When Do I Confront My Spouse?

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“I can’t stand it anymore!” Says my client who is clearly distraught

“What can’t you stand,” I say in my most empathetic tone of voice, though I know from experience their next statement is going to strain my patience.

“They never put the cap on the toothpaste tube and it dribbles out all over the counter – I don’t think I can live with him anymore”

 

It may sound crazy but this is the substance of most of the conflict in our homes. We seem to turn seemingly trivial offenses into grounds for divorce. The underlying truth is these arguments are rarely about the toothpaste tubes in our lives? Our conflict is at a much deeper level. Here are some examples that I have seen:

  • He doesn’t clean up, therefore, he doesn’t care about me

  • She is late therefore she doesn’t think I’m important

  • He didn’t remember to pick up milk on the way home, therefore, he doesn’t love me

  • She bought an expensive dress, therefore, she doesn’t respect me.

All of these events are interpreted through the lens of our own insecurity regarding the relationship and therefore validate our underlying assumption. For example, did the husband consciously decide to make a statement about his lack of love for his wife when he forgot to bring home the milk? Or did the wife say, “I’m really going to stick it to him” when she bought that dress?  No! But we act like they did and therefore judge our spouse’s actions as if we were prosecuting a murder trial and have found the smoking gun. This leaves our spouse feeling misjudged and condemned saying things like … “relax, it’s only a toothpaste tube!”

But it isn’t a toothpaste tube … it’s much more, it’s how we experience relationships.

Let me propose an alternative. John Gottman in his 45 years of research into marriages has concluded that good marriages have the ability to default to the positive. This means that when something happens that could be interpreted negatively it is instead seen in the context of overall positive experiences and therefore overlooked as an isolated negative event. In what he calls “good enough marriages” this happens often. Couples just don’t make a big deal of all the little irritations that happen in their relationship because they are fundamentally secure in their mutual love for one another.

But this doesn’t mean that you should let everything slip by. Sometimes our spouse does something that we simply must confront for the good of the marriage (not to mention our sanity)

And here in lays the challenge, when should we confront and when should we just let it slide?

Below is a visual for what I refer to as the Tolerance Line.


The Tolerance Line.png

 

Those things that are below the Tolerance Line you let go but when something rises above this line that is when you must address it.

Some may be asking, “Why don’t we just let everything go?”

Because when something happens that is at the core of the vision you have for your life or your relationship you must confront or be in danger of losing yourself. Healthy conflict is a golden door to intimacy because it is where you define your values, dreams, desires, hopes, and beliefs. In short, it is where you draw the boundary lines around who you are as a person. If you lose that, then you lose yourself, and if you lose yourself then you can’t possibly be in a healthy relationship with another person. This is because there is no authentic person to connect with in the relationship. When we enter into a healthy conflict we allow ourselves to be seen and known because the situation we are addressing is in some way touching one or more of these vital areas. How are we to know each other unless we talk about the things that cause us distress?

The key to this type of healthy conflict is when we carefully consider what to let go and what to talk about. And if we choose wrongly (i.e. we fail to have the courage to confront) these are some of the consequences we experience.

  • Unresolved anger

  • Passive aggressive behavior

  • Isolation

  • Lack of intimacy

  • Loss of self

How do you know the difference? Here are some principles for bringing up issues that cross our Tolerance Line.

Is it trivial?

If it is trivial, then let it go. This means that we stop being oversensitive and realize that somethings just don’t rise to the level of confrontation. Let’s face it, our spouse is much different than we are (that is one of the main reasons we are in the relationship) therefore they are going to think and act differently than we do. This means there are going to many, many times when we just need to step back and say in our best French accent “vive la différence!”

Is it about me?

By this I mean, is this our issue and not theirs? Are my unhealed emotional wounds being triggered? Am I asking those in my life to walk on “egg shells” because I have a problem with crunching sounds? (yes, I am speaking metaphorically … I hope!) If this is your issue then you must not put the burden on them to accommodate your problem. This means you need to get serious about your own healing. I believe that part of the healing process is to let those closest to us into the process by telling them where we are struggling. But this is a far different conversation than the condemnation, shaming or otherwise controlling behavior we often exhibit when our insecurities are triggered.

Will this negatively affect our relationship?

Is this is something that will not go away, and will create distance between us if left unchecked? If so, then it has crossed the Tolerance Line even if you don’t want to confront it. Sometimes when the Tolerance Line is crossed it is not accompanied by our strong emotions. Sometimes, we need to become courageous and speak even when we are loathed to do so.

