We’re not crazy; we’re just trying to survive. In many cases, however, the survival skills, while brilliantly effective in childhood (we made it out of there!) are unconsciously running the show in our adult relationship, and not in the greatest possible way. In fact, it can be bewildering and destructive.
First, we need to understand that our brain is a crude detector of real versus perceived danger. This can help us understand why we sometimes react the way we do. When we *perceive* danger; e.g. a tone of voice or facial expression, our amygdala fires up the nervous system, hijacks us and causes us to react the same as if we were being chased by a crocodile. So we fight, flee or freak out, which of course triggers partner’s fear and they do something equally scary for us.
The problem is this part of our brain has no calendar or timekeeping device. It doesn’t know how old, how tall or successful we are. And it doesn’t know that our partner is not the critical or dismissive person who hurt us when we were little. And this explains the outburst, which made sense when we were two years old, but makes little to no sense when we’re trying to communicate about the conflict du jour. When we’re triggered, we don’t run the data through our cerebral brain; we just freak out. Or withdraw, or say mean, hurtful things. Or whatever. We regress and momentarily become the child we once were.
That’s why we way “if it’s hysterical, it’s historical”.
We do have a resource we may not be using, though, and it’s both free and available at any time. It’s the exhale. A deep breath and a long exhale stimulates the vagus nerve, which then activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which returns us to homeostasis. In other words, we are highly capable of self-regulation and return to our higher functioning adult self.
Very handy indeed.
Happy New Year!
“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”
– Marcel Proust
I just spent the weekend with some dear friends, who are also therapists. This morning, we were deep in conversation about what it means to be and have good friends.
Yes, we have some things in common. Yes, we have fun together and laugh a lot. Yes, we care for one another in words and behaviors. We cheer each other on; we cheer for the same teams and have rich conversations about the things upon which we agree.
That is friendship, indeed. And, as we say in Imago-land, “there is more”.
Friendship also means that we can hear and experience the differences. We might have come from different backgrounds, or cheer for different teams. We don’t always agree; yet we are agreeable.
Connection isn’t just about seeing everything eye to eye. It’s the ability to see the differences in each other and stay CONNECT-ING. It’s who we’re BE-ING when we become aware of other-ness. It’s seeing and loving those parts of another person, even if we can’t identify it in our self.
Finally, friendship is about showing up, being authentically true to our self, while at the same time experiencing genuine compassion for each other.
It’s safe, trusting, caring acceptance of each other, whether we agree or disagree.
When we know we’re safe from the judgment of others, we can be who we are as less defended people. I’m definitely a better version of myself without my defenses.
As someone recently said, trying to hug a defended person is like trying to hug a porcupine. I’ll leave that there.
Be you. Be the best version of you. Show up. Love with all your heart. Receive the love of others. Be connecting.
The four C’s: commitment, curiosity, compassion and communication.
Commitment means going all in, letting go of other options for at least three months, while we work on restoring your relationship. Commitment to a new way of communicating, listening, understanding. For best results, commit to the *process*, along with commitment to ending negativity, and accepting the fruitful challenge growth. It’s not easy, but it is so worth the effort.
Are you willing to commit to 3 months of working with me in weekly or bi-weekly sessions, following through on homework assignments, attending a workshop, all with the goal of truly giving this process a chance to work?
Curiosity is an extremely helpful construct to replace judgment. Your judgment of each other is part of the problem, as it triggers negativity and defensive reactivity. If you find that you’re not understanding your partner, try cultivating curiosity as you attempt to learn more about your partner’s world.
Likely you are both hurt. Compassion for each other’s pain, and the pain you’ve caused is healing. Your ability to to take responsibility for your words / behaviors that have hurt your partner is necessary for your own growth, and healing in the relationship.
Will you commit to curiosity and compassion?
Are you willing to communicate using the hallmark of Imago Relationship Therapy, the intentional dialogue?
If the answers to these questions are yes, you are good candidates for Imago Therapy, and I can assure you that you will begin seeing improvement early in our work together.
It is my honor to work with you, and look forward to seeing the results of your commitment!
I call it “negativity creep”. It’s toxic and addictive, and it can seem like it crept in sometime in the night. First we were in love, and the next thing you know, we seem to get triggered over even the most insignificant things.
