Where Exactly Do Healthy Relationships Start?

In Your Brain, Not Your Heart

I am not here to throw cold water on the glorious feeling of being “in love”, but there is fallacy concerning our emotions that needs to be reexamined – this fallacy has caused intense pain and relational strife with millions of individuals just like you. Over the ages we have been handed down false depictions of love from poets, songwriters and is currently propagated by much of our present-day entertainment world.

Does this sound familiar?

“I can’t help feeling this way anymore than I can control the rotation of the earth or halt the movement of the planets.”

And when it comes to the feeling of “love” this is what most people believe, whether they feel “in love” or “out of love” they think this emotion is heart based and is out of their control

In counseling it is common to hear reasoning behind their state of emotions, such as;

  • “He isn’t good for me but I can’t help but love him”

  • “I know I am “in love” with her because I can’t control the need to hear from her every hour”

or when we think we are falling “our of love”

  • “I can’t help it we just out grew each other””

  • “They didn’t make me feel loved”

All the above statements are based on a feeling, one that can come and go based the the actions of the other.

Is true love really that fickle? Can we be in love one day and not in love the next? Can anyone stay in love for a lifetime?

The Science of Emotions

Our emotions are caused by the way our brain develops responses to the events we experience. In short, our brains are always attempting to predict the outcome of present situations and uses past experiences to help us understand and bring meaning to our current situation. Some of these predictions are known to us (our conscious thoughts) but most of these predictions (and the accompanying emotions) are unconscious. Psychologists call these triggers. (i.e. they trigger an emotional response that is a part of a memory that was built from a past experience.)

Psychologist and Neuroscientist Dr. Lisa Feldman Barrett has studied emotions for over twenty-five years and has come to this conclusion.

The brain is not pre-wired with an emotional circuit … emotions are not built into your brain at birth, they are just built
— Dr. Lisa Feldman Barrett

This is not to say that emotions are not real, they are very powerful and influential. Emotions are the primary means for most of our decision making. As any good salesperson will tell you people make buying decisions primarily based on feelings, not facts. How we feel about something is far more predictive of our behavior than our rational processing of information. In other words, we buy the sizzle, not the steak.

So, if our brains were not prewired to experience emotions where do these emotions come from? Our minds use past experiences to predict what is happening now and what will happen in the future. These experiences are held in the amygdala which acts like a reference library to help us interpret information that is being received through our five senses. Emotions are connected to these past experiences and then filter our perception of our present circumstance.

For example, have you ever had a bad experience with a certain food? Let’s say you got food poising from a serving of Kung Pao Pork and as a result, you had an all-nighter hugging the porcelain throne. Now let’s say several weeks later you walk into a restaurant and yes, there is a serving of the vile pork on the table next to you. What are the chances that you would be ordering Kung Pao Pork at that restaurant? Zero! Why? Because your memory of that experience has attached to it the traumatic feelings associated with your recent experience. Because that memory was fresh it was probably no problem connecting the dots between the sick feeling you had in your stomach and the food poisoning incident but what of other traumatic events that happen in our life that we don’t remember?

According to cognitive neuroscientists, we are conscious of only about 5 percent of our cognitive activity, so most of our decisions, actions, emotions, and behavior depends on the 95 percent of brain activity that goes beyond our conscious awareness.

Our brains have been taught to attach emotions to certain situations and when our brain recognizes this situation as similar (whether it is or not) the accompanying emotions are felt. We teach ourselves to think and feel in certain ways that create these patterns of behavior which can be detrimental to experiencing life and finding success. In short, we get stuck in these patterns and often don’t even know it. How many times have we told ourselves that we aren’t good at something because we had one bad experience with it? We then go on to accept that negative belief as truth which then subsequently reinforces that belief and then produces new negative experiences. The opposite can also be true. research has shown that when we enter into a new experience with a positive, optimistic attitude we are far more likely to experience a successful outcome.

We are not biological automatons doomed to experience our negative emotions over and over again. We have the power to change, even if it doesn’t feel that way.

When you recognize how powerful your thoughts are and how much control you have over them you activate the most significant human process for transforming your life.

And that is where we come to building loving relationships.

Building a Love that Lasts

I’m going to share some basic truths that may bust your bubble regarding intimate relationships (that is unless you are in one then this is not new information)

  • All intimate relationships are hard

  • All intimate relationships experience conflict

  • All intimate relationships become stagnate

  • All intimate relationships cause emotional wounds

  • All intimate relationships need renewal

  • All intimate relationships occasionally drive you crazy

Intimate relationships can cause the greatest pleasure and the greatest pain … that’s because they are INTIMATE. In other words, you allow another human being close enough to bless and/or curse you and sometimes at the same time! However, you are in control as to how you are going to allow your brain to interpret your experiences. If you harbor anger, unforgiveness, fear, resentment and a host of other toxic beliefs about the relationship then you will experience a cascading effect of these beliefs which will produce all the accompanying conditions – depression, anxiety, hostility etc. On the other hand, if you are able to process any trauma that occurred and create a positive memory and perspective about the experience you will not be burdened by years of conscious and unconscious emotional “tagging” of future events. You will be free from the emotional scarring that comes from ruminating on the pain and free to experience your present situation without all that harmful baggage.

Recently I was meeting with a client who had a very painful break up with his former girlfriend. He told me he ruminated on this break up about 6 hours a day and it was causing him a lot of pain. I then asked him to tell me three things that were positive areas of growth from this “failed” relationship. He sat for a while and couldn’t come up with one. This is because he had trained his mind to think only negatively about the relationship and was blind to any positives. Finally, I told him I’d give him the first one – “he was no longer in this toxic relationship and it didn’t take him years of pain to get out” This seemed to open the floodgate as he then found many positives about the relationship. “So”, I said, “now your goal is to stubbornly think of these positives whenever you are tempted to ruminate on the negatives of that relationship.”

Instead of his thoughts tearing him down and demotivating him from going forward in his life he now can take the same experience and make more positive, healthy and empowering structures in his brain. And that is one of the great mysteries and miracles of the human brain. Our very thoughts create structures in the neuron cells of our brain. These structures are called dendrites and they hold the key to producing health and happiness. When our thoughts are loving and positive they create cell structures that tell our endocrine system to produce the hormones that will cause us to have euphoric feelings of emotional well-being - and yes even love.

This is how you stay in love, you steadfastly refuse to allow the tough parts of a relationship to kill your commitment to the other person. This is not to say that there aren’t certain aspects of any relationship that need work. Areas like:

  • Learning how to enter into non-toxic conflict

  • Developing “rituals of connection”

  • Creating the ability to compromise

  • Finding a deeper appreciation for the inner life of your partner

These are critical to growing and deepening your relationship. But that will never happen unless and until you are able to control the flow of negative thoughts that come out of you.

So here are some key ways to change your brain concerning relationships and how to maintain positive, healthy emotions toward your partner … and yes even deepen love!

  • Find something to be thankful for in the other person every day

  • Forgive the inevitable emotional wounds (unilaterally if need be)

  • Replace critical, demanding and unaccepting thoughts about your partner with thoughts of appreciation

  • Become increasingly present to your unconscious triggers and find reconciliation and healing for them

  • Refuse to allow hurtful, corrosive, demeaning words from your mouth. (these types of words are products of our thoughts and those thoughts should not be reinforced!)

