What if we hadn’t continued to try when we were learning to walk, talk, use the potty, or read or write? We kept trying, and eventually we learned. We learned to do mundane tasks, like tying shoes. The struggle is how we learn. Though I can’t know for sure, I suspect that learning is the purpose of struggle.
At times, the struggle is painful and seemingly impossible. I don’t know about you, but there have been times when I gave up during a struggle, believing it to be impossible. Even that offers an opportunity to learn.
This is life, and it’s also love. In love, the fruit of all that labor is that we learn to love another. An other. Some other being who has different ideas, perhaps, tempting you to into the struggle. Simply put, learning to love an other — perspective differences and all — is the portal into our own growth. Another growth edge many of us experience is learning to let the love in; in other words, learning to live and love without defensiveness. Too many of us feel so uncomfortable with the vulnerability in intimacy that we would rather live without it. Have you ever heard the quote: “I would rather live in a predictable hell than have a taste of heaven and lose it?
Why is it so easy in the beginning?
The chemistry of romantic love causes temporary blindness to vulnerability as well as potential conflict. The differences create the chemistry. Then a short time later, when the chemistry fades, we begin to struggle. What is the learning opportunity in this?
The lessons are:
Relationship is journey in which we eventually learn that we live with an other person (who is not us).
That person sees things differently from us, and this fact does not constitute wrongness on either side. No one has an accurate perception of reality.
What we fell in love with is usually what annoys us the most. It may also be a part of us that we only see projected onto our partner. Either way, it’s the code we need for growth and improvement.
We are lovable, and when we are willing to drop the defensive behaviors, we allow our partner to love us again. This can be scary; yet vulnerability is what allows for intimacy. Intimacy is that taste of heaven.
We must learn to love another in spite of our fear of intimacy. Courage is not an absence of fear; it’s feeling the fear and doing it anyway.
Listening to understand (rather than defend, react or reply) creates connection. Feeling understand is powerfully connecting. Listening to understand also creates space in the relationship for more than one perspective. This is good, since there are more than one of you, and both are valid.
Love is more than romance.
Love is listening, understanding, supporting, advocating.
Love is willingness to validate another perspective.
Love is learning that we are not always “right”.
Love is patience when we feel annoyed.
Love is helping each other shine.
Love is indeed a journey in which we make many discoveries, and improve our self in the process.
Along the journey, focus on helping your partner feel loved and cared about. This will create the safety that allows both of you to experience true and lasting love.
Stay in love is a matter of behavior, actually. Here is how you fell in love: You were intrigued by someone who is different. You were fun, playful, thoughtful and adventurous. You shared your thoughts, feelings, and perspectives. You smiled a lot. You made eye contact. When you touched, even casually, you felt it. When you kissed, you made it count. You made sure you were safe, approachable and attractive. You weren’t trying to change that person; you weren’t accusing him or her of anything. Oh, and you opened up and let yourself experience what it felt like to be loved without defenses. In all honesty, what is going to hurt to simply try being all of that today? I’ll wager that if you did, you’d have a better relationship by tomorrow. Why not give it a whirl? Thoughts and behaviors create feelings — not the other way around. Be the love, Jeannie PS – If you or someone you know would like to dramatically improve communication and connection in relationship, please consider my next weekend workshop January 5-6 in Atlanta.
Contemplating divorce? It’s understandable.
The relationship has become a frustrating place to live. Your partner is obviously capable of showing generous love to the dog or cat as you witness the affection you long for. You cannot remember the last time your partner asked about you, your day orexpressed any interest in you or any aspect of your life. It’s been years since you fell in love and now, at best you feel like you’re living with a roommate, and at worst, you’re “sleeping the enemy”.
It hurts to live with someone who is resentful and shows contempt instead of love, and seems to go out of the way to avoid you. Here is one of my favorite quotes: “resentment is like eating rat poison and waiting for the rat to die”. It’s likely your partner sees similar resentment or contempt in you.
But how do you not feel distant when both of you are so resentful and have been so hurt? How do you forgive and be happy again? “It’s not like a light switch”, you are thinking.
Before we go there, let’s talk about what has occurred so far in your relationship:
And here we are. And here are your options:
Conflict is growth trying to happen. You cannot change your partner, but you CAN and should change your treatment of your partner. The interesting thing about this is that when you begin to treat your partner with behavioral, caring love and respect, expressing appreciations, and a desire to be a better person, your partner likely begins to change, also.