During “romantic love”, we believed nothing could ever come between us. The chemistry of romantic love is a “high” that feels amazing. During this time, we project all kinds of beautiful, amazing qualities onto our love interest.
After a while, the feelings fade because the chemistry fades. But not realizing this, we mistakenly think our partner has changed. Think about it; isn’t the frustration you now have some variation on what you fell in love with? Carefree eventually became irresponsible, or attentive became controlling. It’s the same quality, just with a different focus.
At this point, the survival part of your brain begins reacting as if you’re in danger, so it signals for more cortisol to help you fight or flee. The increase is this toxic hormone causes you to be more irritable and perhaps critical or defensive. This sparks your partner’s defense. And the next round of fighting begins. And now both of you are triggered.
If this is as pattern happening over and over, consider the consequences:
- It’s impacting your health. The effects of stress (and related cortisol) are well documented.
- It’s not only damaging your body, but also your relationship,
- your lifestyle,
- your outlook,
- your ability to enjoy the benefits of companionship and connection.
- If you have children, be aware that you are modeling for them what a relationship looks like. Surely we can teach them a better way.
- On top of all that, it’s a complete waste of priceless time, love and energy.
- It’s addictive. The longer we do anything, the more habitual it becomes.
We were made with the ability to fight or flee, but it should not be a lifestyle and your partner is hopefully not your predator. But it can seem that way if negativity has crept in.
If you are in chronic need to fight or flee in your relationship, it is time to get help. My goal for your relationship is for you to feel alive again. To fully understand and be understood is to feel connected, positive, joyful, sexy, romantic and juicy.
Believe it or not, negativity creep is really not the end of your relationship; it’s signal for a new beginning. It’s not the relationship that needs to end; it’s the negativity. Yes there is more. There IS a better way. Let’s talk. #eliminatingnegativity
It’s a new year, and like many people, you may be making resolutions toward better health, or improved habits for a better quality of life.
Here are a few suggestions for resolutions that will strengthen your relationship, and improve your connection to your partner.
- Pay more attention to your partner. Listen to understand him / her. Even when you disagree, rather than reply right away, find the sense he / she makes; e.g., “what you’re saying makes sense because…”
- Notice the behaviors of your partner that make you feel loved, and tell him / her.
- Do the behaviors that make your partner feel loved.
- Notice the traits of your partner that you admire. Make a list of them and tell him / her.
- When your partner is dressed and ready to go someplace, notice and mention how nice s/he looks, paying particular attention to one or two details. “I love your hair like that”; or “you look so nice in that dress”.
- What is your partner’s love language? For example, if it’s physical touch or affection, be sure to initiate a kiss or hug. If it’s quality time, be the one to ask your partner to go on a date where you can pay attention to him / her.
- Be more intentionally romantic. Change up the bedroom. Change the habits. Chances are one of you typically initiates sex. If you are not the one who fulfills that role, step into it by seducing your partner. Surprise! If you are the one who most often initiates, change things up with something romantic that will help your partner feel deeply understood. You want your partner to want to want sex. That is most likely going to happen when you stop pushing and start getting her / him. Go back to #1 above for a minute. Feeling deeply understood is a powerful aphrodisiac. Feeling “gotten” by your partner was likely part of your initial (and intense) attraction. This is true in the bedroom. It’s about both people feeling pleasure.
- Plan a date that is fun for both of you.
- If you’d like to be more connected and intentional about your relationship, consider attending a Getting the Love You Want weekend workshop for couples.
- If you find that you have more negatives than positives, consider seeing an Imago Relationship Therapist.
Happy New Year!
Is anything more painful than betrayal? Perhaps not, at least on the topic of relationship. Though common (one fourth to one half, depending on who you ask), this type of rupture is excruciating, and often fatal to the relationship.
Most often, the betrayal seems insurmountable at first. Reactions are understandably strong and absolute; e.g., “I could never be with you again”. “I will always be angry and resentful”.
Healing from an affair does take time, but it is possible, if both people are willing to do the work. How long it takes depends on a number of variables, but I have found on average that two years is a fair estimate. Obviously, for some it takes longer, and others dig deep and work it out sooner. Much of it depends on motivation and willingness to listen and understand.
