So often, it’s not the love that is missing; it’s the loving behavior. Fighting, bickering, criticizing have become the language of everyday life, replacing the joy and love that was once so easy and natural. You may even be considering leaving – not because you don’t love your partner, but you are tired of the pain.
You may be in the “power struggle”, aka “growth trying to happen”. Conflicts can become connections when we establish a new way to interact. Also, is it possible that what your partner ultimately asks of you would make you a better person?
Two important ways you can improve your relationship: One is HOW you communicate; the other is eliminating negativity (blame, shame, criticism).
Understand that communication is negative and hurtful because you’re defending. You may even be thinking that the other person wants you to hurt. Or that if the other person would just come around to your perspective, all would be ok. “You and I are one, and I’m the ONE”, right? We’ve got to get that there is room for both people in this relationship. Not one, but TWO. The differences between two people are natural, and ok. I would recommend that you try approaching the differences with curiosity rather than demands or defensiveness. When I say defensive, think “claws”. “Why would your partner come anywhere near you when your claws are swiping ”? It only creates more need to defend, whether passive or aggressive, and it perpetuates the fighting and pain. Take a break from adrenaline-induced fighting, and when you’re calmer, and with your claws tucked away, and ask your partner to describe his/her feelings. Listen with true curiosity and compassion. Try to imagine what it’s like to be him /her.
I often ask my clients “what do you want”? And the answer is “well I want her to stop doing X”. Then I say “Ok, what would she be doing instead”? That one requires thoughtful re-framing. We would benefit greatly from framing our requests in the positive. Instead of “stop doing x”, think for a moment, what is it that I really want? For example, “I want to state my perspective and have you accept it at face value” is much easier for her to hear than “you are so critical”! Notice the positive statement begins with “I” and the negative statement begins with “you”. Criticism plucks the “shame” chord, and HURTS your partner. Much more effective is “I want to be loved unconditionally”.
Eliminating negativity in your requests involves you taking responsibility for asking for what you DO want, and doing so in a way that invites the loving tenderness you seek. Understand that your partner has needs and desires, too. Ask your partner how you can help. Let your guard down and listen. Be responsive rather than reactive.
Intimacy is vulnerability. Vulnerability involves risk. If you see your partner vulnerable, show up with tenderness. Respond with loving behavior and defensiveness will be replaced with something far more satisfying.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
How much do you love your partner? What I mean is, how much do you show your
love through your caring behaviors? Do you love your partner in the way that he / she wants to be loved?
Remember the platinum rule: Do unto others what they would have done unto them.
I had the pure joy of presenting a workshop this past weekend. It was positive and connecting, the couples were beautifully willing to learn about each other, and all in all did some fabulous stuff, like unpacking conflicts, and replacing distant, defensive sparse communication with understanding and connection. And learning that our partner lives in a world where the perspective is different. Not wrong –just different.
We also helped partners remember what lights each other up, and how much they love it!
The more we show our love through those thoughtful, caring behaviors, the more positive our relationship becomes, and the better we all feel about ourselves.
We are all about eliminating negativity, restoring connection, and improving the quality of life as we grow and grow up.
The more you live in the love, the cooler your life together.
There are times in a relationship where we feel deeply understood, happy, hopeful, loved and connected.
You probably felt it first in your relationship when you fell in love. Maybe this was WHY you fell in love. It was blissful experience for you both, and you felt alive and passionate, and you could not have imagined ever feeling anything less.
Yes, feeling deeply understood is a powerful aphrodisiac.
The disappointment and pain that accompanies the “power struggle” phase of the relationship actually brings down 50% of relationships unnecessarily. I am on a mission to change that. Why would we continue the painful, destructive pattern, when we can positively change it, and live happily together?
Especially when there is a reason for the conflict, and that reason is growth, healing and ultimate happiness. Think of the power struggle is “growing pains”. Let’s work through it and get to the good stuff. Conflict is growth trying to happen. And here is the cool part: conflicts lead to better connections than you could have had otherwise!