Understand you are both trying to get your needs met, the first one being safety. Be that source of safety and watch what happens. Maybe not immediately, but eventually, you will see the defensiveness be replaced by appreciation and caring behaviors, as well.
But don’t do it for the reason of seeing your partner change. Do it because it’s the high road. Remember, this is growth trying to happen. Growth looks like you being the most patient, loving, caring, tender, respectful, considerate, thoughtful, safe person you can be for your partner. This is the high road, and it becomes you, I promise you.
Yes, you can divorce. You can split up your home, your friends, your assets, fight for custody, spend $30K – $50K starting over, only to learn the same lesson with someone new. Or you can spend a FRACTION of that in a workshop or an Imago Therapist’s office, learning to communicate your needs in ways that don’t hurt your partner.
This is not about finding the right person; it’s about becoming a better person.
Oh it can get downright painful and destructive. Combat between lovers. We Imagoans call it The Power Struggle. It typically shows up between 6 months and 2 years after you get together. It is reactive fighting. Lizard Brain stuff. That part of our brain, in case you didn’t link over to Wikipedia, is located at the base of the brain stem, and is only concerned with “fight or flight” needs. It’s the bat phone for adrenaline. It senses real or *perceived* danger, and like some kind emotional flypaper for our childhood pain, snags anything that comes along that will suffice for an outburst. A temper tantrum. Nice. That’s attractive, right?
You know, I’m standing right here, so yelling is unnecessary and ineffective. I really can’t hear what your saying; I can only hear you yelling. If you know phrases like that, then you’re familiar with the lizard brain.
Now don’t get me wrong; there are times when that part of your brain has saved your life. More than once, I’d bet. It is responsible for all kinds of heroic and lifesaving acts. Or should I should I say REACTS? That’s it’s job. Kind of like a little almond sized 911 center in your brain. So it serves an important function. But negotiating emotional needs in a realationship is no place for temper-flaring-adrenaline rushes.
Nor should you ignore your needs in order to prevent a fight. That will likely just serve as bicep curls for resentment. And loss of self over time. Don’t try it; it won’t work.
Oddly, this power struggle is (now stay with me) growth TRYING to happen. Yep, you heard it here. Where two people see everything exactly the same way all the time, one of them is unnecessary! Conflict is inevitable in relationship. But it is not a bad thing, believe it or not, if both people are willing to engage a different part of their brain to communicate. Look, you don’t want to be married to a two-year-old throwing a tantrum, right? Neither does your partner.
That is why we use the Imago Dialogue. For one thing, yelling is contraindicated because it hurts badly and doesn’t help at all. But beyond that, the dialogue allows for the effective transfer of accurate information from one partner to the other. We call this communication, and scientists have discovered it is a handy tool for actually being heard. It also engages the cerebral cortex, which is where reason happens, among other higher human functions.
If you’re tired of the fighting, check out the Getting the Love You Want workshop that will teach you the tools you need to have a conscious relationship!
Five warning signs of a conscious relationship:
- you feel safely and intimately connected to your partner.
- you get to be yourself.
- you communicate bi-directionally.
- you have fun, joy, meaningful experiences together.
- you are grateful to and for each other.
The day began with the sound of birds, as it often does here
in the South. It seems I have slowly
settled on a quiet affinity for birds, both in the visual sense as well as
their songs. I derive much joy from feeding
and watching them, but mostly it’s their singing that resonates in my soul,
especially at daybreak and twilight.
I woke up happy in my little tent, watching the sunrise over
the South Carolina Marsh. Happy for the
glorious sky. Happy for the day’s imminent potential fun
factor. Happy to be in this gorgeous
place with my wonderful friend Garri, and happy for the circumstances that led
me to this amazing life where I do often wake up with joy.
Our plan for the day was to have a big breakfast, then go
kayaking at high tide, just around the corner from her little slice of heaven
on St. Helena Island.
With my kayak already loaded on top of my old SUV, we set
about to untangle hers from the briars and brambles which had begun to claim it. A kayak’s job, when it’s not in the water, is
to collect said brambles, in addition to leaves, pine needles and cobwebs inside
the cockpit. This boat had done it’s
secondary job well and thus needed a bath before we put in. Nothing worse than having to deal with
spiders – or whatever — when you’re already in the water and perched
precariously in a tip-prone vessel! So
Garri grabbed the hose and began cleaning. A few seconds later, she was alarmed. That pile of leaves, pine needles, etc.
behind the seat was actually a bird’s nest, with several very young, live baby
birds. Mama bird had built a nest and laid her eggs behind the seat of the kayak! And we had just accidently intruded on their fragile
beginning of life. They couldn’t have
been more than a few days young, if that; measuring only a couple of inches in length
and undeveloped feather-wise. They were
sprawled around the ground from having been hosed out of the kayak. We were all stunned.