  • Practice monitoring the garden of your thoughts like you were a master gardener and don’t allow the ugly and destructive weeds and thorns to choke out the flowers

So, it is your brain and the way you choose to think, that remains the starting and finishing point to all healthy relationships.

We at Total Wellness Resource Center are committed to helping you become the best version of yourself through our commitment to empirically based truth shared in a loving, spiritually attuned atmosphere. If we can help you along your life’s journey don’t hesitate to reach out to us.

Sincerely;

The Total Wellness Team

Why Good Relationships Are Good for You

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Somehow we have been sold a “bill of goods” that relationships should be natural, always fun and make our life easier. We have been conditioned by watching artificial relationships on TV and Movies that depict intense love and an idealistic romantic experiences that set unrealistic expectations we can never meet. Please don’t get me wrong – I believe that relationships are the most rewarding and deeply satisfying experience a human is capable of having. But a rich and rewarding relationship is NEVER easy. That is because it requires each party to be willing to set aside their own preoccupation with comfort and convenience and think what is best for the other person. Good relationships do not thrive in an atmosphere of personal self-interest and individualism.

There was a time in my life when I was single for seven years. Was I lonely? Occasionally. But mostly I was content because I could eat what I wanted, go where I wanted and pretty much lived my life without having to think of anyone else’s feelings, desires, wants or needs. It was not that I was isolated, I still had friends, but I always knew that when I was done visiting my friends I could go home and live exactly the way I wanted to. I owed no one an explanation for my tastes or preferences.

What I didn’t realize is that I also was stunting my growth as a person. “Why?” you ask, “it sounds pretty much like you had an ideal life”

Yes, it was ideal if I wanted to become an emotional and relational pygmy but if I wanted to expand beyond my own boundaries and effect change in my life then I was greatly limited. Let me explain by identifying the fundamental character qualities that make for truly great individuals.

Love

Love: How do you grow in love? I don’t mean the romantic, touchy-feely kind of love that is depicted in our media. (Though there is definitely a place for that) I mean the kind of love that seeks the best for another no matter what the cost is to us personally. This kind of love does not grow in the soft, fertile soil of the lazy valleys but in the lofty mountain peaks that take exertion to reach. Love grows where it is hard to love and sacrifice is needed. True love blossoms in the light of self-sacrifice and a willingness to take the higher, steeper road of self-denial. Love means that I place you before me and seek your best even if at a high cost. This character quality cannot be found in isolation but requires intimate relationships. In my seven years of being alone, my heart was growing cold because I was not challenged to love like this and I knew it.

Forgiveness

Forgiveness: Now we have all experienced times when we have been hurt, lied to, and treated unjustly. But nowhere is this experienced more than in intimate relationships. I often say that relationships are the place where we are most wounded and relationships are the place where we are most healed. Becoming a person who can forgive means that we must go where we can be hurt. The deeper and more intimate the relationship the more vulnerable we are to being wounded. I found that I was becoming a person who was neither hurting others nor was I being hurt and therefore my growth in this area was being restricted. No one needed to forgive me and I was not required to forgive anyone else.

Kindness

Kindness: Where do we most grow in kindness? Well, ask yourself where is it hardest to be kind? That’s easy, when we are faced with someone who is repulsive. I don’t mean that we should go out and find the most abhorrent person available and marry them. What I am saying is that in every intimate relationship there will come a time when something is said or done that is deeply offensive and intensely painful. How are we to respond? If we want to grow in this beautiful character quality then we will choose kindness. Kindness flourishes in the presence of transgressions just as light is more brilliant in the presence of darkness. Want to learn to be kind? Find yourself another human to love and kindness in you will be refined as through fire.

Peace

Peace: Here again someone might say, “James, when you lived alone you had ultimate peace, right?” To this, I say it depends on what kind of peace you are asking about. If you are speaking of peace as an absence of conflict then you would be right. Isolation offers a certain kind of peace that is beautiful but unsustainable unless we choose to live a hermit existence. If you are speaking of the kind of peace that is present in conflict then you would be greatly mistaken. The kind of peace that really matters is the internal peace that can bring calm to your soul even in the most stressful situations. This is the peace that Jesus spoke of:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
— John 14:27 NIV

This kind of peace is more powerful than hate and overcomes conflict. In order to have this kind of peace, you must be exposed to places where personalities clash and dreams are in conflict. This means being in relationships. It was too easy for me to just walk away from people who bugged me or those with whom I disagreed. But when you are in a committed relationship that is not possible so this deeper type of peace is essential.

Patience

Patience: We develop patience in places where we are tempted to be impatient? A muscle will never grow strong unless it is tested and patience will never grow unless we have opportunities where our expectations are not met and our plans are thwarted. Do I really need to explain how being in a relationship leads to times of growth in this area? Relationship thy name is patience!

This is the bottom line. If I wanted to be a better man I must commit to being in a relationship that demanded I be a better man. I know, it is possible to be in a relationship and still not develop these qualities. I witness it all the time in my profession as a Marriage Counselor. But that attitude can’t continue if they want to find a more satisfying marriage. At some point, they need to realize that the person they are married to is not there to thwart their dreams and make their life miserable but rather they are an instrument of personal transformation so that they can become a better version of themselves.

I love the movie “As Good as it Gets” Starring Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt. Jack plays the part of a neurotic, OCD, paranoid, anxiety-filled man (yes, this is therapist candy) who falls in love with a beautiful, kind and normal woman. In this scene, he has just said something hurtful to her (again!) and she has made a demand, “compliment me or I am leaving”. So this is what he said.

And so it is with me and one of the main reasons I reached out and opened my heart to marriage. I knew that I needed Cheri to become a man who truly loved, who was learning to be kind, who could find peace in the presence of conflict and learn what it meant to forgive and let go. I’ve got to say that she needs to do a better job at making me do all these things because it’s way too easy to be with her. But even so, I’m sure God knew that I needed someone as truly good and kind as she because I’m a pretty slow learner.

How about you? Do you see your relationships as opportunities for personal growth? Or are you longing for times when you can go into isolation? Nothing good grows in the darkness (unless you are fond of bacteria) so get out into the light and realize that relationships are the school where your character is developed.

As always, if we can be of service to you or you have any questions or comments, don’t hesitate to reach out to us!

Do You Dreeam of A Better Relationship?

Key Steps to Help Make Your Dreams Come True

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Many couples come to me with a belief that if they can just get their mate to change then their marriage problems will be solved. Oh, I know they will rarely come out and say that, they usually couch that belief in phrases like; “I know that I’m part of the problem but he …” or “I’m not perfect but she …”

It seems to be a human trait to make someone or something the “reason” for our not being happy. We immediately look outside ourselves to find the source for our misery. As a result, we may change our circumstance but we rarely achieve our objective.

Am I saying that our environment does not affect us? No. We can greatly benefit by creating healthy environments but our internal beliefs will always be a more powerful influence on us than our external situations. In fact, we will invariably mold our external world to conform to our internal reality. We then point to what we have created as the cause of our problem. This is a bit like digging a deep pit, jumping in, and then cursing the pit.

This attitude is demonstrated by words such as, always, never, can’t won’t and other self-limiting declarations.

“He will always …”

“She will never …”

“We can’t …”

“This won’t …”

When I hear these statements I ask a question (in my most understanding tone of voice), “Are you omniscient?” In which (if they understand the term) they reply

“No?”

So I press on with my questions.

“So you can’t see into the future, right?”