Will this negatively affect my spouse in other areas of their life?

We are our brother’s (and sister’s) keepers, and a part of the commitment to our marriage is a willingness to watch each other’s back. This means that when we see our spouse do something that will sabotage their life in some other area we must confront it. Not merely when our own comfort zone has been violated. This is love: “To do what is in the best interest of the other person, no matter what!”

Can I put aside my prejudice and judgments and listen to their side?

We are not ready to confront until we are ready to listen. Why is this when we clearly see that something they are doing is wrong? Two reasons come to mind.

  1. They will not listen to us if we don’t listen to them. Yes, what Teddy Roosevelt said many years ago is still true. “People don’t care how much you know unless they know how much you care.” One of the chief ways we show that we care is when we take the time and effort to understand their reality by listening to them. This shows ultimate respect and when someone feels respected they will most likely offer up the same honor.

  2. When we listen (I mean listen for understanding and empathy) to our spouse it helps us discern if we have been thinking wrongly. Yes, when we believe that someone has crossed the Tolerance Line we often can’t see ourselves clearly. We think we have a righteous argument but in reality, we are just being self-righteous. Confrontation with humility and a willingness to listen and learn is the greatest safeguard for this condition.

Am I willing to share my vulnerable emotions?

Nobody likes being confronted by an angry person. It is the surest way to end any chance of a successful compromise by creating a defensive response. We need to lead with an emotion that will draw them in and help create an atmosphere of understanding. In Gottman terms, this is called a “soft startup”. Think of it this way. If you saw a person on the street ranting and raving, waving their arms in anger would you walk up to them and ask them what’s going on? No! You’d cross to the other side of the street or even call the Cops. But if you saw someone sad and crying you’d probably be tempted to walk over and ask if you could do something to help. That’s the difference between soft and hard emotions? Sadness, confusion, fear, loneliness and the like draw others closer to us but anger, hostility, aggression repel them. Next time someone crosses your Tolerance Line lead with a soft emotion and see what a difference it will make to their receptivity.

The bottom line in all Tolerance Lines is forgiveness.

Forgiveness does not restore a relationship but it does empty the relationship of the toxins that keep people stuck in the revolving door of resentment and retribution. If you want to be in a relationship you will need to get very, very good at forgiveness. Even if someone has crossed your Tolerance Line there is still no excuse for not to forgiving them, no matter how many times they do it. Yes, you may need to confront them, and yes there may be no successful outcome but that does not mean that you have the right to remain in a state of unforgiveness. Forgiveness does not guarantee reconciliation but unforgiveness does guarantee continued conflict. Forgiveness is a gift you give to yourself that keeps your heart from growing cold and hard and allows you to grow in love, peace, and joy. 

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 Click here to download a free version of the Tolerance Line illustration

Making Sense Out of Your Partners Nonsense

Learn to Decode Your Partner's "Reality"
 

Ever had this happen – Your partner gets upset about something that seems to you like a trifle. So you downplay it or ignore it and then all hell breaks loose. When you pick yourself up off the floor you are left scratching your head wondering, “What just happened here? All I did was …” Your partner wasn’t logical, reasonable or even slightly made a bit of sense so how do you respond? If you’re like most of us you do one of the following.

  • Close your eyes to the illogic and move on
  • Try to engage in a rational, reasonable manner
  • Put your foot down and assert your right to common sense

But none of these options really work, do they? Because –

  • If you close your eyes to it you end up bumping into it over and over again
  • If you try to engage, you end up going down the black hole and lose your way
  • When you put your foot down it just makes the gap between you larger by filling it with resentment.

So what are you to do when there seems like there are no viable options?

When you encounter the irrational remember this – It’s rational in that person’s world, you just need to better understand their world.

Yes, you heard me right. You are dealing with someone who has a different reality than yours so there will be times when their rationale will also be different. If you ever want to communicate – much less have an intimate relationship, you will need to be able to understand their reality.

But you say, “I didn’t sign up to be a part of someone else’s reality!” You did when you entered into the relationship, for every time we enter into a relationship we are choosing to interact with another person’s reality. Think of it like traveling abroad. When you step off the plane you are now entering into a country with a different set of laws and customs. Yes, there will be a lot of similarities to home but there will be a lot of things you don’t understand and may seem illogical.

