wife. There he fully expressed himself, stepped into his power, and was finally able to get the support and love he wanted. This work allowed him to be more forgiving and open with his wife.
We have helped many couples walk through do-overs, where each person gets to replace an undesirable negative past behavior with a positive new experience. Do-overs help both parties emerge empowered, connected and renewed, anchored in a new “past” that results in fewer fights in the kitchen going forward!
If you’ve suffered deeply and no one knows, by all means find an accepting, empathetic person to talk to – a friend, mentor, or coach; someone you trust. Let yourself fully own and express all of your feelings. After a while, your emotional waves will begin to subside and you will experience increased ease, lightness, and freedom. Once you have been fully heard and received, create a new ending that moves you from victim to power. Get support if you can’t do it on your own.
Perhaps you have heard the saying, “It is never too late to have a happy childhood”? Well, it is never too late to have a happy relationship, or a happy ending!
When Christian and I went to Denmark recently, we spoke to woman who’s a mother of four and whose husband travels for work a great deal. I asked her if his travel was good for their relationship, if it kept their romance and appreciation for each other alive. My thought was along the lines of “distance makes the heart grow fonder”.
But she said, “Quite the contrary! We are feeling very distant from one another. When he comes home from his trips, he prioritizes work and I prioritize the children. We fall into bed exhausted at the end of the day. We don’t make much time for each other.”
During the same trip, we listened to an audio book about a woman in a coma. In the story, her father came to visit his unresponsive daughter in the hospital and said to her passive face, “If I had known this was going to happen to you, I never would have said those last words I said to you. I am so sorry.”
A friend of ours was surprised by his wife’s confessions of an affair and a desire for divorce. He told us, “I knew our marriage wasn’t perfect. I knew we needed help. But I thought we had time – I figured we would work on our problems someday. But now it’s too late. I had no idea she was THAT unhappy!”
These three stories are all examples of how easy it is to put kids, work, and house projects at the top of our priority list, while relegating relationship, communication, and sex to the bottom of our list. Actually, all too often, relationship, play, and intimacy don’t even make the list at all!
Unfortunately, like our friend above who got divorced, or the father of a comatose daughter, what it takes to wake up to the importance of love and relationships is often news of illness, death, separation, or divorce.
You’ve probably heard it said a million times, that on your death bed you’re not going to be lamenting that you couldn’t work another hour, or make another buck. What you’ll really miss is another moment with your loved ones.
I believe we all know that to be true, but we don’t always live like relationship is the most important.
There are studies upon studies that confirm the number one factor having a truly happy and satisfying life is good relationships, not money, fame, health, or accomplishments. (See for example this great TED Talk by the director of the 70-year long Harvard Study, Robert Waldinger, who says directly that based on their enormous amounts of data, they conclude that the key to a good life is “Relationships, relationships, relationships”).
And yet, despite all our personal experience to the contrary, despite all the scientific support, it still seems that we drift into making work, kids, chores, money, and everything else more important than our intimate relationships.
What if we didn’t need to be presented with a threat of death or divorce before we took action in the love and relationship department? What if we could use the inevitability of loss and impermanence to inspire us to put relationship first on our list (or at least in the top three)?
The truth is, of course, that all relationships end – one way or another. We’re all going to die eventually. And some of us get old and sick and lose important mental and physical faculties, which take us away from relationship long before we die. Then there’s the infamous divorce statistics that tell us some 50% of first-time marriages end in divorce, and it’s even worse for second and third timers (some estimates say up to 73%!).
What if we used this knowledge to remind us to make love and connection in relationship more important than anything else?
Christian and I do just that, and for those very reasons. Perhaps it’s because our relationship started as a very-long-distance relationship, which was highly unlikely to succeed. After our very first meeting, we were sure we’d never see each other again. So when we did, it made us really appreciate the time we got to spend together.
Subsequently, while living in two different countries in very different time zones, we valued intensely any opportunity we had to talk by phone or visit in person. We have extended that same gratitude and mindful appreciation of each other to our marriage, even now that we live and work together and have for 14 years.