No” they respond in their confusion.

So why are you so willing to shut out the possibility that something good can happen in this case”

As long as we make certain negative outcomes our reality, we will refuse to see anything that may remotely contradict them or any possibility that change can occur. This negative filter will block what does not conform to our belief and so we create a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The opposite is also is true. If we tenaciously hold on to a positive belief then we are almost certain to see it come true.

In 1962 President John F. Kennedy said, “we choose to go to the moon”.

It was a fanciful idea at the time. We had neither the technology nor the experience to accomplish such an ambitious goal. Those who were sitting in the audience, who would be tasked with fulfilling this declaration, must have experienced a range of emotions from exhilaration to terror as they assessed the challenge of fulfilling this “dream”. To date, the sum of their accomplishments was to put a single astronaut into an orbit three times around the earth. But the seed was planted, the commander and chief gave an order. Send Americans to land on the moon and successfully return and do this within eight years.

Some say I must see then I will believe, I say believe and only then will you see

“Okay, James thanks for the history lesson, but how does this apply to my life and my relationships?”

This is how.

If you are ever to have something better than you have now, if you are ever going to achieve a life that is beyond what you are currently experiencing you must make that dream a reality in your head and heart before it will become one in your experience.

We are who we believe we are
— C.S.Lewis

When it comes to our own identity and our relationships this means you must hold out hope that it can be better before it ever will become better. Experiencing an intimate, loving, mutually nurturing relationship is absolutely dependent on whether you believe it is possible. If you don’t believe it is possible then you will simply reproduce the same failures and experience the same results.

It starts with creating the dream just like President Kennedy did for those men and women of NASA. You can recruit an army of resources that will begin working for you but first, you must be open to the new possibility that something beautiful and extraordinary can happen.

Self-limiting beliefs are like cancer of the spirit, if left untreated they metastasize and kill. What they kill is our dreams, ambition, hope, love, and faith. They camouflage themselves as being “reality” or “rational thinking” but when you strip away the mask they are lies fueled by fear. We fear loss, failure, being exposed as a phony, or the loss of being able to justifying our own misery. We also fear losing the dysfunctional comfort we derive from not challenging our self-limiting beliefs because it would require painful self-examination and necessitate difficult fundamental life-change. For some, this is too much and so we slip into our tepid pool of dissatisfaction and entertain ourselves with all manner of toys. But for a few, the passion for a higher calling lies deep within their soul and will not be satisfied with a mundane and feckless life. For these, the calling is to the road less traveled, the mountains beyond the furthest peak.

If that is you then obey this internal calling and begin shedding all that would hinder your upward climb. For the air is sweet at the top and few are those who are willing to experience it. Are you?

Here are some beginning steps:

  • Make a list of all the limiting beliefs that you can bring to mind. This may take a while for they are often so much a part of us that we can’t extract them from our souls. Focus on your true dreams, not merely what you want but who you want to be. This is where you will find your most powerful self-limiting beliefs.

  • Begin to create a list of affirmations that will produce “cogitative dissonance”. I have attached a worksheet on how to create Smart Affirmations that will help you.

  • Reach out to friends, relatives and/or counselors to help you. Ask them what they see and be open to their perspective.

  • If you are spiritual then ask God to reveal areas of your life that are hidden to you. This is a verse that has been very meaningful to me over the years.

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
— Psalm 139:23,24 NIV

If we can ever be of help to you please don’t hesitate to reach out to us.

Climate Change: How to Change Your Personal Atmosphere

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Is there a dark cloud of negativity covering your relationships? Are your thoughts about the important people in your life generally anxious? Are even the “good times” in your life seen as temporary because you feel something bad will eventually happen? Then according to research Psychologist John Gottman, you are in Negative Sentiment Override. This is a state where we see our lives through a filter of negativity brought on by negative past events. In other words, we see the worse possible outcome in most situations and relationships. Left unchecked, this condition sabotages relationships and creates severe anxiety which and can lead to crippling depression.

It is caused by allowing our minds to get stuck in a perpetual cycle of negativity which inevitably produces negative outcomes which then produces more toxic beliefs.

Here’s the progression

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  1. An event happens. It could be something someone has said or did that has the potential of being seen in different ways. For example, Your spouse is late for a dinner.

  2. You give a negative interpretation to that event. You might say something like; “They’re disrespecting me and are completely unreliable”

  3. This causes hurt, anger, and resentment which is a result of your negative interpretation.

  4. This leads to an unhealthy confrontation that sounds something like; “I can’t believe you were so thoughtless and inconsiderate, you don’t care about me!” Negative Sentiment Override becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy in that we create the environment that we expect.

  5. This negative interaction puts the other person in a “no win” position by either agreeing that they are thoughtless and inconsiderate and that they indeed don’t care about you or they defend against your negative interpretation by trying to justify their actions. This interaction reinforces your belief because, in your mind, there is absolutely no justification for such thoughtless and inconsiderate behavior.

    And now we wait for another situation to “prove” our negative belief about them, therefore, repeating the cycle and putting the relationship into a toxic downward spiral where one or both partners can no longer see any positive aspects of their relationship.


I was speaking to a client who was currently in Negative Sentiment Override and she was describing her husband. She said, in a tone of disgust, “When he gets up in the morning the first thing he does is make his bed!” Instead of seeing that is a positive, or even as a neutral event she sees it as some kind of character flaw. I understand that there is a lot more going on in that relationship that has caused this unreasonable negativity but this is how irrational we become when we see our partners through the lens of negativity.

The most insidious aspect of Negative Sentiment Override is that when we are in it we don’t know it. This is because we think we’re being “realistic” or “sensible” and the other person is the one who is creating the problem. We have ceased to put their lives in any positive context and have become myopically obsessed with attributing the worse possible interpretation to their character, actions, and motives. This is where relationships hit that tipping point and the belief that life would be better without the other person becomes an ever-increasing option.

Negative Sentiment Override is not merely confined to relationships, it can become a pervasive way of thinking as represented by “Murphy’s Law”. Whatever can go wrong will go wrong – or as some modern-day Merphyites have quipped “Murphy was an optimist”. This is not just a “glass half empty” mentality but an inability to see the good and a concentration on the bad that puts a dark shadow over our lives and relationships. If this condition persists our brains develop neurological pathways that default to the negative which then makes it increasingly more difficult to escape anxiety and fear based thinking. It is as if the events in our lives trigger a negative response which then deepens our propensity to cast our life in a negative light.

And when we are in Negative Sentiment Override we often come across as …

What do I do to escape

Negative Sentiment Override?

Recognize you are in it and take personal responsibility

The very first step is to step back and objectively look at your response to the various things in your life. Is your negative focus obscuring the good and beautiful things in your life? If you are regularly experiencing anxiety, regret and resentment then chances are in Negative Sentiment Override. This is not about ignoring the “challenges” in your life or avoiding confronting problems in your relationship. It is about recognizing that you have a choice as to what you focus on. You can choose to look up or look down, believe the best or believe the worse invest in hope or despair. When we have been in negative default mode for a while it may seem like we don’t have a choice but we do and it starts by becoming responsible for our own feelings. No one MAKES you feel anything – you CHOOSE to feel what you feel.