Okay, now I’m going to throw you a curveball – sometimes your partner won’t even understand their own reality! Yes, that’s right, we all do things, feel things and say things and we are clueless why. That’s because we humans are great at ignoring our emotions and not tending to our hearts. We think we can just push through childhood trauma or ignore our emotional wounds. But they end up coming back to bite us through our feelings and thoughts that often sabotage our lives. We experience “irrational” fears when we attempt to move forward in our career or feelings of shame when we try to engage in close relationships.

“Okay, now I’m really confused. You’re telling me to try to understand the reality behind my partner’s irrational actions and now you’re telling me they may not even know why they are feeling the way they’re feeling? I give up!”

Real relationships are not for wimps! We all need to roll up our sleeves and try to understand our partner’s world as well as help them try to understand their own world. Believe me, there is logic in there somewhere. Here are a couple of examples of illogical logic.

  • A person who continually blows up every relationship that gets too deep even those they desperately desire to intimacy? Irrational right? Wrong! In their world, if you get too close you will find out who they truly are and reject them. They are protecting themselves from that pain.
  • A person who never accepts the promotion at work even though it would mean more money, more opportunity, and much more satisfying work. Irrational right? Wrong! In their world, they are certain that they are incompetent and the promotion would only reveal that fact.

How do you live with illogical logic?

You say to yourself, “This makes sense in their universe, I just need to understand it and maybe help them understand it”

You slow down the conversation and begin to ask clarification questions. For example:

  • “So what is your greatest fear about this?”
  • “Have you felt this way before about other situations?”
  • “What was it like in your family when this happened?”
  • “Help me understand what you need?”

Believe me, I am not saying this is easy. But if you are willing to choose to discover rather than judge there are great rewards for those who want to enter into this level of real relationships.

  

As always, if you are needing any help or I can be of any service just reach out via email at connect@totalwellnesscenter.net.

Who’s Going to Plug the Relationship Leak?

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You are out on a lake in your rowboat on a beautiful day with four of your friends when you notice your feet are wet. You look down and realize that the water is up to your ankles as someone shouts, “there’s a hole in the boat.” You and your friends quickly convene a meeting to discuss the options.

One friend says let’s just ignore the hole because “we probably won’t sink”.e

Another friend begins to blame the others in the boat and says, “someone should have noticed the defect before you left the shore.”

One sits smugly with arms crossed and says, “this teaches you all to take boat maintenance more seriously.”

You notice another friend is totally disengaged from the conversation, staring off into the distance. When you ask them why they say, “they’re looking for another boat”

At this point, you’re feeling desperate because the water is creeping up past your shins. You shout, “someone plug that #$@! leak!”

So what does this have to do with relationships? Actually quite a bit. The international renown research psychologist Dr. John Gottman believes that one of the key indicators of a healthy, thriving marriage is the ability to recover when something happens to put a hole in your “relationship boat.” This hole could be as simple as a thoughtless remark – the fact is, you can’t be in a relationship long before someone puts a hole in your boat.

Gottman calls this effort to plug the leak a “repair attempt.” When repair attempts are made and accepted it is indicative of a healthy marriage. When repair attempts are not attempted or rejected it is a symptom of a troubled relationship.  

So why don’t we plug the leaks in our relationships? Just like the four friends in the leaky boat we have reasons to let our relationship slowly sink.

The Ignorer: This is the one who thinks if you ignore the hole it will go away. Yes, we really do this and guess what, my counseling room is full of couples who have chosen this option. The reality is if you ignore the small holes in your relationship you will find yourself swimming … alone.

The Blamer: This Tactic is to put the responsibility of healing the relationship “hole” on the other person. The problem with this tactic is you go down with the boat too. Not to smart, right?

The Punisher: This is the person who thinks that not addressing the leak in the relationship will somehow teach the other person a lesson. The major problem with this strategy is that it loses sight of the overarching goal – an intimate marriage. Intimacy in a relationship never comes from our dictating the terms of the relationship. It comes from being able to freely express our feelings and desires and allowing our partner to do the same. That means when we see the hole, address the hole!

The Escape Artist: This person’s strategy for dealing with the leaks is to look outside the relationship for a solution. They disengage from any meaningful problem solving and emotionally distance themselves. The Escape Artist is always looking for the next option when the present relationship requires them to do something uncomfortable or confrontational.    

So how do we repair a leaky relationship?

Here are some thoughts:

Take responsibility for your own feelings.

Don’t assume that your partner is aware of how you feel. It is quite possible they are totally oblivious to your hurt. This is because each person has their own perception of reality. A great amount of damage is done to a relationship when we mistakenly think that our reality is their reality. I can’t tell you how many times I have been confronted with this fact. I have been hurt by something someone said and harbor resentment only to discover that they are totally clueless as to why I am upset.