Entering a relationship is fun and easy for most people. The hard part is staying in when the relationship has lost its shimmer and the power struggle wears on in a hurtful way. Neither fighting nor withholding help anything and only serve to hurt. Neither person gets heard when the reptilian brain is engaged in punitive or cold warfare. And know this without any doubt: criticism perpetuates defensiveness. It does not work. It never has; it never will.
To have something different, we need to do something different.
My discovery of Imago Therapy changed me personally and professionally. I practice it because of its depth and because it works. I have invested fully in certification and practice because of the joy in restored connection and the true healing it brings. There is a reason we do what we do, and when we compassionately understand the reason for our partner’s defensive behavior, we actually help them lose it. My challenge is getting people to do something they’ve never done before. Humans are usually drawn toward the familiar and fear the unknown, which is why we engage in the same old dance, even if it doesn’t work. At least I can predict what happens, right? Even if it slays me every time, sadly.
Do your relationship a favor and commit to something different, something restorative. The best way I have found is this: get yourselves to a weekend workshop, so you can get conscious about the dance you do and why you do it and what works so much better. Then follow it up with three months of weekly couples sessions because 90 days is about how long it takes to change a neural pathway in your brain. If you are or can be in Atlanta the last weekend in August, I’d love to have you in my workshop! Here is a comment from my last one: “I learned constructive ways to communicate with my partner to resolve conflicts; I learned the importance of showing appreciation for one another regularly, and how to restore romance”.
A conscious, mature relationship is a rich and rewarding experience. The restored connection is within your reach.
Over and over again, I answer this question for people in my office. Repeatedly, I see clients who began their relationship the way most do – blissfully. Gradually, over time, the bliss that once prevailed was replaced by painful patterns that ultimately brought them to therapy with this question on their minds.
Blissful beginnings, as delicious as they are, blind us to the differences that attracted us to our partner to begin with. Falling in love began as an amazing, pleasurable ride courtesy of Mother Nature and your endocrine system. And ironically enough, those differences that were once part of the attraction now create intense challenges for you. In other words we become attracted to a person who is different from us, and yet those differences create disharmony. We feel hurt, disappointed, even devastated because we believe our partner has changed. News flash – Your partner is who they’ve always been. It is your experience of them is what has changed.
Let me give you an example: Erin fell in love with Adrian’s easy going, fun loving nature. This balanced Erin’s rather Type A, driven personality. Adrian loved the way Erin was always taking care of the details. Eventually, however, Adrian’s easy going nature became annoyingly irresponsible to the detail-oriented Erin, who Adrian perceived as tight, obsessive and controlling. Same characteristics – different interpretations, you see.
And so it goes.
Both people in the relationship are managing the pain and disappointment with their defenses up, which makes them unapproachable and difficult to love. Picture a cat hissing or a dog growling. This is how we look when we are defensive. As we defend our self over time, we hurt the other person. Because wouldn’t you know that our defenses are the very ones that hurt our partner the most. In our example, if Adrian fears smothering, and Erin fears abandonment, of course Adrian’s defense will be to withdraw, triggering Erin’s fear of abandonment, which will create the defense of pursuing.
All of the above happened unconsciously.
In Imago, we seek to live and love consciously and intentionally. We learn to listen with curiosity, empathy and compassion. We know that much of our partner’s pain is about the past, and we are our partner’s healer. We know that ultimately what our partner asks of us actually matures us and makes us better people. We live into the 80% or more that is going very well, and address the 20% calmly and maturely. We create joy, passion and connection by having fun again, and we do this intentionally and behaviorally.
So the answer to the question is: “It is not too late, and your relationship can and should be saved”. Conflict is supposed to happen because it creates new and necessary growth and a stronger connection as each conflict holds opportunity for greater understanding. Couples all over the world limp into workshops wounded by each other, and in two days time, walk out with restored connection, understanding and hope. It is not too late to discover the new way to live and love. Why not resolve to start the year with renewed hope and a strengthened commitment?