We are long past the “honeymoon phase”, but we still say goodbye with presence and love even if we’re just running a quick errand to the store. We greet each other with enthusiasm after being apart for a day or two. We say yes to lovemaking almost any time one of us initiates. We stop and talk and hug and playfully chase each other around the house. We appreciate each other every night before bed, expressing our gratitude for each other and our life.
I am reminded of the Meghan Trainor song that goes. “I’m going to love you, like I’m going to lose you. I’m going to hold you, like I’m saying goodbye.” That is great relationship advice to live by.
If you knew you only had a short time, how would you express your love to those around you?
If you put relationship to the top of your list today, what would you say to your partner, child, or friend?
Move relationship to the top of your list. Express your love and appreciation for the people you care about. Spend more money on experiences and less money on things. Create positive memories with family and friends. Live a life of no regret when it comes to love and relationship. Your happiness depends on it.
Blessings on your new year!
Sonika & Christian
PS. One way to put your love and relationship higher on your list is attend one our Give Yourself To Love weekend workshops. More here …
Most of us spend more time than we might like to admit wishing for something to be different in our relationships. We want more engagement, less fighting, more sex, less distance, more intimacy, less time watching TV, more appreciation, less criticism, more dates, fewer nights at home alone, more communication, less silence, etc.
We don’t just want our relationships to be different. We want our lives to be different, too. We want a bigger house, a faster computer, more money, more clothes, more vacations, a skinnier healthier body, a younger look, and lots of better, newer stuff.
We are so accustomed to wishing and longing for more and different – whether in our relationship, work, money, kids, body, etc. – that we don’t even recognize that we are spending our precious lives in a state of constant wanting. This wanting manifests in our experience as unhappiness, dissatisfaction, boredom or loneliness. We feel like we are missing or lacking something important.
There is something I realized a long time ago that has proven to be pivotal for living a fulfilling and happy life:
Wanting and having cannot exist in the same space at the same time.
I think of life as a house with two rooms, the Wanting Room and the Having Room. The Having Room is the room in which we are engaged in life and love.
Just like in a real house, you are either in one room or the other; you cannot be in two rooms at the same time.
Unfortunately, when we want our lives to be different and the people we love to change, we are in the Wanting Room.
When we are in the Wanting Room, we inevitably produce unhappiness for ourselves. Our focus on lack and what is missing keeps us from noticing and appreciating what we have. It throws us into a state of resistance to our current reality and has us believe we are powerless victims stuck in unwanted situations, unable to powerfully create what we want.
Think about it. You only want stuff you don’t have, right? The mere wanting of anything is a declaration that you don’t have it. So when you reside in the Wanting Room, you’re likely to have internal conversations like, Why can’t I make my relationship work? Where are all the good men? My husband never talks to me. I wish I looked younger. Just to mention a few examples.
The Having Room, on the other hand, is where you get to enjoy experiences, where you harvest and partake in the fruits of your labor, where you appreciate what you have and count your blessings. It’s the difference between wishing you had an apple, and actually biting into an apple and enjoying the blast of taste and sensation as you do it.
Life is just better when you occupy the Having Room. So how can you do that? We’ll give some ideas here, and share a few real-life examples.
One way to shift from Wanting to Having is to take notice of and express your gratitude and appreciation for what you do have, even if you have very little. What is working in your relationship? What do you adore about your partner? What would you miss about your spouse if he or she suddenly vanished? What do you take for granted that you are grateful for? And tell them.
Another way to shift from Wanting to Having is to ask the question, “If I already had what I wanted, what would I do or say right now?” This question tricks your mind into imagining that you already have what you want, and enables you to bring to mind actions that you can take right now that are consistent with what you want to create for yourself. When you take those actions, you step into having the experience that you were longing for in the Wanting Room.
For example, if you are struggling with intimacy in your relationship and you want more connection with your partner, you can ask yourself, “If I were connected and intimate with my partner, what would I do or say right now?” Trust me, an answer will pop up in your mind. This question will move you towards creating more intimacy with your partner and thrust you into the Having Room.