Commit to sharing how you feel in a respectful, non-critical way

Yes, you can tell your partner that you have noticed the hole in your boat in a way that doesn’t cause them to get defensive or dismissive. Here’s how:

  • When (name the actual event without embellishment or subjective criticism)
  • I felt (name the emotions you felt without giving up your own responsibility for feeling them)
  • I need (name what you are requesting from your partner that would help plug the hole)

Yes, I know this is not easy when you’ve been triggered emotionally. You may need to take a few minutes to calm yourself so that you can talk to your partner with a rational mind. Many of us have developed some pretty bad relational patterns that leave every repair attempt in tatters. In fact, some of us instead of plugging the hole take out a knife and put a dozen more holes in the boat. Not smart, I know but very human.

If you find yourself getting wet in your relationship take heart, you can learn these skills if you don’t lose hope, stay humble and keep the ultimate goal before you. To love and be loved in return.

If we can be of any help to you don’t hesitate to reach out to us. And if you’d like to receive our regular blogs and postings please sign up for our weekly updates below. 

Want a Happier Relationship? Get This Book!

Why you should read the ABCs of Love.

In my practice, I often use the illustration of the three domains of awareness. I draw a circle and then divide it into pie-shaped thirds.

The first third I write, “What we know we know.” We all know we know certain things, like how to drive a car or cook a frozen pizza.

In the second third, I write, “What I know I don’t know.” This is also a fairly simple category for us to understand. I know I don’t know how to fly an airplane and I know I don’t know how to make a souffle.

When I come to the third domain of awareness I write in the circle, “What I don’t know I don’t know.”  Then I turn to my client (with a bit of a mischievous smile) and ask what don’t you know what you don’t know? They work on this conundrum for a while before I tell them there’s no way they can answer that question because if they did it would be in the domain of what they know they don’t know.

I then explain to them that many of the things that are not going well in their life are found in this domain. These are the unconscious and unexamined areas of their lives that typically cause the greatest pain and suffering. We then set a goal to explore this domain with the purpose of uncovering those hidden hindrances to a successful life and creating competencies.

But the big question is how do we explore an area where we have no conscious awareness?  Here are some of the ways:

  1. Look at your emotions and begin to ask why you feel the way you do. Our emotions often hang out in the third domain when our intellect is locked out.
  2. Explore the universal truths of the way humans interact and build relationships. You are both unique and common. How we successfully exist with other humans is something that has been rigorously studied.
  3. Develop a keener understanding of your family of origin and its effect on you. For most of us, we consider the home we grew up in as “normal.”  Therefore, we reproduce the beliefs and behaviors that are most ordinary to us. This especially gets us in trouble when we are in a relationship with another human who comes from a family whose “normal” is different from yours.

It is for these reasons that I encourage you to read “The ABCs of Love.” It will help you move from “Not knowing what you don’t know” to “knowing what you don’t know” with the hope that your new awareness will help you break free from the unconscious traps that are keeping your relationships from being intimate and satisfying. Dr. Shulman does this by exploring the way humans build relationships.She grounds her short concise chapters on solid, empirically based relationship theories and does it in a way that is both personally engaging and easily understood. I also love that Dr. Shulman does not speak from some lofty academic perch but uses her own failed relational attempts as examples of how she went from not knowing to knowing. If you want to grow in your relationships this is a must read!

The ABCs of Love bookcover.jpg

What I Learned About Relationships From Walter - My Rescue Dog.

LOVE DOESN'T HAVE TO STINK ......

Wonderful Walter 2017

Wonderful Walter 2017

This is Walter – he is a 105 pound Rotty/Shepherd that we adopted from a local rescue, Whiskers and Tails in Rancho Palos Verdes, CA.  We quickly learned he loves to chase squirrels and eat all insects that fly -  including wasps. In fact,  he has a little Ninja that makes up his unique quirky personality.  When it gets dark he loves to patrol the back yard protecting us from … well only he knows and he’s sworn to the Ninja code of silence.

The other night he was patrolling the perimeter and we heard an unusual commotion so I ran out to see what was happening. It didn't take long to figure out what was going on because within less than a second I smelled it …... A SKUNK.   Yes, an unsuspecting Walter had come face to face....well, not exactly face to face but you get the picture, of the smelly works delivered by Mr. Skunk.

