Better Relationships ♯10. get better at repair

10. Get Better at RepairSome relationship conflict is inevitable, and using many of the tools such as being able to talk and listen well, knowing when to walk away and agreeing to return when both have cooled down – will support you to understand each other, feel heard and valued, and enable you to work through difficult periods and resolve many issues in a healthy, growthful way.  Essential to this package is being able to repair emotional damage.

When we’re triggered we lose our usual cognitive function. We can become aggressive and punishing and say cruel things we regret later.  This is because when our fear response is activated, we go into reactive, or reptilian brain (so called as its our most primitive, fight or flight reaction that is now running the show). Know that no one can make good decisions when in this state, we’re not rational and unable to feel empathy. When two people are out of control its going to get ugly.

The best thing to do is to separate, take time out alone for a minimum of 30 minutes. That’s how long it takes for our brains to settle down, for our pre-frontal cortex to get back into the drivers seat.  Have an agreed strategy so that when things get over-heated, you leave each other alone, with the knowledge that you will come back to talk later. When this is understood in advance, the risk of blaming the other for walking off is greatly reduced, and the chance that one of you will remember what you need to do at these times is increased.

When you have quietened right down, be prepared to offer some repair. Being able to say “I’m sorry”, “I don’t want us to fight”, offering a hug or just acknowledging how tough it is to be in the soup will really support your connection.  Repair allows us to relax, to feel we’re OK, to know that we care about each other even though there is stuff that needs to be resolved.

If you’re not able to repair damage, the suffering continues, and if it goes on too long it gets stored as a long-term memory. It also gets more difficult to reach out if you’ve not spoken or made eye contact for days.

Accept there will be conflict, but when you learn how to avoid escalation and manage yourselves, it’s not so difficult to reduce the frequency, intensity and recovery time of conflict.  And when we are confident we can recover and reconnect, disagreement become less threatening, and our reptilian reaction is reduced.

 

Out there beyond right doing and wrongdoing
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
Jalal Ad-din Rumi

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Better Relationships ♯9. talk to each other everyday

9. Talk to Each Other EverydayOur partner is the most important other person in our world, and we need frequent contact and conversation to stay attuned to each others lives, to share thoughts and feelings, to explore ideas and make decisions.  We also need to be able to thrash out problems and talk about difficult issues – and it’s much easier to do this if we have a good habit of connecting and communicating.

Never underestimate the value of being with someone who wants to be with you. When facing each other we become attuned to each other’s facial expressions, we notice their body language and micro-communications. We’re sharing an in-the-moment connectedness, and this is profoundly bonding.  Most relationships began with this experience – its what makes us feel loved, heard and understood.

Over time, several things happen that interfere with our capacity to talk openly and intimately. Inevitably couples will not always share the same views and needs, and will face disagreements. This is challenging, and the easier option is to avoid going over old ground and to leave things unsaid.  But the cost is high, leading to a gradual limitation of what is spoken about, and can result in conversations focussing on practical matters, the children or world affairs, anything that is not deeply personal. If talking no longer is about sharing yourselves, then it ceases to be very meaningful or satisfying.  A romantic dinner for a special occasion will be disappointing if conversation doesn’t flow, or if what is talked about causes tension.

Make time for talking – with busy and full lives the natural moments for sitting around together soon evaporate. Like most things worth having, you need to ensure that it does.

Good conversation is one of the high priority emotional needs for many people, and its an important element for all good relationships. When you feel connected to each other, being immersed in conversation and recalling shared experiences is a deep pleasure, and is to know the wonder of having our significant other totally preoccupied with us.

Develop a good habit of talking with each other often, so in the incidental times you’ll find it easy to drop into conversation. You will also find it easier to tackle more difficult issues if you are able to converse well. Like most things, it gets easier the more you do it.