At our last workshop, a woman was angry with her husband for something he said that triggered her. She was missing the close connection they were sharing before he said it and was now in the Wanting Room feeling disconnected from her man. When we asked her what she would do if she felt close and connected like before, she said she would go over to him and put her head on his shoulder and her hand on his knee. So we encouraged her to do that. As soon as she sat down next to him, her face lit up like a light bulb and a smile spread across her face. She was back in the Having Room (and you can imagine how he responded to that gesture:-).
A single woman called me for coaching, very distraught and lonely after her last relationship ended. She had a hard time getting out of bed and she was scared she’d never find love again. She was solidly anchored in the Wanting Room. During our conversation, I asked her, “If you knew you were going to be fine, and you would definitely find love again with a wonderful man, what might you do right now?” Her first response was, “I’d get out of bed and go to the gym!”
Just like that, back in the Having Room (And sure, this does not fix or deal with her entire situation, but it’s definitely a vast improvement over being in bed, depressed).
Just to be clear, wanting isn’t bad. That is where the best of our creative ideas show up! Wanting is the start of any improvement in life. You just don’t want to get stuck in wanting! Be there long enough to uncover what you want to create! Use your wanting to connect you to your desires and dreams. Then use that discovery to spark and move you into having, into action.
Everything you want – all of the connection, love, peace, fulfillment and joy you desire – lives in the Having Room.
If you find yourself stuck in wanting your relationship to be different, check out our Give Yourself to Love live relationship training. We will teach you how to step into having the life and relationship you long for and deserve. Click here for more info …
One of the biggest mistakes we witness people make in relationship is the decision, conscious or unconscious, to rein in some of their own desires or dreams because it triggers their partner, because they think it’ll cause too much of a stir, or because of they convince themselves they “should”.
See if you can relate to any of these examples from people we’ve been coaching recently.
Anna thinks there is something wrong with her because she doesn’t want to marry and have children with the man she has been dating for ten months. After all, he’s a good guy, loyal and responsible (in stark contrast to her ex). He really wants to marry her and make a new life together. So Anna is trying to talk herself out of her feelings of doubt and lack of desire to marry, in order to make him happy and because it just makes logical sense to marry this nice guy.
Anthony damps down his desire for sex in several ways: By not acknowledging his need for it in the moment; by trying to talk to himself out of wanting it by minimizing its importance (“It’s not that big of deal, anyway. I’m fine without it”); by not initiating sex or touch with his partner; by backing off at the first sign of discomfort or refusal; and by routinely putting his partner’s needs ahead of his own.
Finally, Robert, who is in the throes of divorce and is discovering that he doesn’t know what he wants anymore. He has gone along with his wife’s desires and demands for some 30 years and has totally lost touch with his feelings, desires and dreams. During their marriage it simply became second nature to let her desires be their desires, and whenever he did want something different from her, to just let it slide, because, as he said, “It was easier that way”.
In each of these three examples, you could make the case that they are just being generous – they want their partner to have what they want and need. You could say they are being flexible, because they’re not attached to having things their own way. We could posit that they are peacemakers who value harmony more than getting what they want. We could even call them super spiritual in the sense that “The Great Way is easy for those who have no preferences”.
Just today, we read a great article on mindbodygreen.com (here …) that said the most important ingredient of a lasting relationship is generosity. We don’t disagree, generosity is essential.
However, in the three examples above, our friends are not being generous. Let me qualify that. I’m not suggesting that they are not generous and flexible people, or that they don’t want their partners to have everything they need, or that they’re not spiritual or understanding people. I know for a fact that they are these things, too.
The problem here is that what masks as generosity or flexibility in reality is much more avoidance of “trouble”, fear of rejection, lack of power to stand up for oneself, or flat-out laziness.
There’s always a long-term price to pay for the short-term gain of “not making trouble” by letting your own desires go. Whenever anyone damps down their own feelings or shuts off their own desires to avoid upset or conflict in relationship, whenever they don’t stay engaged and go for what they want and create win/wins that enliven both partners, they set themselves up for breakdown; ultimately risking the stability of their relationship.
