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.


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Five Steps to Intimacy: Creating Yours, Mine and Ours

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FREE WORKBOOK DOWNLOAD

Do you ever think relationships would be easy if the other person was like you? We may not actually say that but often we act like it, especially when our partner is excited about something that we have absolutely no interest in.

When this happens we must choose a response.

  1. Act like we enjoy it: (ie. Fake it)
  2. Decline to participate: (ignore it)
  3. Negotiate for something you want:  (Leverage it) This becomes a “tit for tat” arrangement, something like saying, “if you’ll see the latest superhero movie with me I’ll go shopping for shoes with you.”

So how are these solutions working? Not so good ugh?

This is why …

1. Act like you enjoy it:

The first solution of acting like we enjoy it doesn’t work … unless we’re going for sympathy. This is because everyone knows how much you are hating what you’re doing and you’re probably so unhappy that they’re probably wishing you just said no to it in the first place. If that’s what you're going for you’d be better off just saying no. Which leads us to the second option.

2. Decline to participate:

So you’ve successfully avoided the hated activity but now you’ve got another problem. You’re missing out on something your partner is passionate about. Why is this a problem? I have found that it is one of the major complaints of that troubled relationships I work with because if you can’t appreciate the things that your partner loves it is very hard to convince them that you appreciate them. That’s right, the things we love are intricately tied to us so that if you are rejecting the things your partner loves they see this as a de facto rejection of them. John Gottman the renown research Psychologist has found that developing a culture of appreciation for your partner's interests and activities is fundamental to maintaining a good marriage.

3. Negociate

Now I hear you saying, “isn’t this just creating a good compromise?” Yes, I believe in compromise, in fact, compromise is at the core of being able to deal with perpetual conflict. In many cases, we need to compromise in order to maintain a healthy balance in a relationship. But if we ever find ourselves creating a relationship based upon, “if you do _______ then I will do ________” then we are headed for real problems. This is because healthy relationships are built on unconditional love and when we create a “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” attitude then we find that our back never gets scratched enough and we begin feeling that we are scratching theirs too much. In addition, all the time we are “compromising” we are very likely slipping into the “faking mentality” which will end up making everyone miserable.

Let me share some illustrations that I have find helpful when working with my couples.

INDEPENDENCE

 
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This is where the couple finds little or no involvement in one another’s life. It is characterized by the phrase, “they have their life and I have mine”. There is very little interaction, except in areas of necessity (paying bills, dealing with children, etc.) Often, I see couples at this stage when the children have left the house and now they are wondering why they got married in the first place since they have no mutual interests. They have become strangers to each other.

DEPENDENCE

 
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This is a state where one partner can’t move without the other. They are living in each other’s world even to the denial of their own uniqueness. Psychology calls it “enmeshment” and it is often caused by a fear of rejection or poor self-image. These relationships are suffocating because they don’t allow for the individuality and creativity of the other person and instead attempt to make it wrong for either partner to have an opinion or interest outside of the approval of their partner. When I see a couple like this it is often because one party is making a desperate attempt to find freedom and is pushing them into an “all or nothing” approach.  When this problem is not addressed it often leads to divorce.

INTERDEPENDENCE

 
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This is where both partners maintain their unique personalities and interest but find ways to share in the passionate pursuits of each other's world without the need to isolate or become enmeshed. It is where we acknowledge individuality (viva la difference) but also recognizes the beautiful contribution that this difference brings to the whole. The challenge is:

  • Develop a way to both maintain individuality without becoming independent.
  • Create interdependence without becoming dependent.

The five steps

1.       Celebrate the Difference: We have a saying in Marriage Counseling, “opposites attract and then they attack”. Basically, this means that we are drawn to our partner because of the unique attributes they possess that we find fascinating. But then as time goes on we no longer find these characteristics fascinating but irritating. One of the most common pairings I find is an extrovert marring an introvert. Here is how they become attracted and then attack each other:

When an introvert meets an extrovert they say, “wow, I love the way you connect with people and feel so at home in a crowd. When I’m with you I feel like I’m with a rock star!
When an introvert lives with an extrovert for a while they may say, “why do you always need to be with people … can’t you just stay home more often?”
When an extrovert meets an introvert they say, “You are so deep and thoughtful, I love your calmness and wisdom, I find it very peaceful.”
When an extrovert lives with an introvert for a while they say, “ why do you spend so much time alone reading your books, what’s wrong with you?”