In the couples with whom I have worked successfully, the repair work actually improved the relationship beyond where it was prior to the affair. How so? Because they both deeply wanted the relationship to heal, they did the work. Telling the truth, no matter how painful. Taking responsibility. Listening to understand. Patiently answering questions over and over again. Compassion. Curiosity. Grace. Replacing negatives with positives. Choosing a response. Big things. Little things. Both people. Believing it could happen. And when it did, both people were able to acknowledge the other’s hard work. Ultimately, the repair work can lead to a deeper connection than ever before,.
I most often recommend that couples read After the Affair, by Janis Abrahms Spring, Ph.D. The book is helpful in normalizing feelings, and offering help in understanding what is going on on both sides. According to Spring, the recovery process is as follows:
Reacting to the Affair.
Dealing with trauma and loss.
The unfaithful partner and choices.
Should we or shouldn’t we stay?
Exploring what love means to you.
Confronting doubts and fears
Learning from the infidelity
Talking about what happened
Learning to forgive.
Regardless of whether or not the relationship can survive the rupture, we hopefully and eventually learn to forgive. This is possible when we are willing to let go of the armor that is anger and resentment. We learn that trust has a deeper and more rewarding meaning when we do the internal work of forgiving, and letting love flow again.
- It is powerfully connecting in only two days.
- It’s economical. You save thousands, because it is comparable to MONTHS of private sessions.
- You learn new things about yourself.
- You learn new things about your partner.
- Learning together is actually fun. The
- By Sunday afternoon, you have dramatically improved your communication.
- It gets you out of the power struggle and on the path to the new way to love.
- It’s low risk / high reward. You don’t have to share anything with anyone except your partner.
- It saves marriages. If I had dollar for every time a couple told me it saved their marriage…
- It’s 100% positive. We replace judgment of self / others with curiosity.
- Oh, and it is VERY connecting. 🙂 And when you’re connected, who cares who’s turn it is to take out the garbage!
Don’t wait to do this. Most couples say they wish they had done this years ago.
The condition of being “in Love” is among the strongest of all tugs we can experience. We are drawn like zombies into this state with reckless abandon, eschewing common sense or otherwise typical characteristics of decision making. But it is no wonder, really, when you consider what is happening in our brain: the blissful glow sought the world over overtakes us. We feel alive, complete, full of joy. We feel sexy, romantic, hyper-focused on our sensual experience. We are in LOVE!
This stage of relationship is an altered state. The drug was not ingested, except through your senses, but this limbic activity has made you deliriously happy (if high) in the company of your lover.
So here’s our brain on the love drugs: dopamine, oxytocin, vasopressin, phenethylamine (PEA), norepinephrine, and others! We feel amazing, and If that person made me feel this good, then sign me up for life!
Eventually, however, we habituate to the drug. Once it wears off, we want another hit, right? Of course! So how to go about getting our partner to love us the way they did the first few months we were together?
You would think that one would try to be seductive, listening, attending, complimenting, attractive, warm, welcoming, smiling, thoughtful and considerate.
But actually, we get mad, pout, cry, yell, throw a tantrum, withdraw and expect someone to come along and fix it for us. We do this unconsciously and irrationally. It doesn’t work, obviously.
We call this stage the power struggle, and it is also an altered state, except this time, it’s a bad, bad trip. What was in that stuff? We feel awful. We want out, and we become desperate to end the pain.
Here are our options:
Stay in this state. Not an option without something to ease the pain, right??
Leave and start over with someone new. Is this really a good option? Please accept this is a gentle reminder that it’s not about who we’re with; it’s about what we need to learn from this. Or else we’ll just go repeat the pattern with someone new.
Work through it and get to the good place together. The place where we grow, and can language our needs effectively. The place where we can hear and be heard.
Getting the Love You Want is a workshop for couples who want to journey out of the power struggle and into the stage of conscious love. This is the third and most satisfying stage of the relationship, because it involves waking up and growing together into a completely different and more desirable place, where we can actually get our needs met. The secret is full awareness that there are two of us; we are a we; not a me. The other secret involves learning the skills and abilities to grow toward happiness, using effective communication, and loving more intentionally without defenses. Listening, hearing, understanding, and caring.
Learn how in the next workshop September 18-20, 2015 at DuBose Conference Center in Monteagle, Tennessee. I would love to be your tour guide as we take this journey together.
The weekend is safe; you will never have to talk publicly about your personal relationship. No dirty laundry! I teach by leading discussions that are completely optional, and perhaps more importantly by giving you dialogues which are done in breakout I deliver the workshop with your privacy in mind at all times.