No one can remain disconnected from themselves and their feelings and their passions for a prolonged period of time without the potential consequence of wanting to break free from their imprisoned experience in relationship in an attempt to “find themselves” again. In other words, negating your own desires and dreams over time creates resentment.
This is tricky stuff, no doubt. Who can’t relate to wanting something that you know might trigger your partner, so you go, “Whatever, it really isn’t that important”? You let it slide and don’t speak up about what it was you really wanted. And for a while, it’s totally fine. Until it isn’t.
Like Robert, who inadvertently did this with everything, by his own admission. Where they went on holidays, when they took holidays, or not; who they visited, for how long; what color to paint the house, what school to send their kids to, you name it. Her preference became their preference. For the longest time, this system worked fine.
Only now, as they’re divorcing, he’s resentful in retrospect that he always got “steamrolled”. In our coaching, he had a profound realization. He went along with her desires because “it was easier”. In doing so, he believed he did her a favor by not causing a stir and thus keeping the peace in the house. He believed he was being easy-going and flexible, and that she’d love him more for it.
What actually happened? She lost respect for him, and he lost respect for himself. Plus, he totally lost touch with what he actually wanted about pretty much every aspect of life. To be blunt, he “chickened out” on his own dreams.
I offered him this image. From her point of view, his “going-alongness” made her feel alone. Every time she’d offer up an idea, instead of a sparring partner, he showed up as an amorphous blob, without any distinct boundaries or edges, like a bowl of jelly. In partnership, it produces safety and connection when a partner can put her hand on the other and feel some substance instead of “jelly”.
Flexibility and easy-goingness are great qualities and can absolutely support harmony and easy flow. Always yielding like a jellyfish, however, produces loneliness and resentment. Generosity is indeed an absolutely crucial part of a successful, loving relationship. Self-sacrifice to the extent of not getting what you need is something else entirely.
The article we quoted above included this important detail: “Giving until it hurts or trying to buy affection does not develop a healthy relationship … It does not take the place of caring for yourself or expecting your partner to do his or her part.”
It’s easy to get mad at your partner when you don’t get what you want. It’s tempting for Anne to get mad at her boyfriend for pushing the marriage agenda. It seems logical for Anthony to get mad at his partner for not being more into sex. (On a side note, there are many effective ways to communicate directly to your partner about situations where you want seemingly different things. That is outside the scope of this article.)
Here, we want to offer you the opportunity to look inwards, specifically at where you let go of your own desires, for whatever reason, when in actuality it is important to you. Look at where, like Robert, you let it happen that you don’t get what you want. Where you let it be ok, even though it’s not really ok with you, to not get your needs met.
We encourage you to ask yourself questions like:
- Where am I not going for what I want?
- Where am I settling?
- Where am I holding myself back from my own passionate aliveness?
- Where do I “forget” what I want and need, in the interest of peacemaking, taking care of my partner, or someone else’s desires?
- What am I afraid would happen if I stood up for what I want and need?
The upside here is for you to find your own clarity about what you want, and the power and worthiness to stand up for what you want as well as what your partner wants.
Optimally, you’re saying (and this is part of our definition of a successful relationship or marriage), “I deserve to have what I want, and so do you. I want you to have your needs met, and I want that for me, too. I’m not going to sacrifice my needs to satisfy yours, or yours to satisfy mine. We are both going to get what we want. If we don’t know how to accomplish that, we’ll learn. But we’re not giving up on both of us being satisfied”.
You might even consider that you owe it, not only to yourself, but to your relationship, and to your children (if you have children), to listen to the whispers of your dreams and desires, lest you end up resentful that someone didn’t give you everything you wanted.
So take the risk. Go for what you want, for what makes your heart sing. Work it out with your partner, so you both get to fly.
If you don’t know how to do that by yourself, learn. Get help. And don’t back off from what you want.
🙂 Sonika & Christian
PS. If you’re curious about the kind of coaching we offer, use our contact form here to get in touch with us.