We quickly scooped up and reassembled the nest, then gently
returned three tiny creatures to it. We
called everyone we knew who might know how to optimize their chance survival. There would be plenty of time for guilt
later. For now, we were worried for
their survival. The consensus was to place
the nest in a box near where the kayak had sheltered the babies.
And that is exactly what we did. Filled with an astonishing sense of urgency,
and a mind full of prayers, we worked together to re-create their nest, and
committed ourselves to faith that Mama Bird would return.
In the process we
also found an unopened egg, which we also returned to the makeshift womb. Later, this egg would help identify their
Now, we had to muster up the discipline to walk away, resume
our plan, and leave them in the very capable care of their mother, but it was
hard to detach. We loaded the kayak and
headed out for a paddle, which was lovely, by the way, and we can heartily
recommend a paddle off Butch’s Landing, Highway US 21, St. Helena Island, on
Following the hot paddle, we treated ourselves to icy cold beers
and oysters at Johnson Creek Tavern, electing the outdoor seating under a
canopy, facing the marsh, with the beach visible in the distance. Again, we were awed to witness a mother
Osprey tending to her nest atop a utility pole right before our very eyes. We watched her fly back and forth, carrying
what appeared to be a Spanish moss covered branch back to the nest.
Eventually, we made our way back to camp, and inspection of
the nest revealed the joyful discovery that Mama bird was indeed still in
charge of her babies. How did we know
this? Because in the process of giving
them little sips of water, (a holy moment for me) I discovered now there were
not three, but four peepers in the
nest! Grateful hearts celebrated with tearful hugs, and we may have
even danced a little jig, because we were understandably, deliriously
We admonished ourselves again to let go and detach, let nature
take her course, and go about our little camping routines. But I will tell you that is much harder than
it sounds. There was no denying I was
captivated by their little lives, and head over heels in love with the entire
family. I don’t think I have ever in my
life had the remarkable experience of feeding a baby bird, even if it was just
a drop of water in each of their tiny mouths.
Besides, for me it was justification for new obsession. Mama Bird had to have watched us return those
birds back in their nest, feed them, and love them. Surely she understood I am no threat, so why
would she mind if I check in on them from time to time?
Still, somewhere in my brain, I knew I had to let go.
As it happens, the outdoor shower (another of my highly
recommended experiences) is within sight of the nest, so the next morning as I
was showering, I put my glasses on to have a glance and saw something that
caused extreme joy: I watched Mama Bird
feed them! She was perched on the side
of the box, and feeding each of their little open beaks. I couldn’t wait to share the news, and we
celebrated again. We were redeemed.
In my profession, there is a saying: “forgiveness is a gift you give
yourself”. Yet in this case, I knew
that this forgiveness was a gift from Nature.
Our job was to receive it. Our
hearts had been heavy and we had worried that we had wrecked their nest or
worse, killed these compelling, innocent little creatures. Have you ever been catapulted from the depths
of guilt to the joy and release of forgiveness of the one you hurt? Then you know the instant and soulful
transformation of which I speak. Yes,
forgiveness is a gift that defies description.
It is also an existential equation.
I had an epiphany. I have
been hurt, and I have hurt others in my life.
The pain and guilt on both sides have caused great sadness, remorse and
suffering. And today it all came home to
Suffering is the teacher.
Grace is the lesson.
Forgiveness is the
And nature, thankfully, is one amazing classroom.
Forgiving ourselves and forgiving others is, indeed, a gift. Though it is not always easy, the yield is
profoundly meaningful. We are not meant
to suffer, except to learn. Punishment
serves no purpose; it’s the redemption we must seek, first within
ourselves. When forgiveness flows,
therein lies the gift to all concerned.
The birds, as the egg helped determine, are Carolina
Chickadees, small but powerful both in song, and in their capacity for changing
hearts of human beings.
Dedicated to my dear friend,
Garrison, who shares and inspires in me a deep appreciation of the abundant
Typically, couples do not seek relationship counseling when things are going well. Often they wait until the relationship is in crisis, completely falling apart before they seek help.