When worry and anxiety hijack our minds, it feels awful. Symptoms of anxiety include tightening in the chest, racing heart, muscle tension, sweating, breathing problems, worry and obsessing about what is “wrong”. Taken to the extreme, we may experience panic. I would do anything to avoid a panic attack, and I’m sure you would too! That is one monster I can live without.
So let’s do that. Let’s live with minimal anxiety and certainly without panic. Really? Sure, why not? Let’s start today. Right this minute, even! Take a slow deep breath, and release. Put your arms over your head and take another slow deep inhale. Now exhale so that you can hear it. Like a slow sigh. Now stretch your body — neck rolls, shoulder rolls, arms up and out, then down, then back, belly, and legs and ankles and toes. Move your feet and hands around in circles. Still breathing slow deep breaths. See if you can relax your muscles into the gravity, paying particular attention to facial muscles, head neck and shoulders. Take a slow deep breath, and exhale on the count of eight. Close your eyes for a moment and think of the word GRATITUDE. What are you grateful for?
Fundamentally, realize all that is going well. We have this amazing brain that can create solutions to problems, that can think proactively about what is needed to address challenges and create the life we want. Challenges help us grow and mature, even heal old hurts. Life requires us to grow up, and oddly enough, maturity restores joy! I am grateful for the lessons I’ve learned that have helped me do this and I’ll bet you are, too. I am grateful I can watch this sun rise and see the moon over my head. I am grateful for so much that is going well. I am grateful for my breath, for my senses, for my ability to walk and ability to notice birds and squirrels, dogs and babies in strollers. I am grateful for the all important concept of CHOICE, the ability to choose to see these as connections in life rather than painful reminders of what I don’t have. Without exercising our ability to choose thoughts, we may default into negativity, which is addictive and anxiety producing. So by choosing to focus on the CONNECTION THAT IS LIFE, we live into the 80+ percent that is going very well.
Still breathing slowly, think of all that is going well right now. And problems? Well, life hands us problems so we can learn and mature. Problems are challenges that help us overcome negativity, discover new abilities, new parts of our self and be more creative in seeking solutions lovingly. Our most effective problem solving strategy will come out of this positive and rational thinking rather than fear. Fear-based thinking comes from the “reptile brain”, and solutions come from our cerebral cortex. I’d much rather have the life run according to my human brain than my reptile fight/flight brain.
We have within us much wisdom and problem solving ability when we slow down and listen. Listen to the rhythm of nature. Listen as we notice our senses and what they take in. Listen as we create new solutions using positive, creative thoughts and behaviors. Lose the fear and negativity. Live into all that is going well. Frame worries as challenges that have solutions and seek those lovingly. Address problems positively.
Still breathing slowly, decide what you DO want for your life. Spend your valuable time and thinking ability seeking what is possible and desirable rather than worrying. Practice this each and every day and notice how much improves, including and especially health! Many physical and mental disorders are COMPLETELY avoided when we manage stress positively. And life’s challenges get addressed so much more effectively.
Long term, make this a lifestyle that includes enjoyable exercise, laughter, fun, and seek relationships and experiences that call these forth and improve the quality of life. I believe life is meant to be lived in joy.
Now stretch your body again, take a deep cleansing breath, and release.
Hope that helps.
On my Couples Therapy Intake Form, I ask a question: “On a scale of 1 – 10, how committed are you
to improving your relationship”? Most people answer with a 10. Once the decision is made to work on the relationship, we are all in! But wait… did I say “work” on the relationship? Yes I did. Improving the relationship does take work. Not laborious work; it’s more like effort at becoming mindful:
1) Of the reality that you are sharing your life with someone who is different from you (not wrong – just different!)
2) Of old habits and patterns and intentionally replacing them with more effective tools.
3) Of the fact that relationships need positive nourishment, like romance, dates, fun, appreciation and caring behaviors.