Create a new positive neuro network

We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.
— Thornton Wilder

Yes, you can actually change your brain. It begins by refusing to allow your mind to ruminate on anything toxic and to meditate on health, uplifting, and healing thoughts. This all starts with developing an attitude of gratitude. It is clinically proven that those who cultivate gratitude in their lives live longer and have healthier and more satisfying relationships. Start with developing positive affirmations and increasing your daily dose of uplifting music and conversations. Turn off the news and media sources that are only about crime, conflict, and destruction. Limit regular exposure to anything toxic whether they be people, places or things. If you are finding yourself in Negative Sentiment Override it took you a long time to get there and you are not going to turn your brain around overnight – but you can change!

Create relational understanding

If I thought the way you think, I would feel the way you feel

Begin to seek to understand and create empathy for the reality of others. Here’s a statement that I have found very helpful. “If I thought the way you think, I would feel the way you feel. This sentence is a way of bridging the gap between our reality and the other’s reality. When we become willing to truly understand others we shed our prejudice and open up to understanding and connection. We still may have sincere disagreements but they are not tainted with criticism, bias, and resentment.


Turning our thinking around is never easy but very worth the effort. It may be helpful to look at your past and see if there are any negative messages that may be creating unhealthy thinking. These messages are insidious since we often don’t know they are there because they feel normal to us. Messages like, “you can’t trust anyone” or “you aren’t loved” cause us to distort our perceptions. If this is the case it may be helpful for you to get counseling to surface these toxic beliefs.


Our passion is to help you live the most successful life possible so If we can be of any assistance, please reach out to us.

When Sorry Doesn’t Cut It!

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In my work, I witness the terrible consequences of weak and under-preformed apologies. This phrase is an example I often hear in my sessions:

I said I was sorry, what more can I do?

In essence what the offender is doing is minimizing the pain they inflicted upon another person by not taking full responsibility for their own actions. This leaves the offended party feeling like they don’t matter and their pain is not real. It also builds a wall of suspicion and mistrust through which they interpret all future actions. In other words, they are thinking; if they did it once and they didn’t seem to care what’s stopping them from doing it again?

This is why it is critical that old wounds be healed so that trust can eventually be restored and the relationship repaired.

Before I get into the details about developing a true language of apology I need to say something about forgiveness.

  • Forgiveness is always a choice. It may not “feel” like a choice but it is.  
  • Forgiveness is unilateral. One does not need an apology to forgive. (but it helps)
  • Forgiveness always benefits the forgiver more than the forgiven. I have seen people who choose not to forgive turn bitter and cold.
  • Forgiveness is the only true path toward reconciliation. Unforgiveness is cancer in a relationship it will always end up in death.

No matter how pitiful or beautiful the apology the one who has been hurt can decide not to forgive. This is tragic because unforgiveness grows into resentment and resentment always damages the one who has it.

Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die
— Saint Augustine

So check your heart. If you have not forgiven someone then you are in danger of hurting yourself and that is very sad.

Learning the language of apology is about trying to create the best possible environment for healing a relational wound. Relationship wounds are similar to physical wounds, most physical wounds will heal over time but when they are cleaned, bandaged and tenderly cared for they heal much, much faster. And so it is with relational wounds when there is a true, honest and sincere apology the relationship heals faster.


Here are the five steps to making a good apology

Step One: Prepare Your Heart

True apologies come from a humble heart. The Bible says it like this.

God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.
— James 4:6

God is not the only one who opposes the proud. It is extremely hard to feel close to someone who is proud, much less forgive them. In fact, pride is toxic to a healthy relationship. Check your heart before you ask for forgiveness. Are you willing to humble yourself enough to admit your wrongs?  This does not mean that you were “totally” wrong. However, it does mean that you can admit to the part you had without blaming or excuses. It also means that you are not asking for forgiveness with the hope that the other person steps forward with an apology of their own. This may or may not happen, you have no control over that. What you do control is your own actions and taking responsibility for them.

Never ruin a good apology with an excuse
— Benjamin Franklin

Step two: Ask for permission to apologize.

The best time to apologize is when they are in a frame of mind to listen to your apology. That is not always immediately after you have hurt them. In fact, if you jump into an apology right away you need to ask; “Am I apologizing because I am truly sorry that I hurt them or am I apologizing because I don’t want to experience the consequences of my actions?” Ask for permission to apologize and wait until it is granted. In the meantime, act in a way that is consistent with your sincere desire to apologize. (i.e. don’t get bitter, passive-aggressive, distant or resentful.

Here’s something that you may say: “I would like to apologize for how I hurt you, is now a good time to talk?”


Step Three: State clearly what you did wrong and how you hurt them

This is the “meat” of the apology because it touches on the emotional damage that was caused by the offense. Often the offender doesn’t truly grasp the depths of the pain the other person experienced and therefore offers an apology that seems feeble and insincere. It is vital that the offender really understand the pain that was inflicted and just as vital that the one who was hurt feels like the offender empathizes with their pain. This means that the offended party needs to feel free to express their hurt until the offender hears, understands and acknowledges their pain.

Many a relational wound has gone unhealed because the offender has not taken the time and effort to truly understand the damage that was caused by their action. They trivialize it and reason it away and therefore never succeed in building a healing bridge which is necessary to bring about real reconciliation.

Here are a few questions that need to be asked when seeking forgiveness.

  • Can you tell me what I did that hurt you?
  • How do you feel about our relationship right now?
  • What was the worst part about the way I treated you?

When the hurt is expressed it is the job of the offender to paraphrase their feelings so that the hurt party can see that the offender truly understands their pain. Here is an example of putting this concept into words.

So what I hear you saying is when I [did, said, acted like I did] you felt [express the feeling here].

It is essential not to move on to step four until the offender is able to express the feelings of the offended to their own satisfaction.

Warning! Sometimes those who have been hurt also expect the one who hurt them to somehow read their minds and understand their feelings without expressing them. I have heard the offended party say things like; “well, if you don’t know, I’m not certainly not going to tell you!” This “logic” completely derails any hope of reconciliation and leaves the one seeking forgiveness confused, discouraged and even bitter. The relationship gap becomes even wider as the offender now becomes offended and both parties feel justified in their resentment toward each other.


Step Four: Tell them specifically how you intend to change

Step four is crucial, otherwise, what you’ve offered isn’t an apology — it’s an excuse. Ask them what you would like to see changed and offer your own suggestions for righting the wrong or changing a pattern of behavior. This is a time to get real about committing to change. There is an old word that is rarely used anymore (probably because taking responsibility for one’s own actions has fallen out of fashion in our present culture). The word is REPENTANCE.  What it means is to turn around and go in another direction. When we admit we have done something wrong it is not enough to simply be sorry for what we have done, we need to make a commitment to change. This means we need to repent. Does repentance mean that we will never do it again? No. What it means is that we are committing to the process of changing the way we are acting and therefore choosing a new path in the relationship. When you enter into step four be as specific as possible so that your apology has “teeth” and demonstrates your commitment to change.


Step Five: Ask them for forgiveness

This step comes after …

  • You have rid yourself of your pride and arrogance
  • You have honored them by allowing them to choose the right time for the apology
  • You have expressed your understanding of their pain and they believe you
  • You have committed to changing and have offered specific and tangible ways you are going to act differently

When all this has happened you have cultivated the soil to plant the seeds of forgiveness and reconciliation. In my experience doing this prep work will pay huge relational dividends.