This will be my 41st workshop, and in all 40 workshops, I have never had anyone who said anything negative about it. Most common words are “safe”, “warm” “amazing” and “connected”. The most recent workshop yielded this comment in the evaluation: “This workshop saved my marriage”.
If you have questions or want to register, you can visit my website or contact me personally.
Couples often live in unhappy relationships several years before seeking therapy. Like the proverbial frog in the pot of boiling water, the unconscious defensiveness (read protective behaviors) and negativity creep in without notice, until one day we realize “I’m not happy in my relationship” and “I’m tired of the pain”. Or “I’m tired of being the source of my partner’s pain”. “How can we be happy again”? Often one person is smothering the other, trying to recover the lost connection. This leads to the other person withdrawing due to the smothering anxiety, which is excruciating and feels a lot like abandonment to the other.
These painful dynamics are reactive and unconscious, and can perpetuate for years, but they don’t have to.
If you and your partner are not talking, or the talking is negative, it’s time to see the couples counselor. If you and your partner are living like roommates instead of lovers, it’s time for therapy. If negativity has crept in, and you can’t seem to resolve it, it’s time. If attempts to communicate result in the same frustrating patterns over and over, it’s time. If your belief is “We’ve fallen ‘out of love'”, it’s time for therapy. If you’re fighting over money, kids, or sex; or if you’re just fighting, period, make an appointment with someone who can help. And CERTAINLY if feelings, fantasies or flirting with another are how you cope, by all means, this is a warning sign. It is NOT a signal that you should be with someone else. That is folly; you’ll just end up creating the same pattern over again.
This “power struggle” stage of your relationship, like the romantic honeymoon, is not meant to last. It’s meant for learning to interact differently, and now is the right time. Give me a call so I can help you create a conscious relationship. Don’t live in unnecessary pain. More couples than not leave my office feeling better after the first session.
“Learn to Love”. This was the message that gently pulled me into consciousness this morning. I was dreaming; yet I was also waking. I could hear it and see it in my sleepy transition. I opened my eyes, realizing these three little words perfectly answered my recent prayer: “God, please show me the way”. Answer: “Learn to Love”.
Indeed; these three words sum up answered prayers and new years Resolutions. They are the formula for addressing pain, anxiety, grief, sadness, violence, hate, war, hunger and poverty. They are the answer to existential questions. They call forth our potential. They provide a map for the future, and reconciliation for the past. They probably even answer the question of what we’re seeking when we open the refrigerator door, only to stare at its contents.
If Love is the answer (and it is), then learning to Love is the formula. Learning to Love is a practice of trying, failing, and trying again; gleaning just enough wisdom with each attempt to restore hope and keep us going. Learning to Love is a daily train ride with Curiosity as the Engineer. Rocking back and forth, we pass sights and sounds that display our imperfections; formidable to witness or experience, let alone address. Yet, when we learn to replace judgment and fear with Love, Curiosity takes us to new and meaningful places, which make so much more sense than our childish temper tantrums in futile attempts toward self-importance.
Learning to Love problems and challenges shrinks them, and makes room for the answers. Learning to Love when things go “wrong”, we find the elusive life lesson. Learning to Love when there is “not enough”, we discover profound peace in appreciating what we already have. Learning to Love instead of stress, we find enlightenment in the present moment. Even traffic jams and long lines provide the spaces between the notes that make the music. There is no such thing as “wasted time” when we slow down and notice what speed would otherwise blur into oblivion.
Learning to Love what we do, no matter what it is, leads us to Mastery, which is one stop before Joy on Curiosity’s train ride.
When we learn to Love that hamster spinning on the wheel in our brain, we slow the little guy down until he looks a lot like Buddha.
Learning to pour Love into the space between us and our perceived enemies, we discover there are no real enemies; only scared people. Fear is the enemy, hatred is its weapon; Love is the answer.
Learn to Love those who drive us nuts, push our buttons and get on our last nerve, because these are our esteemed teachers of patience. Curiosity is there to help.
Aging or sickness teach us to Love our body unconditionally. And unconditional love is what heals.
Learn to Love is often the advice of the dying person, who gets that learning to Love each other helps us grow up and find our place closer to God.
In 2015, I have one New Year’s resolution: Learn to Love. That should do it.
Happy New Year, with lots of Love!