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IS ENDING A RELATIONSHIP SELFISH?


Ending a relationship is never easy.  And often choosing to end it is just as challenging as being the one who’s told “it’s over.”  When we’re the person who’s leaving a relationship, we often face a lot of guilt and doubt.  Even if all signs point to an exit being in our best interest, having 100% certainty is elusive.

There are many reasons for this.  First, we’ve become comfortable in the relationship and leaving it presents a great deal of uncertainty – which our ego doesn’t like so much.  Second, we may be running some co-dependent patterns and even if we know the relationship is unhealthy, it feels rather addictive because we have trouble truly being on our own. 

And then there are the times when we love the other person and see the good in him or her but know that being in the relationship is no longer for our Highest Good.  These are the hardest relationships to leave. 

There’s a lot of self-doubt when we feel we don’t have a “good” reason to leave, yet at the same time we know deep down that our values and the direction we’re headed in, no longer align.  We feel selfish, guilty and often end up staying out of obligation.

But is obligation love?  Is staying out of guilt truly not selfish? 

Sometimes what seems like a selfish choice is truly a self-honoring choice. And sometimes what we think will hurt a person, will actually help them more.

That being said, I’m all for working on a relationship – no relationship is perfect, and every single relationship takes effort.  However, some relationships come with “expiration dates” — meaning that you’ve grown as far as you can together and it’s time to move on.

It also takes an equal commitment from both people to work on the relationship.  If one person in the relationship stops working on themselves and/or the love they share for too long, then distance is created.  The more distant two people become, the harder it is to come back together. 

Here’s the thing: there’s no excuse for becoming lazy or disconnected in a relationship.  Sure, we all go through tough times where more patience may be required from our partner. But if we start to use life circumstances as a scapegoat for not showing up in our relationships, then we’re not being 100% responsible for our 50% of the relationship.

If you’ve struggled with a relationship expiration date and/or with figuring out the “right” time to leave a relationship, I’d love to hear your comments and questions!

The Couples Counseling & Therapy Practice You Can Do From Your Own Couch


My clients often tell me that they want to rekindle the effortless intimacy they had with their partner at the beginning of their relationship, back when they were full of curiosity, fascination, and acceptance.  When the chemical cocktail of love is exploding in your brain and body, it’s easy to feel unending interest in an amazing and mysterious stranger.

Over time, one may start to feel like they know their partner inside out—like they can predict their partner’s responses regularly.  Even in a great relationship, one’s responses may become reactive, even parental (“I told you what to do, and you didn’t listen to me”).  But these responses only shut down communication.

Reviving a relationship that has become stale often takes doing things differently, risking vulnerability, and leaving your comfort zone. Like physical fitness requires practice, so does communication fitness.

I teach my clients the Couples Dialogue, created by Dr. Harville Hendrix and his wife, Dr. Helen Hunt, to help them move beyond painful power struggles to reconnect and create a new space of safety, permitting the free flow of conversation they once enjoyed.

What is Couples Dialogue, and why is it used in counseling and therapy?

Imagine there’s a bridge; you’re on one side and your partner is on the other.  You’re both looking at the river between you, but you have separate views.  Similarly, many arguments between partners—be it about sex, money, or even how to properly wash the dishes—start because one person sees the problem differently from the other, and they’re fighting about whose view is right.

Well, usually, both of you are right.  But more than winning an argument, what you really want is to feel heard and acknowledged.  Sadly, that’s the last thing that happens when you’re trying to prove your point and disprove theirs.  While you may say you’re listening, your true agenda is to show your partner how their view of the river is wrong.

The brilliance of the Couples Dialogue is how quickly it can restore safety for the speaker and create empathy in the listener.  The purpose is not agreement but understanding—and sometimes that’s all that’s needed to remove the destructive energy from an issue.

In the Couples Dialogue, both parties agree to a basic ground rule: One person speaks at a time. In the four-step dialogue process, one person (the sender) is speaking, and the other person (the receiver) is listening.  Here are the essential steps of this therapy practice:

Step 1: Inviting your partner to dialogue

Make sure you have time for the dialogue.  By inviting, you create an intention and a space that’s free from screens, rings, and buzzes.

Step 2: Mirroring

Choose one topic to talk about.  Make it something non-inflammatory until you’re good at the mirroring technique.  Mirroring is not parroting.  Instead, the receiver repeats the words the sender uses, trying their best to capture what the sender is expressing.  As the receiver, you should put your own point of view in an imaginary box and move it to the side.  This exercise is about the other person. Your partner, the sender, begins with an “I statement,” like, “When you didn’t get home in time for our walk tonight, I felt…”

Then follow these guidelines:

  • Mirror your partner’s message with empathy, trying to match the energy and the tone in their voice, then check for accuracy.
  • You might say something like, “You felt disappointed and abandoned when I didn’t get home in time for our walk tonight.  Did I get that right?”  Then, they’ll tell you yes or no and add any corrections.  After that, you could ask, “Is there more about this?”
  • Continue sharing back and forth until there is no more to say.  Then you may ask, “If there was one more thing, what would it be?”
  • When the message is completed (meaning, the sender answers your “anything else?” with a “no”), summarize everything you heard them say.  (For example: “Let me see if I got that…”)
  • You may check for accuracy by asking, “Did I get it all?”  Don’t include your opinion or reasons or give nonverbal cues that communicate that it’s in any way about you.  It WILL feel unfamiliar, and even strange at first, but stay with it.  Remember, we usually resist what’s out of our comfort zone!