Falling in love is so easy, and the chemistry of those first few months together creates a blissful existence. After a while, the chemistry fades, and we feel dissatisfied, disappointed, maybe even devastated that our needs are not getting met. This usually creates a need to defend against the hurt, usually either by pulling back or pursuing. These defenses cause more pain, and the pain becomes so great that many couples end their relationship there. (The problem with ending the relationship at this stage is that you’ll likely go through the same process again with a new person, and end up in the same painful place.) Other couples stay, but live a dissatisfying, unhappy life together characterized by either fighting or withdrawal. What many couples don’t realize is that they are often repeating patterns learned way back in childhood. Communication or defensive tools we picked up that early in life simply do not work. They actually erode the connection we once enjoyed.
There is a better choice, and that is to decide to create a conscious relationship.
The most satisfying, sustainably fulfilling relationships are
created through conscious intention, and the intentional path I recommend is
Schedule a 1.5 hour appointment with me for
Make your second or third appointment a weekend “Getting the Love You Want” workshop.
Continue weekly couples therapy for three months, and/or…
Join my couples group and commit to six months of semi-monthly meetings
This path gives your relationship the initial boost into a restored connection, then you sustain the connection for three months while you and your partner co-create new positive patterns in your brain and lifestyle, so that ultimately you are living in a positive lifestyle that is characterized by fun, romance, connection, great communication, appreciative requests in lieu of complaints, and having each other’s back forever.
“Give me one reason to stay here… and I’ll turn right back around…” -Tracy Chapman, Singer Songwriter
“I’ll give you more than one” – Jeannie Ingram, Relationship Therapist
Relationships naturally present challenges, and usually trigger pain and reactive defenses. Some of these can be scary if we can’t contain strong emotion. At this point, the temptation is to walk away, file for divorce, go out and find another person and start all over. This is the sad state of many in our country, where the divorce rate is 50%.
There is another way.
Here are ten good reasons to stay:
Conflict is growth trying to happen.
The “power struggle” is only a phase in the relationship and it is our portal into “conscious love”.
The Imago tools provide a completely new paradigm for understanding what is happening when we fight with our partner.
Using these tools, you can restore your connection.
Your partner can help you heal.
Learning to use an effective dialogue replaces fighting and childish reactivitiy.
You will both feel deeply understood and validated using the Imago tools.
You will have fun with each other again.
Your relationship will provide deep meaning and profound growth as you discover healing.
You will experience a whole new and rewarding way to love.
I guess I’d have to admit that my all-time favorite fortune cookie was actually a typo, stating that I would have mang children. What on Earth are mang children and how did I get selected by the fortune cookie industry to have them? In any case, it’s given me the giggles mang times over the years, and for that I am grateful on this Thanksgiving eve.
But that’s not all for which I am grateful. My second favorite fortune cookie suggested that if I thought life was too difficult, then perhaps I was taking myself too seriously. The word “perhaps” makes all the difference, doesn’t it? It suggests, rather than mandates. It provides for choice. Well then, perhaps Ishould choose to consider that I am taking myself too seriously?
It’s not that life doesn’t give us difficulties, challenges, but so much of our muck is a loss of perspective, and not consciously choosing our response.
My friend Gary Hales was dying of cancer several years ago. I do believe I learned more about living through this man’s dying process than any other source. Anyone who knew him knew what pure joy in living looked like. He was about the most irreverent person I ever knew, and yet wise beyond description. He had been in remission for ten years, and in his words, “remission, dear, reminds us that every day is gravy. How can you not enjoy”? And he did savor. Even in his most extraordinarily difficult last few months, when he had lost most fine motor coordination (including speech — talk about a reason for gratitude) he was still the funniest person I ever knew.
I went to visit him at his assisted living apartment one day at lunch. He had managed to get himself in the shower but had fallen. There I was, on my lunch break, realizing there’s only one choice, and so I got in the shower with him. I was completely soaked through my clothes, he was completely without his, but not without one shred of dignity, thanks to his sense of humor, so within seconds we were laughing hysterically. Even though his life was ending in the most profoundly difficult circumstances, he was full of joy and laughter — and mischief.