The relationship may be in crisis because of some external threat or betrayal of trust, such as an affair. Or maybe the fighting has just become too frequent or painful. Perhaps the relationship has just turned cold and distant. Each of these constitutes a painful existence, and this is usually when people search for a couple’s therapist.
Relationships often follow patterns and couples often feel that they are having the same argument or negative experience over and over. It’s exhausting and unproductive. Options are to keep fighting, keep distancing, leave and start over with someone else, or get help. (Just FYI about starting over, and speaking of patterns: if you leave and start over without awareness of what is really going on under the surface, you will likely end up in the same situation.)
So the best way to save a relationship in trouble is this: do a combination of Imago Relationship Therapy and a Getting the Love You Want Weekend Workshop. Why? Several answers:
- Because the workshop is enlightening, connecting and extremely positive and hopeful, and gets your therapy off to a productive start.
- Because the workshop is efficient – it accomplishes the equivalent of weeks in therapy.
- Because the workshop gives you a set of tools and instructions for using them, AND….
- The follow-up therapy ensures that you actually use the tools you were given.
- It’s more cost-effective to attend a workshop, and it is CERTAINLY more cost-effective than divorce and maintaining two households!
- The combination of therapy and workshop increases the chances of turning a negative relationship into a positive, loving relationship in fairly short order.
Look at like this: the workshop provides a dramatic, “tectonic” shift that helps you feel closer and connected. You will leave the workshop with a new understanding and a new skill-set. The old negative patterns, however, could creep back in without regular exercise of a new skill-set. Weekly sessions coach you on staying with your new skills until they become your go-to pattern. Habits take about 12 weeks to be formed, so after you’ve invested in a workshop and experienced positive change as a result, you want to be sure the change is permanent.
Conflict is growth trying to happen. There is a reason for the power struggle phase of the relationship and the reason is NOT for you to suffer or be miserable. It IS a portal for growth and healing for you AND your partner. Sign up today. Discover the conscious, mature relationship. You will not regret the experience of growth and healing.
I received an e-mail alert that the Dalai Lama will be at Emory later this month, talking about mindfulness, compassion, and the treatment of depression. That should be good, and I hope to go. Depression is a relevant topic, affecting millions of people, causing much suffering. It is also among the most treatable conditions.
Depression may be either “chemical” or “situational”. A chemical imbalance can be treated with an antidepressant, which increases serotonin in the brain, thereby increasing the feeling of well-being.
With a situational depression, you have the *event*, and you have your perception of the event. The event may be a death or other loss. You may feel trapped in a job or relationship. Or perhaps haunted by the past. Despair and hoplessness may consume you, and send you into a spiral toward the abyss. Perspective may be distorted. This is a dangerous, yet temporary place. Not a time to make huge decisions or sweeping changes. Time, rather, to ask for support, and garner some lost perspective. Others may not realize what you’re going through unless you ask.
We all experience times of difficulty. The meaning we attach to these times is often a function of how we were raised or other *past* issues. Be aware of how you see the present. How much of the past are you attaching? Were you shamed as a child, and are you shaming yourself now? Or are you offering yourself the encouragement that we all need at times?
Become aware of the habitual thoughts that light up in your brain, because, as you may know, thoughts produce chemistry, and chemistry is either the problem or the solution. Thoughts of your own strengths, hope, compassion, goodness, positive outcome (see the last post) will generate a far better feeling than irrational, negative thoughts. Even if life is dealing you a difficult hand, you can still find hope and beauty on a daily basis. This is a must. If you can find and experience hope, compassion, trust, beauty and kindness toward yourself and others, you’re on your path out of despair. I suspect this is what the Dalai Lama will discuss.
Nurture compassion for yourself and others. Ask for help if you need it. And by all means, avoid shame. If you’ve done something wrong, right it. Apologize, redeem yourself, forgive yourself, and move on. You cannot change the past. But you can stop beating yourself up. If someone has done YOU wrong, find your voice, speak up, take care of yourself and reclaim your power. Let go of what is weighing you down, and allow your energy to increase.
Be good to yourself.
“Do not brood over your past mistakes and failures as this will only fill your mind with grief, regret and depression. Do not repeat them in the future. ” Swami Sivananda
“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change”. – Wayne Dyer
When you find yourself frustrated, annoyed, defensively reacting, avoiding your partner, you are focused on the tiny fraction of your life that is negative. What we think about is what we grow. Negativity is toxic and addictive.