It is important that the request for forgiveness be a sincere verbal request. Even if the offended party expresses their willingness to forgive before it is requested don’t halt the process. There is something very powerful in a verbal request and a verbal acceptance. It is a little like proposing. Usually, when the proposal is made it is a foregone conclusion that it will be accepted. But woe to the man who does not formally ask and wait for a reply. If that doesn’t happen a beautiful moment is missed and an opportunity to commemorate their mutual commitment is lost. No matter how weird it may seem, ask for forgiveness and wait until forgiveness is given. You will not regret it.  

When forgiveness is given that does not mean that emotional pain is immediately swept away. Sometimes it may take a while for emotional stability to return to the relationship. At a time like this, it is important for both parties to remember some vital truths.

The Offender: Let the other person heal. Just because they still feel the pain of the wound it does not mean your apology was not accepted. Be patient and kind, understanding that emotions often lag way behind our intentions. Forgiveness does not necessarily result in an instant normalization of your relationship, there is the emotional fallout which usually requires the rebuilding of trust. Stay the course and refuse to become discouraged. Depending on the severity of the offense, they may need to process the pain for quite a while until the wound heals.

The offended: Recognize that your decision to forgive is unilateral. It was your choice – and a very good one at that! If you still experience negative feelings it is not because you have not forgiven it is just a natural response to being hurt. Don’t let your emotions dictate your commitment to your relationship. Emotions are wonderful companions but horrible leaders - they get us lost every time.

One more thing; never use what you have chosen to forgive as ammunition for future arguments. When you forgive you give up all rights to punishing the wrongdoer for the hurt that was inflicted upon you. You have set the offender free and have set yourself free in the process.


Our passion at Total Wellness Resource Center is to see our clients experience transformation in their lives. We offer face to face as well as secure teleconferencing sessions in the areas of Life Coaching, Mental Health Counseling, Career/Business Coaching and Nutrition Coaching. Our comprehensive 360-degree approach helps our clients get unstuck and moving toward their dreams. If we can be of any help to you please reach out to us.

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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!

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Does “Turning the Other Cheek” Really Work?

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I was sitting with a client yesterday who was alone even though they had originally come with their spouse for marriage counseling. She told me things were going better in her marriage and she wasn’t quite sure why. Our recent sessions had been focused on how she responded to unfair, unkind and hurtful situations in her marriage. She had been focusing on not escalating the battle of words and when she was ill-treated to respond with kindness.  My thoughts immediately went to the words of Jesus.   

You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.  And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.  If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.
— Matthew 5:38-41 NIV

When Jesus said these words the prevailing wisdom was that when someone hit you, you needed to hit them back harder. (that philosophy is still very common) Jesus was expressing a radical ethic that has its roots in trusting in an all-powerful and just God who will ultimately bring down judgment on the wicked and reward the innocent.

But there is another very practical reason to employ this new ethic. It works.  It works because it is based on the way humans relate to each other. This should not be surprising. I have found that EVERYTHING God has said we should do is both empirically true and relationally effective.

That is why my client is experiencing greater success in her relationship.

The predictable pattern is to respond in kind to others. When someone is nasty to us we respond by being nasty to them. If they are kind to us we respond by returning the kindness. In other words, the old “eye for an eye” ethic. And as someone once said if we live by the “eye for an eye” ethic everybody will be blind. But if we are maligned we respond in kindness and when treated harshly we are gentle the whole dynamic of the relationship is turned on its head. The downward cycle of aggression and retaliation is broken. How do you stay angry with someone who simply refuses to return the anger? How do you continually criticize and malign someone who refuses to return the insults? You simply can’t. Either the dynamic in the relationship changes or the oppressor gives up and finds another victim to justify their behavior.

Please hear me on this, I am not talking about physical or emotional abuse. It is not right to allow unchecked aggression to be directed toward you or anybody else. If this is the case then you need to seek help to correct the situation and/or get separation from the abuser.

I am referring to those arguments and personality conflicts that are common in most marriages and dissolve into long-standing resentments and perpetual arguments.

This new way of being in a relationship is not easy – in fact, it is practically impossible apart from a powerful spiritual transformation of the heart. It is also not a quick fix cure. The aggressor is not likely to suddenly “see the light” and change their pattern of behavior overnight. But for those who decide to walk as Jesus walked there are awesome rewards waiting for them. Here are a few.

  • The soul-destroying cancer called resentment is reduced or eliminated
  • The potential for developing reconciliation is vastly increased
  • Harmful conflict is greatly shortened and vastly reduced
  • Intimacy with God is deepened. (whenever we choose to obey the words of our Lord we deepen our love for him) John 14:15
  • We become more open to examining our own hearts and correcting our own faults
  • We set an example to other family members of how to deal with difficult people and situations

Again, this is not easy to do – especially if there is a long-standing pattern of tit for tat conflict. But it is so worth the effort to escape the hopeless maze of unending struggles.

As always if there is anything we can do for you or if you have any comments or questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to us.

We also invite you to join our email list so you will receive all the news from Total Wellness Resource Center. 

Why Pulling Away From Relationships Doesn’t Work

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We have all been there. Something someone said touched a nerve and we react with a combination of anger and repulsion so we pull away like we’ve touched a hot stove.

I recently saw a video that loudly extolled the virtue of getting our own “house in order” before we attempt to be in a relationship. The example was used that if you have a virus it is a crazy idea to infect another person with the expectation you will get healed. Agreed, unhealthy people do not make healthy relationships but neither does isolation and “focusing on yourself”. Relationships are where be become broken and relationships are also where we get healed. To expect to get better at relationships by turning inward and isolating is like trying to be a better cook by eating at MacDonalds.

There is a place for working on ourselves and developing a healthy self-image. At some point, we need to make sure that we are secure enough with ourselves to be in strong relationships. But this is not an either/or proposition, it is actually a both/and proposition. We need to be both developing our own personal identity and refining that identity in relationships with others.

When I was a teenager I enjoyed making radio controlled airplanes. I would work for hours constructing them to the exact specifications in the instructions. They were beautiful on my shelf, but that is not what they were created for. They were meant for the sky and the only true test of my work was to take them out and fly them. The same is true in our quest to have a healthy self-image. The true test of our character is to be in a relationship that challenges us. This means that we need to engage when we’re hurt, triggered or fearful. We need to because that pain is directing us to where we are damaged. Relationships reveal our wounds and therefore are invaluable to the healing process.

If you want to be at greater peace with yourself

learn how to be at peace with others.

I have never met a person who is able to build healthy relationships who does not have a healthy relationship with themselves. Likewise, I have never met someone who has a unhealthy relationship with themselves that is not in unhealthy relationships with others.

But I can hear you say … “ it’s not everyone that I have a problem with, it’s just that one special person”. Invariably that one special person is triggering you in a relational wound that has not healed. So use the pain for gain. If not, you are dooming yourself to shallow relationships and stunted personal growth. I know this is hard – every fiber of your being is telling you to flee, but if you can resist the urge to run and find a way to understanding why you are being triggered there is incredible healing awaiting you.

Relationships are a window into our soul.

I am not advocating tolerating an abusive or destructive relationship, only a sick people with a poor self-images would accept that. But troubled relationships are a gold mind if you’re willing to stay in there and dig.

As always if you need any help or we can be of service don’t hesitate to reach out to us. If you’d like to receive regular updates on our blogs, articles, and postings just sign up for our newsletter below. 