When marrying, ask yourself this question:
Do you believe that you will be able to converse well with this person into your old age? Everything else
in marriage is transitory.
– Friedrich Nietzsche

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Better Relationships ♯8. know your escape routes

8. Know your Escape RoutesIntimate contact is what most of us desire, but for many it’s tricky territory. Deeply loving another is to make them massively important, and that means being vulnerable. And this is a huge risk – they could leave or die.

Everyone has his or her own ways of avoiding intimacy and dropping out of connection. When you begin to identify how you do this, you’ll start to recognise patterns in your couple dance that don’t support your relationship.

This process takes about 30 minutes and can help both partners to see more clearly what is going on.

1.  Using a timer, take a piece of paper and write for 10 minutes – list all the things that upset you about your partner behaviour – focus on the ways they tune out, are not available – their idiosyncratic ways that trigger you to feel disconnected.  Playing with their phone, walking a bit too fast (or slow) when you’re together, working late, not responding to your messages, making plans without consulting you, looking at the ceiling when you’re speaking, playing golf/tennis, hogging the duvet…. You get the idea

Don’t censor – no one else is going to read your list.  Go for it; let yourself be as niggley as you can, it helps to get you into the swing of recognising the ways you are activated by particular behaviours.  Keep writing for 10 minutes

2. Take another sheet of paper, and now write about yourself for 10 minutes.  What are all the ways you avoid contact or connection, what are your own particular escape routes?  Going to bed earlier or later… avoiding sex, making unilateral decisions, talking on mobile when together, watching TV or playing video games, filling up the evenings, making lots of social commitments, DIY on the weekends…

3. Now, give this sheet – the one about you – to you partner. And read what they say about themselves.

Now have a good conversation sharing your lists

  • Do some of your partner’s self-identified habits match the ones you wrote down for them?
  • Do you recognise you both have similar behaviours?
  • Can you see patterns of withdrawal and disconnection? when I do this, he/she tends to do that?
  • Can you remember similar behaviours with one or both of your parents?  Or in a previous relationship?
  • Identify the positive intention of your behaviours. What are you trying to achieve by disconnecting? Feeling safe, not needing to need your partner, disengaging before they do, wanting them to come to comfort you…
  • What are you trying to avoid by this behaviour? Discomfort and insecurity of intimacy, being abandoned, not losing own identity…

This is a good process for self-exploration, and doing it openly with your partner is to talk about difficult stuff at a time when you are not triggered and reactive, but likely to be open and curious about your dynamics.

 

 You may not control all the events
that happen to you,

but you can decide not to be reduced by then. 
– Maya Angelou

 

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Better Relationships ♯7. protect couple time

7. Protect couple timeMost of us have very busy lives. Work and family commitments, household chores and social events can fill all our time.  Unless you make time for each other, it simply won’t happen.   An evening out with friends is great, but its not couple time, family outings on the weekend are a pleasure, but that’s not couple time. Watching TV at the end of a long day can be relaxing, but as a regular diet, this isn’t couple time either.

Couple time is just the two of you, engaged with each other. Willard F Harley Jr, the author of several books on relationship, calls this The policy of Undivided Attention. He recommends couples ensure they schedule a minimum of 15 hours a week alone together. This is time to tune into each other, to engage in activities you both enjoy, to share your day, to explore ideas, to make plans or resolve issues.  Its having time to be fully present with each other. Without devoted couple time, its unlikely you will be able to fulfil each other’s most important emotional needs.

If the relationship comes after all the other commitments and activities, often when we’re too tired to really be available or engaged.  Some people have weekly ‘date nights’.  Others may just stay home, but with intention to spend the evening together alone, without TV, Facebook or phone calls. It may work one afternoon a week to finish early and go for a walk and stop at a pub before dinner.  Some couples are able to meet up at lunchtime, other’s farm out their kids for a weekend and have time for themselves. Be creative, make couple time a priority and see your relationship flourish.