Quickly into the bathtub (ever bathed a stinky 100-pound dog 10:30 at night?).  We quickly surfed the internet for the "magic" formula to remove skunk odor and found a website that "guaranteed" the homemade solution would work.  My wife started mixing the potion and I got to work on Walter.  One hour later we had a 100 pound dog that reeked of wet fur and skunk wildly running through the house.   It has now been over a week and guess what – Walter still stinks. And not only Walter but whatever Walter touched smells too!

So now I can hear you thinking … “so sorry for Walter but what the heck does that have to do with relationships?”

Thank you for asking. 

Sometimes the stink from a fight, a careless word, or thoughtless action can stink up a relationship for days, weeks or even years. It often only takes a small thing for that odor to arise and stink up our relationship all over again. I admit it’s hard to remove the odor of a hurt. The pain lingers long like Walter’s smell. But unlike poor Walter, we actually have a choice how long we will allow our relationships to be polluted by these things.

After all who wants to smell bad to their partner?

Here are four steps you can take.

  1. Admit that you were hurt: Sometimes our pride gets in the way of our healing. We think we shouldn’t feel what we’re feeling so we go into denial mode but in reality, we’re just allowing the wound to infect other areas of our lives.
  2.  Forgive: Forgiveness is a unilateral is a gift we give to ourselves so that we don’t carry the heavy burden of resentment and anger throughout our life. Forgiveness does not mean that you minimize the wound – only that you choose to heal.
  3. Reconcile: If possible share with your partner how you were hurt and attempt to find a new way of relating to each other. Keep in mind that this requires that you both be willing to see each other’s perspective to get beneath the surface. In every harmful human interaction, there is always something deeper that is causing it. When this is understood it will change the whole dynamic of the relationship and create an opportunity for healing and avoiding entering back into the conflict.
  4. Let it go: Yes, we can also choose to let go of whatever it was that is stinking up our relationships. This means refusing to bring it up … ever!

Walter is smelling much better now, okay, he still smells like a dog but not like a skunk. The real question is what do you and I smell like? 

If this is helpful (I hope) please share it and become a subscriber. We promise we won't "stink" up your inbox. :-)

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Alone – In a Relationship

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Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the greatest poverty of all
— Mother Teresa

Every relationship goes through tough times where one or both partners feel isolated and disconnected from each other. We are complicated creatures and the ability to fit our lives together for any length of time will inevitably produce conflict. If that conflict is not handled well (and it usually isn’t) it will create hurt feelings. Those hurt feelings can turn to resentment and then grow into long standing bitterness. If this pattern continues the couple will gradually feel increasingly distant and loneliness will set in. Many times the externals of the marriage remain in place; the house is maintained, the kids are cared for and life goes on “normally” but without feelings of intimacy, affection or mutual admiration. What is left is a shell of a marriage with nothing inside.

Sometimes one partner will wake up and try to reconnect - trying to get the other to realize that there’s a problem. Occasionally it works and there is re-connection but often the efforts to communicate their unhappiness falls upon deaf ears and a hard heart. So the “enlightened” partner begins a series of attempts to convince their mate that the Status Que is not acceptable. These new attempts also usually end in failure. At this point the attempt to express their unhappiness is redoubled which is then fended off with even greater defensiveness or outright denial. At this point the slow downward death spiral of the relationship begins until there is neither the willingness nor the energy to resurrect the lifeless marriage. The marriage either ends in divorce court or it continues on zombie-like until physical death mercifully comes calling and liberates them from their unhappy union.

If this sounds depressing - well it is. But it is a reality. Studies show that 20% of marriages have one or more partners feeling isolated, disconnected and alone. Some are in the beginning stages of isolation and some have been experiencing aloneness for a long, long time. The good news is there is hope for creating a better outcome than the one described above. The challenge is most who find themselves in this kind of relationship end up making the chasm larger through their desperate and ineffective efforts to influence their spouse. What they end up doing is pushing them further away and making themselves and their partner more miserable in the process.

So I submit that there is a better way to reconnect in your marriage.

In the coming weeks our Marriage Monday blog will be devoted to sharing seven principles for effectively working on your relationship – even if your partner doesn’t want to. If your marriage is doing well right now these principles will help you develop a more intimate relationship and preemptively guard against isolation, disconnection and aloneness. I often tell my marriage counseling clients my goal is that someday, when you are very old and in a nursing home and they are wheeling you both down the corridors you two will be holding hands.

Join us on this journey as we discover ways to develop greater connection and intimacy in our marriages and overcome those inevitable times of disconnection. 