Instead of celebrating our partner's difference we want them to become more like us because that’s more comfortable. But good relationships are not always comfortable – sometimes they require us to stretch. Healthy relationships have this ability to be both totally accepting of our unique peculiarities and also challenge us to grow to experience our full potential. So for an introvert living with an extrovert, there is a challenge to broaden their world of relationships and touch more lives. And for an extrovert living with an introvert, there is a challenge to develop a contemplative life and deepen their inner world. This growth requires that we learn how to appreciate the other’s gifts, abilities, and interests even if we have no desire in those areas.


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Getting to We

This is when we become aware of an interest in our partner's sphere and choose to find something in that interest we can authentically be excited about. That interest is then pulled into our sphere and we then share it in the "we" sphere.


2.       Identify your partner’s passions: You may know what they are or you may not. Sometimes when one partner has been hearing negative things about what they love they lose hope of ever pursuing them. This is a sad state where they live a hopeless unfulfilled life that offers no joy. We need to kindle our partner’s interests rather than dampen them.  A truly happy relationship is where we are the wind under their wings and they are encouraged to become all they were meant to be. So during this step, we need to sit down and take an inventory of our partner’s interests. Ask questions like:

  • If you could do anything, with no limitations, what would it be?
  • What have you always wanted to do but just never got around to it?
  • As a child, what did you like to do that never lost it’s fun?

Okay, I can hear some of you saying, “how is just doing what they want to do going to work for me?” Here are three thoughts about that.

Encouraging the loves and interests of your partner gives you a partner who is more fully alive and who, in turn, has the capacity to help encourage your passions.

Encouraging the loves and interests of your partner produces a deeper and more intimate relationship. We feel close to those who truly know us and to know and appreciate our unique passions is one of the best ways of feeling known.

Our partner will never feel truly loved if we do not appreciate those areas of interest and passion that is the expression of their unique self
— James Tillman

Encouraging the loves and interests of your partner opens you up to a new and expanding world of adventure that offers you a fuller richer life. This leads us to the third step.

3.       Find something in your partner’s interests that you can authenticly be excited about.

Here’s an example from one of the couples I work with.

The wife is passionate about all things fashion and loves to follow the latest fashion bloggers who have enormous influence in the clothing industry. The husband is a numbers guy and has no interest in the fashion industry. There seems to be no way that he will be able to find something that interests him in his wife’s fashion passion. But he did! He was able to look past the clothes and see that there are a few power bloggers who are able to move people to purchase clothes simply by using influence. He found this fascinating because he is in a company that would be greatly enhanced by applying some of the same principles to their product. So when his wife is looking at the latest trend in clothing on her smartphone he is looking over her shoulder at the way the clothes are being presented and the power of influence.  

You may need to get creative and expand your palate of colors but this is an opportunity to grow if you are up for the challenge. Because when you do you accomplish step four.

4.       Pull your partner’s “my interest” into a “we interest”: Finding something that interests you in your partner's passion will create an opportunity for you both to grow closer and experience a more enjoyable life together. Examples:

We both have a “we interest” in amusement parks: I like the rides, she likes the shows
We both have a “we interest” in taking vacations: I like exploring new and unusual sights, she likes finding new and interesting restaurants.
We both have a “we interest” in visiting museums. She likes learning about ancient cultures, I find the artwork fascinating. When you do this you accomplish the fifth step.

5.       Go for the win, win, win as much as possible: Let’s face it, we’re not always going to find something that peaks our interest in everything our partner loves. Sometimes we’re just going to need to love that our partner loves it. This kind of attitude says, “I can appreciate something simply because it gives you pleasure and that makes me happy.”

I like Disneyland … it must be because it holds some of my happiest memories when I was growing up. My wife has really no love for Disneyland (grew up in Kansas) and in fact, it would not be a place she would ever choose to go even if someone were to pay. But the other day she surprised me by planning a date to the Magic Kingdom. We had a marvelous time and she authentically enjoyed the park. This was because of seeing it through my eyes. One moment stands out as a precious memory. We were in the Enchanted Tiki Room. This is one of the most outdated but beloved attractions in Disneyland and definitely an acquired taste. During the show, she leaned over to me and gave me a tender kiss. I asked her what that was about and she said, “because I love to see you in your happy place.”

Wouldn’t it be great if we could get to that place more often in our relationships? Enjoying an activity simply because it brings joy to our partner. This requires that we are willing to cultivate a caring, giving and unselfish relationship with our spouse. This commitment will reward us tenfold in not only a more satisfying relationship but even more importantly a more beautiful character which, in the end, produces greater wholeness, wellness, and joy.

Get your Free "Getting to We" Couple's Worksheet

This workbook  is a step by step guide to help a couple discover their individual areas of interests and bring their partner into these areas so that they become something they mutually enjoy. 

 
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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.

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"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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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!