In The Psychology of Romantic Love, David Richo suggests that couples who are estranged from each other, who’s relationship has become lifeless and mechanical, spend 12 hours together alone.  No books, TV or phones, no distractions of any kind, just an entire day in each other’s company with an agreement to talk about personal things (not business or children’ schoolwork or domestic stuff). It’s an interesting experiment, as after a while they will begin to talk about meaningful things. They may make love, they may quarrel… but over time they will drop into a deeper level of intimacy, sharing things perhaps not expressed before, speaking of dreams and longings and opening up to each other in a profound way. They are sharing about themselves, each other and their relationship in a deeply intimate way, in a way that expands their sense of aliveness and connection.

For most couples, the day end happily. But occasionally it ends with the realisation that the relationship may no longer serve the needs of either and that they may not wish to remain together. This understanding will be valuable, as it could help to free two people from an empty marriage.

For people who love each other but do not seem to know how to communicate effectively, a 12-hour session like this a few times a year can produce the most radical changes in the quality of their relationship.  Relationships need time, they need leisure.

 

Where the myth fails, human love begins.
Then we love a human being, not our dream,
but a human being with flaws.
– Anais Nin

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Better Relationships ♯6. ensure you rest and sleep

6. Ensure you Rest and SleepFor many couples, disturbed sleep or lack of sleep is a huge issue and the ripples affect the quality of the relationship. Tired people have less energy and interest for each other, are more irritable and fractious, and tired people are more dissatisfied and negative than well-rested individuals.

And while there is much good science and psychology to prove that getting enough quality sleep means we have more energy, are mentally sharper, less reactive and more emotionally resilient, we rarely brag about taking an afternoon nap, or sitting on a park bench for half an hour. We are more likely to complain we’re busy, stressed, or tired.  And most of us are, because we’re not getting enough downtime.

If we pay attention, our bodies will tell us when we need to rest.  Our circadian rhythms determine when we’re hungry or sleepy, when we need the loo, and when we’re at our sharpest.  We feel a whole lot better if we go with these patterns, rather than try to override them. If you feel a mid afternoon slump, rather than countering fatigue with more coffee or a chocolate bar, take a half hour break and go for a walk or lie down if you can – simply closing your eyes for 10 minutes will be refreshing.

If wakeful children frequently disturb your sleep, look for solutions and keep looking until you have found one. If snoring is an issue, do something about it pronto. There are many things that can help, and snoring will comprise the health and wellbeing of both people, so get it sorted, and preferably not by sleeping in separate rooms.

Our brains secrete Melatonin in the evening when its dark and this makes us sleepy, but its production is regulated by exposure to light.  Spending long days indoors away from natural light can impact your daytime wakefulness and make your brain sleepy. Then bright lights at night—especially from hours spent in front of the TV or computer screen—can suppress your body’s production of melatonin and make it harder to sleep. Use an app for your computer like f.lux, which automatically adjusts the brightness of the screen according to the time of day; warm at night, and like sunlight during the day. So if you are using a computer in the evenings, this could help.

There are ways to naturally regulate your sleep-wake cycle, boost your body’s production of melatonin, and keep your brain on a healthy schedule. Here is some good information, much of it gleaned from www.helpguide.org.

  • Go to bed around the same time, our systems do best with routine
  • Wake up at the same time. This happens naturally if you’re getting enough sleep. You shouldn’t need an alarm.
  • Relax before bed, avoid stimulating activities and that includes just about everything except having sex or reading fiction.
  • Read actual books or use an eReader with a bedside lamp, not a backlit device.
  • Sleep in a cool, dark room without any electrical displays. Use an eye mask if you need to (and keep one for travelling).
  • Have a comfortable bed . You need enough room to stretch and turn comfortably. If you often wake up with a sore back or an aching neck, invest in a new mattress or a try a different pillow.
  • Use your bedroom only for sleep and sex. your brain and body will get a strong signal that it’s time to nod off or be romantic.
  • Limit caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine at night. All are stimulants and interfere with the quality of sleep.
  • Increase exposure to daylight. Spend time in sunlight, sit close to a window, and if necessary, use a light box simulating daylight in winter months.
  • Take a nap to make up for lost sleep, rather than sleeping late, so you pay off sleep debt without disturbing your sleep-wake rhythm.