A woman came into our office, we’ll call her Karen, very upset and jealous that her husband was “attracted to other women”. She had come across a picture of a woman he had liked on his Instagram account, which set off her jealousy. In fact, she got so mad at him, she accused him of being unfaithful and threatened to divorce him.
A man I coached, let’s call him Timothy, was enraged with his girlfriend, because she was always talking about how great her car was. Every time they’d go driving, she’d say, “I love this car, it makes me so happy driving it!” When he heard her say that, he’d feel a wave of anger arising inside him, and he’d clench his jaws in hopes of not saying something nasty. But sometimes he just couldn’t help himself and berated her for going on and on about her “stupid car”.
What do these two examples have in common?
First, both people got really angry over their partner’s behavior. Secondly, both of them reacted out of anger in ways they afterwards felt bad about, and which created a significant fall-out. Karen ended up with a serious breakdown after her outburst and accusations, and Timothy ended up having to apologize and backpedal after letting his girlfriend have it, but even after apologizing, he still felt mad and she felt hurt and kept her distance.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, both Karen and Timothy shared a very common predicament: They both made sketchy conclusions based on sketchy evidence.
Did you ever read or see the Hunger Games series? In case you haven’t, our young protagonists Catniss and Peeta go through all manner of harassment and awfulness at the hands of the “evil empire”, called The Capitol. Peeta is tortured and brainwashed to the point where he believes his beloved Catniss is his mortal enemy. The bad guys messed with his head so badly he can’t tell friend from foe, love from hate, fantasy from reality.
When they get reunited, Catniss and Peeta make up a game, a test of sorts, to help Peeta regain his sanity. Peeta says what he thinks, then asks Catniss, “Real or not real?”
In the final scene, they’re snuggled up in bed, and Peeta says, “You love me. Real or not real?” You might guess what her answer is:-).
Why is that relevant here?
Because both Karen and Timothy, although dealing with seemingly very different situations, are in a similar situation to Peeta in the Hunger Games. They don’t know what’s real or not real, true or not true, accurate or false. They don’t know what is fantasy and what is reality.
Karen sees an image on her husband’s Instagram account and quickly makes several conclusions.
She concludes that …
- He’s attracted to this woman
- He’s attracted to many other women, too
- He’s not attracted to her (Karen)
- She’s not attractive, period
- He’s unfaithful
- He’s lying
- He’s deliberately keeping secrets from her
Real or not real?
Timothy, in his situation, when he hears his girlfriend talking about how much she loves her car, makes several conclusions, too.
He concludes that …
- She loves her car more than she loves him
- She thinks her car is better than his car
- She thinks he’s a loser because his car is a piece of junk
- She thinks he’s not successful in life
- He really isn’t as successful as he should be
- Other guys are way more successful than he is
- She’s deliberately mocking his car and him
Real or not real?
When we talk more in depth with Karen and Timothy, it quickly becomes clear that they don’t really know if any of these conclusions are real or not real. What IS real is that they themselves made up these conclusions based on the “evidence” at hand, which in each case was very skimpy evidence for such heavy conclusions.
What IS real is that Karen saw an image of a woman on her husband’s Instagram. And what IS real that Timothy’s girlfriend said, “I really love my car”.
Beyond those simple facts, everything else is a made-up conclusion that may or may not have any real basis.
How do you tell the difference between reality and fantasy?
One way is to simply ask yourself, like Peeta did, “Real or not real?” and sometimes it’ll be evident. For example, when Timothy realized he was concluding that his girlfriend was deliberately mocking him, he immediately said, “Not real, she’d never do that, that’s ridiculous”. (As you might know already, sometimes the stuff we conclude is flat-out ridiculous when examined).
Secondly, you ask the other person(s) involved. In Karen’s instance, she wasn’t sure if her conclusions were real or not real, so we would recommend she ask her husband about it.
A word of caution. When you ask your partner, or someone, if your conclusions or assumptions are real or not, try saying it this way.
“Because I saw a picture of so-and-so on your Instagram, I’m making up that you’re attracted to her and you’re not attracted to me. Is there any grain of truth to that?” (“Is there any grain of truth to that” is another way to say, “real or not real?”