Managing Pesky Perpetual Problems in Marriage

We all want our relationships to be conflict free – right? We all have a dream somewhere hidden deep in our hearts that we’ll arrive at that perfect place in our marriage where we are completely understood by our spouse and that all arguments magically disappear. But it hasn’t happened yet and (I’m sorry to say) it is never going to happen.

According to Dr. John Gottman, who has done more than 40 years of research on more than 3,000 couples, 69% of all conflict in marriages are perpetual; that is to say they are never going away. So what do we do? Are we doomed to a continual state of aggravation?

Here’s another fact that Dr. Gottman discovered through his research. Master marriages are not conflict free - they learn to resolve conflict in a way that strengthens the relationship rather than tears it apart.

So how can we resolve conflict well? Here it is in one word; compromise.

First let me tell you what compromise is not:

  • It is not sacrificing your core beliefs
  • It is not over-riding your spouse’s core beliefs
  • It is not giving up and retreating in discouragement
  • It is not taking turns winning
Compromise is the ability to let go of those things that are non-essential while holding on to your core dreams and beliefs.

Think of it this way; most conflict has a foundation in an underlying dream or desire that is being threatened. We have a vision for our lives that is not in alignment with our spouse. We call these beliefs “non-negotiable” because to compromise them would be to change how we fundamentally believe we should live. But surrounding these core beliefs is a wide area of more flexible desires that are open to compromise. Here’s an example:

Joe and Sally are arguing over where they are going to take their summer vacation. They have had this same argument for the past twenty years and inevitably somebody wins and somebody loses and it is the source of much tension in their marriage. Sally wants to spend quality time with her family (who Joe dislikes, but that's another issue) and Joe wants to go someplace fun like Orlando or Las Vegas so he can relax. They have tried the “you got your way last year so now it’s my turn” strategy but that ends up with someone having a miserable time and making the whole family miserable. The art of compromise can make this perpetual problem manageable.

They take out a piece of paper and draw two concentric circles. In the middle circle they write the non-negotiables (i.e. their core beliefs) in the outer circle they write what is negotiable. For Joe his inner circle has fun, relaxation, entertainment) For Sally she has connection with Family. What they soon discover is that when they experience their “non-negotiable” is very negotiable. Joe is okay with connecting with family but not during his once-a-year two week vacation. Likewise, Sally is fine with seeing family during other non-vacation times. They were able to work out an arrangement where Sally would see family for long weekends and periodically invite them to join them for a week in Orlando which would accomplish both their core goals.

The secret to compromise is to accurately and simply define the core, non-negotiable desires in as narrow a way as possible so that it opens up a larger area for compromise. When we get our core desires met we are far more eager to be willing to give way to help our partner get what they need.

Next time one of those pesky perpetual problems arise draw the circles and see if there’s more flexibility than you thought. It will help you examine the root of the problem and help get some out-of-the-box thinking going.

If we at Total Wellness Resource Center can answer any questions you have or help in any other way don't hesitate to email us at connect@totalwellnesscenter.net or call us. We're here to help!

If You Want to be Happily Married You'll Need to Get Real Good at This!

Forgiveness is not an option to sustain a healthy relationship. Research has consistently shown that those who experience forgiveness in their romantic relationships achieve a greater sense of closeness and satisfaction than those who hold on to past offences.

First let me state what forgiveness is not:

  • Forgiveness is not trust. Trust is earned through actions that consistently demonstrate integrity. We can forgive an individual for what they have done but we do not necessarily need to trust them.
  • Forgiveness is not a feeling. If we wait until we feel like forgiving someone we probably will not … and if we do that forgiveness will be shallow and easily taken back.
  • Forgiveness is not circumstantial. Forgiveness cannot be tied to any other action or attitude on the part of the one forgiven – if it is then it can (and probably will be) withdrawn with the next offence.
  • Forgiveness is not primarily for the forgiven. When we forgive it is a great kindness we are giving to the one forgiven but it is an even greater kindness we are giving to ourselves. There are several reasons for this but primarily it is because we take ourselves out of the place of judge, jury and executioner and leave that to a greater and more knowledgeable court. As a Christian I find great comfort in the fact that my meager understanding of human affairs and hearts is not what determines the final outcome of anyone. I let the One who “judges the thoughts and intentions of the heart” be responsible for the rewards and punishments. And even if you don’t believe in a personal God who will judge humanity most people believe in the law of sowing and reaping also known as, “what goes around, comes around”. Or as one old salt told me “the world will kick you in the A#@ much harder than I will”.  I also recognize that my opinion is very often clouded by my personal perspective which is usually based upon my needs and desires. So most offences are about me not getting treated the way I think I should be treated and are inherently selfish. Even if I could on some rare occasion be totally in the right why not just forgive it all and be done with the crap that harboring resentment produces?
  • Forgiveness is not reconciliation. Forgiveness is a key component to being reconciled with another but when it is given it does not automatically produce reconciliation. Reconciliation requires several steps which include repentance, atonement and reconnection and is not unilateral because a true and humble awareness of the offence must be achieved and trust restored.   
  • Forgiveness is not easy. It can often be the hardest thing you will ever do and something that you will need to work at because it doesn’t come naturally. It is not an emotion it is a decision.