No matter what your age, sleeping well is essential to your physical health and emotional wellbeing, and so vital to your primary relationship.

 

 True silence is the rest of the mind, and is to the spirit what sleep is to the body, nourishment and refreshment.  – William Penn

 

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Better Relationships ♯5. initiate sex

5. Intiate SexUnless both partners are initiators, things in the bedroom very soon get out of balance. The initiator will tire of their role and become resentful, and sex becomes a point of friction. If the initiator gives up, this can be a relief to the other, or it may be a disappointment – interpreted as the initiator lacking interest in them. This is a common reason that people stop having sex.

In every relationship one partner will be more interested in having sex than the other. It may be a woman or a man.  Dr David Schnarch identifies this as the High Desire Partner (HDP) and the Low Desire Partner (LDP). Know that there will be a difference in desire – it may be nominal, it may change over time (or alter in different relationships) or it can be major point of distress and conflict.  Whatever the disparity, the reality is that the LDP controls the sex – this means sex isn’t going to happen unless the low desire partner is willing.

Sex is an essential element of a good relationship – all those bonding hormones and delicious contact makes us feel good, so all you LDPs need to take responsibility for ensuring it is part of your shared life. Even if you are not feeling sexual, often just making the decision to do it changes how you feel and once you get started, you warm to it. How often have you said (or thought) that was great, we should do it more often?

Loss of libido will happen during stressful times and at different life stages, and over time our sexuality changes (for some becoming more dynamic and meaningful in mid age and beyond). In all relationships, sexuality fluctuates but in good relationships the biggest element is desire for our partner. We may not always feel hot and bothered yet still have enthusiasm for sexual connection with our beloved.

Its well accepted that there are four stages to sexual response; desire, arousal, orgasm and resolution, but new research shows that these stages may not necessarily happen in this order for all women.  Many women need to feel aroused before they have desire.  This changes the picture completely. Most women will recognise this experience; You’re having a nice time together, and he comes on to you. You’re not feeling any sexual desire, but now there is pressure to respond or not, and better to fend him off before hope turns to expectation.  But this new information means that if you go with it, and just allow yourself to be open to becoming aroused, you may begin to feel desire, and if not, you’ve stayed responsive and this alone expands your intimate connection.

When both partners are initiators, the occasions when one is unresponsive to the other’s advances will be far more benign. When rejection is not an established pattern, when is giving in is not ‘mercy fucking’, making love can be a shared intimacy where each is free to express themselves without coercion or resentment.

Sex is one of the first casualties in most couple difficulties. There are many things that will get in the way of having good sex –or having sex at all.  So give it attention, talk openly about it, and if its a big stumbling block, then get some help.

 

There are two kinds of sex, classical and baroque. Classical sex is romantic, profound, serious, emotional, moral, mysterious, spontaneous, abandoned, focused on a particular person, and stereotypically feminine.

Baroque sex is pop, playful, funny, experimental, conscious, deliberate, amoral, anonymous, focused on sensation for sensation’s sake, and stereotypically masculine.

Ideally, a sexual relation ought to create a satisfying tension between the two modes or else blend them so well that the distinction disappears.

– Ellen Willis

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Better Relationships #4 Choose your partners, again

4. Choose your Partner – AgainHow we came to be with the person we married has a bearing on the relationship.  The familiar story is that people fall in love, and have some time before deciding to commit to each other.  But there are countless ways people end up together including unspoken or unacknowledged fears; the fear of being alone, of not having a family, fear of being a single parent, fear of acknowledging homosexuality, fear of financial insecurity… plus other drivers that may have played a big part in why you married who you did.