"Talking To The Hand" Doesn't Work - And Here's Why

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Ever get hurt by what someone said or did so badly that you close down and stop communicating? It’s a bit like touching a hot stove and then quickly withdrawing your hand because, as we all know, only crazy people would leave their hand on a hot stove, right?

That’s exactly what I’m going to propose you do.

Of course, I’m not talking about a hot stove – I am talking about the courage to find insight when you’re emotionally triggered.  For many of us, our “knee-jerk” reaction to being hurt is to pull away and become silent. This causes the other person to either press for a response or withdraw wondering, “what just happened here?”.

The bottom line is that nothing gets better when we choose the tactic of; "talk to the hand 'cause the face ain't listening". The argument may blow over and the status quo return but the next time you touch the “hot stove” the pain returns and this time it brings with it the accumulated unresolved hurt from past injuries.

 John Gottman, the founder of the renown Gottman Marriage Therapy, calls this stonewalling and lists this approach to conflict as one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and a major factor in failing relationships.

But like most relational patterns it is difficult to break because it feels like we’re preserving our life but in actuality we are draining the life out of our relationships. Getting hurt is inevitable. Relationships always trigger emotional wounds and the closer the relationship the deeper the hurt.  But relationships also provide us the greatest opportunity for finding  healing for these wounds, if we don't run away from the conflict.

You want me to do what? Can’t you see that everything inside of me says to run?

It is exactly for that reason we must stay in the relationship and find healing. That pain you are feeling is a giant neon sign pointing to the place of your brokenness. Relationships have a way of pointing us to these places – what we do with this pain will determine whether we find wholeness or remain broken.

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Stonewalling keeps us stuck in our unresolved, and unhealed wounds

Next time you experience a painful encounter in your relationship, instead of pulling away try creating a new healing pattern. Here are some steps that may help.

  1. Don’t engage when you’re emotionally distraught. This condition is called being “flooded” and it is impossible for you to have a rational conversation because your brain is “flooded” with chemicals from your sympathetic nervous system. Check your heartbeat, if it is racing over 100 beats per minute (80 if you are athletic) then take 20 minutes and breathe until you can return to a calm emotional state.
  2. When you do speak about your hurt, start gently and use only I statements. Talk about how you feel not about how they “made you feel”.
  3. Avoid criticism at all costs. When we criticize we are giving up responsibility for your own feelings and blame the other person for our reaction. This will only create defensiveness in the other person and dis-empower you.
  4. Look for deeper causes for your pain. Ask yourself some probing questions:
  • Why am I so disturbed by this?
  • Does this feel similar to something from my past?
  • How does it affect the way I see myself?

If the knot is too tight for you to untie consider getting professional help - don't stay stuck in your unresolved pain. Life is too short for that!

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How Not to Compliment Your Wife

I have seen a great many men go down in flames by answering seemingly simple innocuous questions answered poorly.

Okay, here are the absolutel worse ways you can answer these questions …

“Does this dress make me look fat?”

No, you look fat without it

“Do you think I lost a few pounds?

Nope … there they are on your hips

“Do you think I’m still pretty?”

Pretty what?

“What do you think of my new hair style?”

What new hair style?

All of these questions are like IEDs and have the potential to blow you up if answered wrong. And obviously, I gave you the worse possible answers … but most of us have answered these questions with best intentions and still got blasted to smithereens. What are we doing wrong?

We live in an externally focused culture that prizes form over substance external beauty over inward character. We would rather look good than be good.

When our focus on the externals these questions take on greater significance because our love and acceptance have been made contingent on our partner’s looks. When that happens we are in a losing battle against time and the inevitable comparisons with other younger, and more externally attractive people.  

So, do you quit complimenting your spouse and never tell them that they are beautiful?

No, not if you want to stay happily married. Partners need to be attractive to one another – it’s in our DNA. But external attractiveness must not be the basis for our attraction to our spouse. We must base our attraction on something much deeper and more sustainable.

Physical beauty can only be maintained for a few years before the inevitable effects of time begin to show. That is why, if we want to be in love for a lifetime, we must focus our attention on what time can not diminish but can only improve – our character.

Men, if you are only complimenting your wives on their looks and continually making comments about other woman’s looks guess what they will think is important to you? That’s right, how they look. So what happens when the wrinkles begin to show and the gray hair begins to appear? They will believe they are losing value in your eyes. If you think this is ridiculous then just take a look at what she is spending on beauty supplies. She is not doing that primarily for others but for you!

The 5/1 Rule

Should you totally quit complimenting her on her looks? No, rather, I propose implementing the 5/1 rule.

For every one compliment you make on her looks you make five on her character? Why? Because character trumps beauty every time! Here’s why –

  • Beauty is a result of youth and good genes – character is a consequence of good choices and godly priorities
  • Beauty fades over time – character shines over time
  • Beauty is fueled by vanity – character is fueled by integrity
  • Beauty is temporary – character is eternal

Fall in love with your partner's character and their external beauty will become irrelevant. And in the years to come, you will be blessed beyond measure by the inner beauty of your spouse and see her for what she truly is - a glorious gift.

Here are five character compliments to get you started (I challenge you to come up with your own originals.)

  • Thank you for being so faithful I can always count on you.
  • You have such a beautiful loving spirit, I love the way you reach out to those in need.
  • I can see your kindness and patience with the children and me and I really appreciate 
  • I love that you are so tender and empathize with others pain
  • You have perseverance – even through the worse of our trials. You just never give up!

Try these out and see how it brings life into your relationship!

As always if there’s ever anything I can do to help you don’t hesitate to reach out.

Love you;

James

This Article Will Rock Your Relationship

 6 principles that can put your relationship back on track

If you’ve been in a serious relationship for any length of time there will be times when you feel alone. But for some, the feelings of disconnection has become more the norm than the exception.

You may have made attempts to connect but they have failed to produce the closeness that you’re hoping for. The results of living in this kind of relationship will produce feelings of ...

  • Worthlessness – Why am I not important enough for you to connect with me?
  • Frustration – I’m tired of being the only one who cares about our relationship
  • Fear – I’m afraid this is going to lead to separation or divorce
  • Hopelessness – I don’t want to live this way and I don’t know what to do

When we get to this place of discouragement we don’t know where to turn, so we reach out to books, counselors or advisors for help. But our partner is comfortable with the status quo and refuses to participate. What can we do? Should we threaten them? Or should we get used to a less than fulfilling relationship? After all, a bad relationship is better than no relationship, right? We conclude, if they don’t want to change the way things are then there is nothing I can do.

Yes, in an ideal world, when both parties commit to making a change, growth comes quicker and easier but you and I know we don’t live in an ideal world. Often, only one person in the relationship is motivated to grow.

But a relationship can grow even if you’re the only one willing to work on it!

It’s not easy, it requires a willingness to look honestly at the way you are currently managing your relationship which really means that you need to be willing to change the way you see you’re your partner and even the way you view yourself. In short, it will take more than just learning a few communication techniques - it requires true transformation. And that is exactly why you should consider taking on this adventure, not simply because you want a better relationship but because you want to be a better you.

Below I have a link to a quick five question quiz to see if you are in the kind of relationship I have described. And if you are, I don’t want to leave you without offering a real chance to see the transformation happen. So take the quiz and then I’ll share a short video about a new six-week program designed just for those who want to grow in their relationship even when their partner is indifferent or resistant.

I sincerely hope you enjoy it … it is truly a labor of love that I hope and pray will help many transform their own lives and their relationships.