So here is a definition of forgiveness:

Forgiveness is a unilateral decision to free an offending party of all personal retribution for their action against you.

In an ongoing relationship there will be many times when we are inadvertently offended by our partner and we exercise unilateral forgiveness without our spouse even recognizing it. It is the sign of a healthy relationship to let go of small offences without letting them become the seeds of bitterness that blossom into full blown resentment. However, to maintain an intimate relationship, we must be willing and able to talk about our hurts to one another. Out of these conversations arise the intimate insights that make good relationships great. The willingness to forgive is at the core of these conversations for if we are unwilling to forgive then what is our ultimate objective?

Here are the benefits of forgiveness:

  • Forgiveness opens the door to restoring relationships. Like I said forgiveness does not automatically restore relationships but without it restoration is impossible.
  • Forgiveness reduces anxiety and harmful ruminations. Who really suffers when we hold resentment in our hearts? That’s right we do!
  • Forgiveness promotes genuine humility. When we forgive we naturally reflect on how many times we too were forgiven and that is humbling.
  • Forgiveness removes ammunition from the next relational conflict. It is common for old relational wounds to surface during the heat of an argument. This is truly like throwing gasoline on a fire. When we forgive we take away this flammable material and it is much easier to focus on the problem at hand.
  • Forgiveness most closely aligns ourselves with the heart of God. If you want to have a rich, powerful, deeply satisfying relationship with God then get good at forgiveness because that is God’s primary message to us.
Forgive as the Lord forgave you
— Colossians 3:13 NIV

I hope this is helpful. Please let us know if we can ever be of assistance. We are here for you!

Keeping Marriage Fresh and Exciting

Let’s face it when we've been with someone more than (you fill in this blank) we come to a place where we think we pretty much know everything we’re going to know about our partner. And there is some truth to that, we know what they like to eat, we know if they’re a morning person and we even know if they are a dog or cat person. (That’s important information!) All this “knowledge” can lead to what I call an “assumptive relationship”. That means we begin to treat our spouse like we treat our drive home from work.

Do you remember your drive home from work today? If you’ve been working at that location long you may have done that drive hundreds if not thousands of times. When we get in our car after a long day at work and start for home we pretty much put it in autopilot. In other words, we don’t observe the scenery, people or situations that we pass along the way. We miss them because we’re not looking any more, we've seen it so many times that we assume everything is the same. But it isn't ... there is something new there waiting for us to discover every day. We can even lose the ability to notice the beauty around us even when it is spectacular. My drive home from the office is probably one of the most extraordinary, sumptuous, eye pleasing sights in the world. Cheri and I are constantly commenting on how we just can't believe we live here. I tell myself that I must never take this sight for granted but just the other day I caught myself not noticing this beauty. My mind was distracted with the day's activities and I was missing the absolute gorgeous beauty all around me!

My back yard!

Palos Verdes Peninsula, CA 

The key to keeping a relationship fresh and exciting is not assuming you know your spouse and committing to learning something new about them every single day.

And so it is with our spouse, we lose the desire to discover new things about them so that most of the time we could “phone in” our marriage.  Do we really want our closest relationship on earth to become like that? Remember when you first met your spouse? Remember how fascinated you were with them and how you couldn’t wait to see them again so you could learn more about their likes and dislikes, loves and losses? I’m going to make a bold statement. If you’ve developed an assumptive relationship with your spouse then … YOU DON’T REALLY KNOW THEM. That’s right, you’re like a person who is looking at an iceberg and sees only the 10% that is visible above the surface. Why can I say this? Because whatever you thought you knew about your spouse is old news, there are new thoughts, feelings and experiences happening to them every day. How do I know this? Because the same is true of you … you are not the same person you were a month ago and if I assume you are then I don’t really know you. The key to keeping a relationship fresh and exciting is not assuming you know your spouse and committing to learning something new about them every single day. You may say; “that sounds hard, I don’t know how to do that”. Let me give you some hints that will help.