DO NOT say, “You always have these skanks show up on your profile! Are you sleeping with them, too!?” You can imagine how well that would turn out. Don’t accuse before you know.
By including the words, “I’m making up that …”, you acknowledge that what you’re making up could be just that, purely made-up conclusions with no grounding in reality.
When you ask directly, you might sometimes discover that some of your made-up conclusions do indeed have a solid basis. Sometimes your partner might say, “Yeah, there is a bit of truth to that”, which could open up some really juicy conversations, if you’re willing to go there.
The main point we want to make here is that we all suffer from the predicament of making up sketchy conclusions based on skinny evidence. Often, our conclusions are detrimental to our own wellbeing and to the health of our relationships.
When Timothy makes up that his girlfriend is telling him he’s not successful enough, it’s more a reflection of his own lifelong fear that he’s not successful enough, than it is her putting him down. In this case, she just loves her car, plain and simple. That’s it. The rest came straight from his “mind factory”.
Don’t believe your own conclusions too readily. Especially the ones that make you feel like crap!
The wonderful Byron Katie asks of her own thoughts: Is it true? Can I be absolutely certain it is true?
Questioning your own conclusions might just set you free from the occasional madness of your own mind, and open up more space for love in your relationships.
Real or not real?
PS. We just launched our new podcast, Dare To Love. Check it out here …
The other day while we were driving in the car, Christian was angry.
Not at me. He was frustrated that his back wasn’t healed enough yet for him to be able to drive himself long distances. So I did what any loving wife would do. I got mad at him for being mad.
You may have heard the saying, “You become like who you are around.” Mostly what the saying means, is that if you hang out with people who are not successful and playing big, chances are YOU will not be successful or play big.
There is another way this dynamic plays out in relationship. When Christian gets mad about something, I get mad at him for being mad. I become like him. Which doesn’t help, by the way, it just accelerates his anger, because he now adds “being mad at me for being mad at him” to the mix. When he withdraws, I withdraw too. When he judges, I judge him for judging. Christian does the same with me. And we both do it with our kids.
This plays out so fast that we barely notice how we “become just like who we are around.”
Now, it is NOT my intention for us to both be pissed, withdrawn and judgmental. And it is not Christian’s intention either. Even though that is what gets produced.
We know it is the same for you – that when you “match” your partner’s moods or thoughts, you don’t want a miserable experience either!
Our unconscious positive intention in matching our partner’s emotion is for the bad feelings to go away and the good ones to return. Some part of me actually believes that if I get mad at him for being mad, he will quit being mad!
So how do you change this dynamic?
First thing is to notice it. Become aware that you are doing exactly the behavior or emotion you are resisting.
Next, is to realize that you want something sweet and good underneath your bad feeling. For instance, in the car, I noticed that I really wanted Christian to feel good and happy and for us to have a fun sweet time together. That was the reason for my wanting him to not be mad.
As I saw that in myself, I was able to see that in Christian too. He just wanted to feel good, happy and in his power too.
Seeing that he wanted something sweet and good underneath his anger softened my heart. It took me out of mad, back into love.
When we connect with the positive intent underneath bad feelings, annoyance gets replaced with compassion, and separation gets replaced with connection. “We are the same. We feel the same. We both want something good.”
Once we understand that a pure innocent desire for love, connection and all things good is underneath our anger, we can reach out in love from that new place.
As a result, instead of meeting Christian’s anger with more anger, I was able to meet his anger with love, and give him a chance to “become like who he was around.” I complimented him for his desire to feel good and appreciated his aspiration to drive the car. We ended up stopping for food, enjoying delicious sandwiches together, and he successfully drove the next half hour to our destination.
Soon after, we were playing, giggling and in the end, enjoyed a wonderful evening together.
Next time you notice yourself “matching” your partner’s mood, slow things down.
Look for the positive reason you are mad or sad or upset underneath, and instead of both of you spiraling down into a crummy experience, lead both of you to an upward spiral of deeper love, connection and joy.