Relationship is a journey where we eventually learn that we live with an OTHER person. When you give an appreciation to the other, tell your partner what you love about them, or do a caring behavior, you are changing the dance… and growing what is good. What do you do that makes your partner feel safe, loved and cared about? Do these, and magically your relationship will change. You don’t have to lose yourself by showing up for your partner. In fact, you will become the very best YOU you can be!
My next workshop is May 12 & 13, here in Atlanta. Please pass it on. Getting The Love You Want
Live into the 80% or more that is going well.
It’s not about confessing your partner’s sins. It’s about speaking in a way that allows your partner to hear you. As in actual listening. Yep! Every word… heard. Here’s another hint: It’s about safety.
Criticism and demands keep you from being heard and perpetuate pain and frustration. It’s not fun and it doesn’t work, so why do it? Because it’s an unconscious, defensive, habitual pattern. Break the pattern; learn more positive ways to live, love and communicate.
My next weekend workshop for gay and lesbian couples is April 14 – 15, 2012, here in Atlanta. Please pass it on!
Happy Spring! Oh, and speaking of happy, wouldn’t you know that you’ll both be happier when you feel understood?
How do you feel about who you are? How do you like the way I just put that question RIGHT out there? No sense tip-toeing around it. If self-esteem is the problem, then let’s get to work on it.
I am often asked about how to increase self-esteem; so often, as a matter of fact, I’m considering a little mini-course. Maybe a weekend? Contact me if you’re interested.
But here’s the deal about self-esteem: It’s your gauge of your own worth. It appears to be a function or result of insight (how well you know yourself) and how you live (how well you manage stress, take care of yourself etc.)
Insight development begins in early childhood. Those early messages play a huge role, but take heart if you got some negative ones. You can heal them. Insight is knowing yourself and believing in your own abilities. Do you know yourself well enough to know that you can solve problems, and you don’t have to hide from them? Problems and challenges are a fact of life and learning to face and solve those problems increases self-esteem, while hiding (behind addictions, or weight, or blaming and shaming yourself or others) lowers self-esteem. This is why we know bullies have low self-esteem. Picking on others is a classic symptom of a person masking their own insecurities. Negative attitudes toward others lowers self-esteem. Treating yourself and others with respect raises self-esteem. So there’s that.
Here’s another little hint. Children are naturally egocentric – the world revolves around them. There are many implications here, but the most relevant one to self-esteem is this: your childhood egocentrism may have contributed to the idea that the bad things that happened were your fault. If blame and criticism were part of growing up, then you may have learned to manage it by blaming yourself, and the blame game got encoded. It can be hard to shake, and if you’re not conscious, blame becomes an everyday way of doing business. If you blame yourself or you’re running around confessing other people’s sins for them, you’re perpetuating your low self-esteem. It’s not helping you, and it’s not helping anyone else, so my suggestion is, simply lose the blame. Instead, take responsibility for your SELF, let others take responsibility for their self and you’ll find you can raise your self-esteem, and you will be happier.
Another way to raise it is to take good care of yourself. Literally. Get enough rest, exercise, eat healthy, nutritious food, laugh and have fun, enjoy what you truly love in life. Your worth is not determined by how much you suffer or sacrifice for others. Your worth doesn’t change! Doing nice things for others is great when you have it to give, but doing so trying to prove your worth, at the expense of yourself takes a toll, creates more stress, resentment, and perpetuates low self-esteem. Manage stress so that you’re in eustress, not distress, by taking care of yourself.
Here’s another way to take care of yourself. Learn to speak up for yourself kindly, but assertively. Assertive statements begin with “I” (blame statements begin with “you”). For example, “I’d like to be in a position to do that, but I’ll have to say no this time.” Do you have a hard time saying no? If you do, then you’re probably carrying a pretty heavy burden of taking care of others, but not yourself, which lowers self- esteem. Raise it by learning to speak up for yourself.
See how much control you have, as it turns out?
You’re worth is not determined by how hard you work, how much you suffer, or sacrifice, how much money you make, how you look, what you drive or what others think of you. Your worth doesn’t change. We’re all the same worth. How to raise your self-esteem? Look into your own mirror instead of using projections. Set your own goals and move toward them, live your own values, take responsibility AND care of yourself.
Try these behaviors and call me in a month.