I always ask couple clients to tell the story of how they met and got together. There is lots of information in what they say. Considering that what has brought these two people into my consulting room is some distress in the relationship, its interesting to see how some couples light up remembering the past. They recall important words or gestures, and tell of the challenges and delights of being in love. Sometimes it’s as if the story is separate from the other person in the room, happy memories of a bygone time, the gorgeous wedding, told in a way that is not easily recognised by the partner.   And sometimes the story lacks energy, and faces remain unchanged in the telling.  Some clients had arranged marriages, as its common in some cultures that family can be relied on to help select a suitable partner. The stories of these couples is equally important, as there is still a process of selection, but often with more realistic expectations than those marrying for love.  (The ‘success’ rate of arranged marriages is about equal to that of love marriages.)

I often ask clients “who chose who?” – either one or both people actively chose the other. If only one chose, there can be an imbalance, and the one chosen may withhold – they don’t need to really commit, as they are married.  There may be many reasons for not choosing – your partner was so clear and certain, you didn’t need to be. Perhaps it all happened quite fast because of pregnancy, travel or visas.

For couples who fell in love, they have the experience of a free sample of what is possible, and it can be the glue for staying together through difficult times.  But it can also create an attachment to ‘how things ought to be’, with the goal being to return to the honeymoon phase – and that can get in the way of resolving difficulties successfully.

For couples whose experience strays from some fairytale beginning, acknowledging the reality of their own story can be very positive.  To see what brought them together and what they have created as a couple, opens the way to change. And it’s never too late to choose.  If you know you want the relationship, you are choosing your partner. To arrive at a place where you want to say “I choose you” is a loving commitment.

The present changes the past.
Looking back you do not find what you left behind.
– Kiran Desai

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The Art of Possibility – transforming professional and personal life

The Art of Possibility
The Art of Possibility offers a set of breakthrough practices for creativity in all human enterprises. Infused with the energy of their dynamic partnership, the book joins together Ben’s extraordinary talent as a mover and shaker, teacher, and communicator, with Rosamund Stone Zander’s genius for creating innovative paradigms for personal and professional fulfillment. In lively counterpoint, the authors provide us with a deep sense of the powerful role that the notion of possibility can play in every aspect of our lives.

The Zanders’ deceptively simple practices are based on two premises: that life is composed as a story (“it’s all invented”) and that, with new definitions, much more is possible than people ordinarily think. The book shifts our perspective with uplifting stories, parables, and anecdotes from the authors’ personal experiences as well as from famous and everyday heroes. From “Giving an A,” to the mysterious “Rule Number 6,” to “Leading from Any Chair”-the account of Ben’s stunning realization that the conductor/leader’s power is directly linked to how much greatness he is willing to grant to others-each practice offers an opportunity for personal and organizational transformation.

The Art of Possibility provides a life-altering approach to fulfilling dreams large and small. The Zanders invite us all to become passionate communicators, leaders, and performers whose lives radiate possibility into the world.

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Better Relationships ♯3. ask for what you want

3. Ask for what you wantIf you expect your partner to know what you want without you expressing it, then you are looking for a parent, not a partner.  As very young children we rely on our parents intuitively fulfilling our needs. It’s wonderful to be fed, nurtured and loved for just being. It is unconditional love and our survival depends on it throughout the early, pre-verbal years and beyond.  We need our parents to regulate our emotions, to comfort us when frightened and to put us to bed when tired.  One of the biggest tasks of childhood is gradually learning to self-regulate; to manage our own feelings, to delay gratification, to handle difficult situations, to ask for what we need and to be able to handle ourselves when our needs are not met.

Adult love is not unconditional, our partners are not our parents and it’s not their job to read our minds or to just know what we want. Just as its not our job to intuit their expectations and desires. We have language for that.

Get good at being able to express your needs and wants clearly, and not just when you feel disappointed.  Know that being able to communicate what you need doesn’t mean you will always get it, but you do have a better chance than if you don’t express it.

Share your wants, and this applies across the board – if you’ve had some bad news and need a hug, ask for one.  If you don’t have much energy and want a quiet weekend, say so before your partner commits to social plans. When you can clearly express what you both want, it’s much easier to be creative about how to satisfy needs, even when they differ.