The other lesson came in the preciousness of time. I recall being in a store with him, where the store clerks completely ignored him. Apparently, even if you are DOCTOR Gary Hales, and editor in chief of a medical journal, you are still deemed unworthy of acknowlegement if your walk and talk are not “normal”. I got self-rightous and pounced on the management. Gary, as always, just twinkled, held his left arm out, pointed to his wrist with the other hand, and simply said in his new language, “don’t… have… much… time…please… don’t… waste…” In spite of the speech problems, it worked, and within moments, the manager had comandeered a high-backed executive chair and was rolling him around the store, providing personal shopping services. Gary just winked at me.
It’s hard to imagine more difficult life-circumstances, and yet he kept us laughing and learning til the end, and beyond. The lessons are endless, if you’re not too self-rightous to learn.
Get out of your own way. Perhaps yourself too seriously. Start TODAY enjoying your precious time, by being thankful, being kind, being forgiving, and by finding the humor and joy wherever it exists. Once you start to see it, it’s everywhere.
We have an abundance for which to be Thankful; I’ll start with the life and lessons of Dr. Gary Hales.
This was written by Dr. Jodi Prinzivalli
There is an ancient and well-kept secret to happiness which the Great Ones have known for centuries. They rarely talk about it, but they use it all the time, and it is fundamental to good mental health. This secret is called The Fine Art of Not Being Offended. In order to truly be a master of this art, one must be able to see that every statement, action and reaction of another human being is the sum result of their total life experience to date. In other words, the majority of people in our world say and do what they do from their own set of fears, conclusions, defenses and attempts to survive. Most of it, even when aimed directly at us, has nothing to do with us. Usually, it has more to do with all the other times, and in particular the first few times, that this person experienced a similar situation, usually when they were young. Yes, this is psychodynamic. But let’s face it, we live in a world where psychodynamics are what make the world go around. An individual who wishes to live successfully in the world as a spiritual person really needs to understand that psychology is as spiritual as prayer. In fact, the word psychology literally means the study of the soul. All of that said, almost nothing is personal. Even with our closest loved ones, our beloved partners, our children and our friends. We are all swimming in the projections and filters of each other’s life experiences and often we are just the stand-ins, the chess pieces of life to which our loved ones have their own built-in reactions. This is not to dehumanize life or take away the intimacy from our relationships, but mainly for us to know that almost every time we get offended, we are actually just in a misunderstanding. A true embodiment of this idea actually allows for more intimacy and less suffering throughout all of our relationships. When we know that we are just the one who happens to be standing in the right place at the right psychodynamic time for someone to say or do what they are doing—we don’t have to take life personally. If it weren’t us, it would likely be someone else. This frees us to be a little more detached from the reactions of people around us. How often do we react to a statement of another by being offended rather than seeing that the other might actually be hurting? In fact, every time we get offended, it is actually an opportunity to extend kindness to one who may be suffering—even if they themselves do not appear that way on the surface. All anger, all acting out, all harshness, all criticism, is in truth a form of suffering. When we provide no Velcro for it to stick, something changes in the world. We do not even have to say a thing. In fact, it is usually better not to say a thing. People who are suffering on the inside, but not showing it on the outside, are usually not keen on someone pointing out to them that they are suffering. We do not have to be our loved one’s therapist. We need only understand the situation and move on. In the least, we ourselves experience less suffering and at best, we have a chance to make the world a better place. This is also not to be confused with allowing ourselves to be hurt, neglected or taken advantage of. True compassion does not allow harm to ourselves either. But when we know that nothing is personal, a magical thing happens. Many of the seeming abusers of the world start to leave our lives. Once we are conscious, so-called abuse can only happen if we believe what the other is saying. When we know nothing is personal, we also do not end up feeling abused. We can say, “Thank you for sharing,” and move on. We are not hooked by what another does or says, since we know it is not about us. When we know that our inherent worth is not determined by what another says, does or believes, we can take the world a little less seriously. And if necessary, we can just walk away without creating more misery for ourselves or having to convince the other person that we are good and worthy people. The great challenge of our world is to live a life of contentment, regardless of what other people do, say, think or believe. The fine art of not being offended is one of the many skills for being a practical mystic. Though it may take a lifetime of practice, it is truly one of the best kept secrets for living a happy life. —Dr. Jodi Prinzivalli