Learn to ask questions: And I don’t mean the yes or no type. Ask open ended questions that will require your spouse to share something deeper and reveal their inner world. Here’s an example:

Bad question: "Did you have a good day at work today"?

Good question: "What new and exciting things happened at work today"?

Warning: If you haven’t been exploring the inner world of your spouse for a while then your questions may be greeted with suspicion and resistance. They may wonder why you’re suddenly interviewing them. You may need to preface your questions with explaining your new commitment to know them better.

Recognize and stop your assumptions: Question your assumptions about your spouse’s likes, dislikes, interests and dreams. Even if you think you’ve got these nailed just the process of asking about them could stimulate your spouse’s thinking and help them out of self-imposed ruts. Wouldn’t a wonderful consequence of getting to know your spouse be that they become more in touch with their own inner world? That’s when marriage is really hitting on all cylinders!

Become an observer: Just like your drive home is filled with new experiences that you miss so your spouse’s life is filled with many new and interesting clues into their inner world. Look for them. 

If we at Total Wellness Resource Center can be of any encouragement to you on how to "Live the Live you were Created to Live" we are eager help! Just comment in the section below or email us at connect@totalwellnesscenter.net

 

Huh … What’d you say? How to Predict a Failed Relationship

There are a few iron clad predictors of lasting relationships according to John Gottman’s forty years of research and one of those predictors is what he calls “turning to” rather than “turning away” from your spouse. Let me explain.

I’m sitting on the couch very quietly minding my own business reading the latest news of those incredible Cubs and how I’m sure they are finally going to break the 108 year old world championship drought … but I digress. So while I’m reading, my sweet, beautiful and extremely talented wife chooses to ask me a question about the menu for the week. Let me say upfront that I am not one of those discriminating fussy eaters. There is almost no food that I do not enjoy and especially anything that Cheri would prepare. So I almost never have any opinion about her meal planning and what’s more, I think she should know this after numerous times of her asking and me responding with; “duh … I dun know”. So do I choose to enter once more into this dead end conversation or do I ignore her question and remain engrossed in fantasying about the Cubs? If I choose to be silent then I am heading right into one of the leading predictors of relational trauma. It is so easy to do and obviously (at least to me) so justifiable. Why respond when I know exactly what the outcome of the conversation will be? Am I not entitled to pick and choose which conversations I engage in and which I leave to parish from neglect?

Marriage can be a beautiful dance of give and take, call and response that binds the two together into an intimate friendship.
— James Tillman

If I am committed to loving my wife and being the husband that I believe God wants me to be then I am also committing to communication even when it is inconvenient, seemingly unnecessary or uninteresting. Yes, I am committing to connecting with my wife whenever and wherever the opportunity arises. Please understand that I am saying there won’t be times when we ask not to be interrupted or we may respond by asking for time since we are in the middle of something. What I am saying is healthy marriages are about a hundred little moments throughout the day when couples share their thoughts, feelings or observations with each other. Marriage can be a beautiful dance of give and take, call and response that binds the two together into an intimate friendship. But let me give you some whys. When we turn toward rather than away from our partner it …

  • Defeats propensity toward selfishness
  • Opens up opportunities for shared encounters
  • Shows respect
  • Improves communication
  • Breaks down barriers
  • Demonstrates loving kindness
  • Sets a great example to our children

If it is such an important part of a healthy marriage why don’t we do it? The bottom line is that we cease making our relationship a priority by making it less important than our comfort, convenience or a particular interest of the moment. That article about the Cubs will still be there in a few minutes but the chance to connect with my wife over something that interests her will not. It doesn’t even need to be a long dialogue. Turning to your partner can be as simple as acknowledging them with a grunt, a laugh or a quick statement of agreement. However, if you want to supersize your “turning to” skills then go out of your way to acknowledge your partners statement with your own thoughts, feelings or observations. For me that would go something like …

Cheri: So baby what would you like for diner this week?

Me: (looking up from my beloved Cubs article) Diner? Let me think. You know I’m not picky, I like everything you make. What would be fun for you to cook this week?

Okay, I’m not that good but you get the message. Turn to not away when your spouse is speaking to you and you will find a friend, companion and someone who you are blessed to share your life with.

We at Total Wellness Resource Center are committed to you becoming all that you were created to be. If ever you need support or encouragement please let us know. You can contact us a connect@totalwellnesscenter.net.