Crazy Fighting

Ever been in a fight with your partner and suddenly realized that you didn’t really know what the heck you were fighting about?

That’s because few people are truly aware of why they have such strong feelings about certain things. We think that the argument is about stuff like …

  • She spends too much money!
  • He doesn’t listen to me!
  • She never picks up after herself!
  • He never wants to go out and have fun!

There are all sorts of stories about people getting divorced for seemingly unimportant reasons. Here are two examples from a Reader’s Digest article entitled “12 Crazy-But-True Reasons People Filed for Divorce”

Rashida Lucas divorced her husband, T.P., because, as she said on national television, he was just "too nice." Chief among Lucas's grievances were that T.P. said "I love you" too much and that he was such a good cook that it had caused her to gain weight.

For one Japanese couple who had been married for six years, the movie Frozen was the deal-breaker. After watching it, he made the mistake of asking her, "Did you really think it was that good?" Well, apparently, she did, and the fact that he could even ask that question made her question what sort of person he was. And she couldn't seem to "let it go," moving out of their marital residence soon after.

So why the overreaction? Why do we get so crazy over things that are not “craze-worthy”?

It’s primarily because we are not in tune with our own emotions and instead look outside of ourselves for solutions that only internal examination can heal.  The term for this inward examination is emotional intelligence.

Emotional Intelligence is the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one's emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.

It means that when we experience an emotion we are able to do three things:

  1. We are able to accurately define what we are feeling
  2. We are able to determine the true source of that feeling
  3. We are able to express the feeling in a healthy way

This isn’t easy folks, especially when we avoid self-examination.  But the truth is …

The unexamined life is not worth living
— Socrates

Some of us have been working a lifetime trying to master defining what we are feeling, understanding why we are feeling it and learning how to express those feelings in a way that doesn’t do harm to ourself and others. But until we do, resolving conflicts will always be a mystery because all we can do is make a vain attempt to control our environment and reduce whatever is triggering our emotional wounds. This means we either retreat from anything or anyone who causes us problems or we rigidly force our will upon them. Both strategies do not promote healthy relationships.  

And to a great extent, this is why we fail to resolve our arguments and why we keep having the same battle over and over again. We are really battling ourselves and until we discover that fact we are doomed to repeat it over and over again.

“WE HAVE MET THE ENEMY AND HE IS US.”
— Walt Kelly

Now, I’m not saying that we are the enemy – that attitude would be incredibly counterproductive. But what I am saying neither is your partner the enemy. The real enemy (if you must have one) is the unrecognized and unexamined emotional trigger that is empowering your arguments and making it so difficult to connect with your partner.

And that means we all need to take responsibility for our own emotional reactions and begin to develop the Emotional Intelligence to choose a different way of resolving our conflicts.

If we can ever be of help to you or you have questions about Building Real Relationships don’t hesitate to reach out to us.

Women are from Venus and Men …?

Maybe it’s me but the older I get the more I believe that there are bigger differences between men and women than I ever realized. This is especially true in the area of communication. Why is it so hard to talk to each other? We make a simple declarative statement but end up having to repeat it two or three times before it is heard and even then it is often misinterpreted.

Me: These are great burgers

Wife: What?

Me: These are great burgers

Wife: Great what?

Me: Burgers!

Wife: You need another?

Me: No, I’m just saying these are great burgers.

Wife: So you don’t want another

Me: Never mind

The person who wrote Men Are from Mars and Woman Are from Venus got the distances a little off. Women may be from Venus but men are from a planet called Zebaloon which is about 200 billion light years away from Venus.

So why are we not communicating? Are we growing hard of hearing? Or is something else happening?

This is my theory – when you’ve been with a person for a while you begin to take communication shortcuts. This could be because you think you know the other person so well that you can tell what they mean even if they don’t explicitly say it. We sometimes even finish their sentences for them. Occasionally this works but a whole lot of the time it can end up creating misunderstandings that hurt one another.

Another reason we slip into this pattern is we become lazy. It’s a lot of work to maintain a real relationship with another human being – especially one from another planet. But it’s very, very important that we continue to work on it.

Why?  Because at the core of intimate relationships is the experience of being known and understood. When do we stop listening how can we know each other? When relationships fail they fail primarily in this area – we just stop trying and end up making our partner into the one-dimensional image of themselves.

Yes, it’s hard to listen for understanding rather than listen to respond. Yes, it is difficult to put aside our prejudgments and our comfortable stereotypes. Real relationships require it.

So slow down and get your priorities right. Make understanding your highest priority – honestly, there’s nothing more important in the universe at that moment than that person who is standing in front of you. Let go of your judgments and discover the wonder of discovering your partner’s inner life.

This is where real relationships are formed, cultivated and maintained. 

How to Live With Our Differences?

Real realtionships happen when two imperfect people find something in the other person that causes them to want to go deeper, become better and experience more than they could alone.  But that’s just the point, we are all conflicted people. We want the good feelings that come from relationships but we don’t want to put in the work it takes to get there. It’s called ambivalence and it is an entirely human condition often characterized by this statement, “opposites attract and then they attack”. Yes, that’s right we are attracted to something in the other person that is not like us. That something attracts us like nothing else and causes to say, “I’ve got to have that!” But when we get it the excitement wears off and the difference that we were so attracted to begins to become an irritation. So instead of celebrating the difference, we want to tamp it down and get them to be more normal – like us.

But real growth happens when we choose to celebrate the unique (and sometimes weird) in the other person and integrate their lives into ours. We then become more than we could possibly be without them. It’s a humbling process where we are continually challenged to love at our deepest level.

I admit this is hard – I’m just as addicted to my “comfort zones” as you are. I hate it when I have to put aside my cherished ways and accept that there may be different way of looking at the world.

But that’s how we grow, pushing past our limiting insecurities to become the best version of ourselves.

Sounds great but can anyone do that?

Try this, instead of focusing on the differences as a problem, focus on the difference in a positive way.

  • Are they not talkative? They're a deep thinker.
  • Do they take a lot of time getting ready? Call them fashion aware.
  • Do they talk too much? Call them socially adept.
  • Do they worry about money? Call them financially responsible.

We really do have a choice of what we focus on and what we focus on will determine the level of happiness we experience in our relationships.

We always welcome your comments and thoughts … let’s grow together!

The Surprising Essential for a Good Marriage

I often sit in front of couples silently praying for wisdom to help them get unstuck from the destructive patterns that are spiraling their relationship down into the black abyss of divorce.  I think if I could just say the right words or use the right interventions then the relationship can be saved. So much pain is produced by their bickering, fighting, insults, accusations and hurtful words. My heart breaks at the pain we humans can inflict upon each other and I desperately want to stop it.

But what I have come to realize is my best insights and carefully crafted observations are useless without one crucial ingredient.

There needs to be a willingness to change.

Sometimes this willingness comes out of frustration – after they have tried everything and failed.

Sometimes this willingness is a huge leap of faith – trusting in the knowledge and skill of the therapist.

And sometimes this willingness comes out of pain – they would just like the fighting to stop and feel peace.

At the core of this willingness is a much-maligned character quality called humility, a willingness to look critically at one's self before attempting to change their partner. When this quality is present miraculous breakthroughs become possible.

But where there is no humility the opposite is true. All the insight, skill, and brilliant counseling will not move couples closer together. At the core of truly intimate relationships is the ability to suspend one’s own prejudice and look compassionately and empathetically at their partner.