Sex is an important area that requires us to ask for what we want. We all want our sensual efforts to be well received, we want to please our partner, and most of us welcome clues about how to do that. We may still be doing ‘what works’ because in the past it got a good response. We won’t suggest trying that new position, as the reaction was underwhelming five years ago when it was first (and last) mentioned.

I sometimes hear men say they wish their partners would tell them want they want sexually.  One reason can be because their women don’t actually know themselves, and talking opens the way to discovery. Sometimes we’re not explicit because we’re afraid it would mean saying what we don’t like –and that feels awkward or unkind.  Get over it. It much more awkward and unkind not sharing your true feelings in this most sensitive area.

Unless you talk about how and where you want to be touched, that you want to slow it right down, or that you like the idea of sex in the kitchen… unless you share your fears and resistances, and express delight in discovering the dizzy pleasure of a particular activity ­– you’re not practicing being better lovers, and you’re not going to experience an ever expanding range of possibilities. Sex is communication, and communication is also guiding your lover, it’s speaking up, it means expressing yourself openly.  It means taking risks.

 

This process of the good life is not, I am convinced, a life for the faint-hearted. It involves the stretching and growing
and becoming more and more
of one’s potentialities.
It involves the courage to be. It means launching oneself fully into the stream of life
.
– Carl Rogers

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Better Relationships ♯2. daily physical contact

2. daily physical contactCouples who have frequent physical contact are generally happier than those who don’t.  Touch is a powerful way of communicating love, care and empathy. Embracing helps us to connect to ourselves and is a potent way of getting in touch with our loved one.  A hug is a great way to start the day, and a delightful way of switching back into connection when we return to each other.

People often tell me they don’t hug, because they don’t feel like hugging. If you’re waiting for the right feeling, you may be waiting a long time. Just do it, and notice how the feelings soon follow.

Embracing and being embraced does many things to our system, it takes us out of our heads and into our bodies –if we allow it, so give it time. Being in close physical contact allows us to really feel our partner, to know their body, their heartbeat, their smell, their breathing. It’s a powerful human need that we know in our cells from the moment we are born.  Being held reminds us we are safe, we are loved and we are valued. It’s a basic human need.  It can also be a subtle minefield for some.

In Dr David Schnarch’s superb book, Intimacy & Desire, he has a simple and rather wonderful exercise called Hugging Till Relaxed.

This is all you do:

  • Stand on your own two feet
  • Put your arms around your partner
  • Focus on yourself
  • Quieten yourself down.

There can be a great deal going on with this simple process. Allowing your partner to hold you, and holding your partner, triggers issues for most couples.  It involves relaxing your body and mind by focusing on your body while you’re in broad physical contact.  Getting physically comfortable may take a while –keeping your balance, feeling grounded, not leaning or being leant upon, releasing held tension, being comfortable, breathing normally all take a while to get right.  You may need to release each other and reconnect, and speak quietly to get comfortable.

The idea is to keep hugging till you both let go inside, and relax. And then stay hugging to enjoy it a bit longer if you like. But it may take several times before you can really relax. Just keep on practicing it.  This exercise can take anything from 5 – 20 minutes.

Hugging till relaxed highlights how connection with your partner requires a solid connection with yourself.  We can’t avoid this inherent paradox; when you’re alienated from your own experience, you have no basis to feel or connect with your spouse. You have to go inward first to make a connection with yourself.  It is a tangible way to teach yourselves to stand on your own feet, physically and emotionally, while you’re also close to your partner.

As with sex, you can do hugging till relaxed at different depths of involvement. You can go through the motions superficially –and for some, this is an important first step.  You can reach a stage where you centre yourself effortlessly. You stop focussing on your partner; you stop wondering what he’s thinking or worrying if he’s having a bad time. You do more than contain yourself, you quiet yourself to a profound calm.

Your task is not to seek for love,
but merely to seek and find all the barriers
within yourself that you have built against it.
― Jalal Ad-din Rumi

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