This should be no surprise. Even the greatest teacher, healer and lover who ever walked this earth could not perform his miraculous interventions when hearts were hard, eyes were closed and ears stopped up.

For this people’s heart have become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise, they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.
— Matthew 13:15 NIV

So my simple word to you (and me) is to soften our hearts, open our eyes, unstop our ears and let the healing begin. For as surely as God made us he desires to bring healing into our lives and our marriages – if only we will humble ourselves.

Alone – In a Relationship

The Principle of New Beginnings

The first step toward breaking free from the habits and patterns of the past is to believe you can. I know this statement may seem blatantly obvious and it would be easy to gloss over it looking for some deeper wisdom but I strongly encourage you to pause and reflect on this principle. Or as Henry Ford said:

Have you ever been thwarted in a goal that you firmly believed you could accomplish? When I say believe I don’t mean that you mouthed some words or half-heartedly put yourself to it. What I mean by belief is that deep in your soul you knew that you could do it. It was never a matter of if but only when. Those of us that bring this kind of belief to a challenge will overcome any obstacle to realize our vision. That belief is the fertile soil from which dreams germinate, sprout, and produce lasting fruit.

So the first attitude on our way to a richer, fuller and more satisfying relationship is the ability to believe you can obtain that relationship. But that’s not so easy – right? You may have had years of discouragement and you see before you a mountain of obstacles. The inertia of the past may be holding you down to the point that you feel powerless to believe your circumstances can change. I know what you are feeling – I have been there myself. This is how we get stuck. When we feel helpless and hopeless we perpetuate our circumstances and remain in our misery.

What I am asking you to do is put aside all the reasons you can’t have the relationship you desire and create a space for the possibility that your life can be different. At this point you don’t need to ask how change will happen, only that the potential for change is possible. Robert F. Kennedy quoted George Bernard Shaw in his 1968 speech and expresses this exact principle.

Some people see things as they are and say why? I dream things that never were and say, why not?
— Robert F. Kennedy

Can you say why not? Can you suspend your disbelief and become open to the prospect of change. History is filled with examples of those who were able to apply their creative energies to something that had yet to be experienced; only dreamed.  In fact I dare say that no great work or accomplishment has ever come about without someone daring to dream it first.

But with that dream comes what can best be described as the death of that dream. These are all the reasons why your dream cannot come true. Here are a few …

  • I have tried and nothing works
  • My spouse is never going to change
  • I’m tired and don’t have the strength to make things change
  • I don’t know what to do
  • I can’t see how things could be different

If these (and I’m sure there are others) become our focus they will be the death of any new possibility and strangle the initial stages of change before there is a chance to grow. So I ask you to change those negative affirmations and replace them with new inspiring ones.   

  • Today is a new day with new possibilities
  • My spouse in no impediment to my happiness
  • I have unlimited energy to do whatever I need to do
  • Wisdom will come to me when I need it
  • I am not a prisoner to my present limited understanding

Some of you may be saying; “What will that do for me … none of those things are true” In reality they can be truer than the limited, narrow and restricted thinking that comes through negative thinking. In the end we will achieve what we conceive.  What you focus on will ultimately determine your destiny.

I am not saying that positive affirmations are all you need to achieve your dreams. But until you put aside your self-limiting beliefs you will not be able to learn the skills and strategies that will move you forward. It’s just that simple. Nothing escapes the black hole of self-limiting beliefs.

I have more to say on this very important principle so I am collecting all seven principles into an exciting new format which will be available around March 1st. So keep in touch and get ready for the exhilarating news!  

Alone – In a Relationship

How Did I Get Here?

When we find ourselves in a difficult relationship one of the questions we tend to ask is; “how did I get here?”

Nobody starts a relationship with the expectation that, somewhere down the road, we’re going to end up feeling isolated, unloved and alone. So if that was not our intention how did it happen? Let me give you a few of the detours we take that lead down the road to an unfulfilling relationship.

It all centers around the fact we are reproducing the only kind of relationship we know.

I tell my clients that we will only deal with the past when the past gets in the way of our future. Unfortunately this is almost always the case. We learn our relationship skills from those who modeled relationships to us. How our parents resolved conflict, created a safe and secure environment and met our emotional, physical and spiritual needs will become the model we think of as “normal”.

I can hear some of you saying; “Wait a minute! I hated the way I grew up and I am doing everything I can to do it differently”. I acknowledge your efforts and support your intentions but changing the dysfunctional relational patterns of the past requires more than just recognizing what did not work; it requires the ability to put new healthy patterns in place. In order for true change to happen we must implement lifestyle changes that will feel awkward, totally unnatural and difficult to consistently apply. Here are some of the areas that we often struggle in:

How was conflict managed in your home?

Were criticism, contempt, defensiveness or stonewalling used when disagreements arose? Was there a “win at all cost” mentality? Or were you like many of us never privy to the arguments that happened behind closed doors. Few of us learned how to express anger or our complaints in a healthy way so naturally we find it difficult to do it in our relationships.

How was love and comfort expressed?

Did you feel loved and cherished in your home or did you feel like you were on the outside looking in? Conversely, were you smothered and used as an emotional support system for one or both of your parents. Not experiencing healthy love and comfort in our home leaves us with a deficit that is extremely hard to fill, especially by an unaware spouse.

How was communication handled?

Was information communicated directly or did it come through channels. If someone was angry or upset did you hear it from them or did it come at you via third parties. If we or our partner is unused to direct communication then we may feel threatened or frightened by their frankness and it may be difficult for us feel connected.  

What were the expectations for each family member?

What was expected of each member in your home? These expectation are often transferred to your new relationships without even a conscious thought that your spouse may have a different set of expectations. 

If you and your spouse are not in agreement in these areas then you are bound to feel misunderstood and alone. We create such strong and deeply held beliefs that when our partner shares a contrary view we can’t accept it, much less understand it. If we are ever going to have healthy, satisfying relationships we need to understand what those relationships look like.

After all, a sure way to become utterly lost is to redouble your effort after you have lost sight of your goal.  And that is what a lot of us do when we’re in unhappy relationships. We try desperately to make changes in ways that are just as dysfunctional as what we are trying to change. The real change needs to happen in us before we can hope to see a significant change in our relationship.

I have often had clients recount to me a litany of failed and dysfunctional relationships as if there was some grand conspiracy to make sure that they would never find happiness. I always listen patiently. (Okay, sometimes I get a wee bit impatient) But I do understand that there is deep pain and sadness when we feel disconnected, alone and hopeless. Eventually we get around to the inevitable question. What do all these relationships have in common? At this point my client has a very hard time answering that question but eventually (with some prodding) the light comes on and they say – it’s me. Yes, I say in my wisest and most compassionate tone, it is you. So what do you want to do about that?

We are at the center of our lives for good or for bad so if we’re ever going to experience something different we’re going to need to see what we are doing in order to create something new. And that my friends is why we look at the past and ask the above questions.

If you are having difficulty with knowing what healthy relationships look like I have a suggestion. Read the Beatitudes (Matthew 5: 3-10 and 1 Corinthians 13) and especially study the life of Jesus Christ. For in his example we find the highest, truest, and most worthy example of how we are to interact with one another. Or as the Apostle Paul said so well:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
— Philippians 2:5-11 NIV

As always if ever we can help you on your journey to find joy we're here to help.

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!