Step 3: Validation

In this important step, you let your partner know they aren’t wrong, bad, or crazy to feel a certain way.  You don’t have to agree with them.  In fact, you might have very different perspectives, but it’s key to let your partner know that you understand their point of view and it makes sense.  You might say, “I understand that you were counting on our walk, and when I came home late you felt sad and even abandoned.  This makes sense to me because we haven’t had much time together this week.”  This is not a defense or an explanation.

Step 4: Empathy

Again, I can’t emphasize this enough: You don’t have to agree to be able to empathize.  You’re trying to put yourself into your partner’s shoes and show them that you understand what they’re going through.  Remember, this isn’t about you.  This is not the time to say, “One reason we haven’t had time is that you’ve gone to four extra yoga classes this week.”  Instead, you could say, “I imagine you felt disappointed, hurt, and even angry when I didn’t get home on time.”

Once your partner feels heard and understood, you might want to share your side of the story. You can ask to switch roles and then start the process from the beginning.

Unfortunately, like any tool, the Couples Dialogue can be misused by someone trying to prove they’re “right.”  To avoid this trap, you can try waiting 24 hours before switching roles with your partner about the same issue.

The Couples Dialogue is not a problem-solving process; it’s a way to seek understanding.  The more you practice dialoguing, the better you’ll get at it.  When you both feel respected and understood, your problems will often seem much smaller.  As you soften your defenses, compromise becomes easier, sharing is safer, and intimacy can be restored or ignited in a new way.  Ultimately, you and your partner will be willing to take more risks while talking to each other when your goal is understanding instead of winning.

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WHEN YOUR RELATIONSHIP LETS YOU DOWN


I’ll be real, guys.

There are times when my relationship lets me down.
When my husband can’t give me what I want, or what I need.
Those moments feel like shit.
I feel myself collapse. As if all the life has drained out through my stomach. It feels like I’m going to throw up.

It can be something really small. Something objectively inconsequential:
Like joining me for a coffee….
Talking through our plans for next week….
Watching a movie together.

Or maybe it’s something with a little more charge:
Having sex…
Planning our anniversary…
Talking through the thing that’s been bothering me the last week or so.

And his answer is no.

For whatever reason, he’s just doesn’t feel up to it.
But in those moments, I feel abandoned.
Completely and utterly alone.

Because what it feels like he’s REALLY saying no to is…. me.
It feels personal. Really, deeply personal.
And in that tiny snapshot of time, I can throw the whole relationship into question. Because that’s my default when I’m hurting.
Shut down. Close off. Run away. Become Little-Miss-I-Don’t-Need-You-I’m-A-100%-Independent-Power-Woman.

Yeah, she’s as charming as she sounds.

I know it’s different for others. Some of my clients describe it as a spiral. Falling into a deep, dark hole of I’m-not-good-enough and unworthiness.
But at the root of it, it’s the same.
Hurt. Disappointment. Loneliness.

Once upon a time those moments ruled my relationship. I’d lash out. Attack. Manipulate. Defend. All in a desperate attempt to get my need met. Or else shut off completely, as if the need wasn’t there at all. Trying clumsily to protect from the hurt.

But here’s the tragedy of it:
What I’m really craving in those moments is connection.
And my intense default behavior never, EVER leads to the connection that I want so much.

Because Little Miss Independent is in denial that she wants connection at all.
And instead she drives a wedge between us. Creates an argument. Puts up barriers. Closes down her heart. And all it does is make it so much harder for the love to get in.

It turns a single moment of ‘rejection’ – an innocent mismatch of desires or timing or moods (sometimes he just doesn’t feel like a coffee) into a whirling mess of emotion and triggers.

The rational mind kicks in and starts piling together corroborating evidence. The battle lines are drawn and we’re digging our trenches.

It’s On. Like Donkey Kong.

All the times they’ve let you down. All the times they’ve rejected you. All the ways you’re not enough for each other. All the hurt and disappointment bubbles to the surface – not just from this relationship, but all the unresolved hurt from relationships long past.

Suddenly, it’s so much bigger than it actually is.
This is why loving someone is so hard.
With a single no, they have the power to collapse your whole world, and crush your heart.
It’s so very vulnerable.

But is this the only way?
Happily, no. There are other options.
But I’ll be brutally honest here:
Doing something different takes tremendous personal strength. And courage. And bad-assery.
And a ton of personal reflection.

Because you’ve got to own your crap. All the stories. The default patterns. The hurt from relationships past.
And you must hold onto yourself at the same time.
To stay open.
To keep feeling.
To keep Hoping. Yearning. Wanting.
Loving.

All while you accept the disappointment that right now, your partner can’t give you what you need.

Because they’re human. Because they’ve got their own stuff going on. Because no matter how much you might secretly hope that they were – they’re not actually here to meet your needs.
The fun part of relationship is that yes, most of the time, they probably will meet your needs. And it will feel fantastic.
But it’s not their job.
It’s your job.
The art is to do your job, while still inviting them in.

How to feel the no AND feel the love at the same time.
How to talk about your hurt, your disappointment, your yearning – without blaming or grasping or defending.
How to wait, patiently, vulnerably, until that moment when you can come back to connection.
And how to walk yourselves back to that place of connection, once the time is right.

It’s not easy, but I can proudly say I’ve learned how to do this.
I’ve learned how to feel the hurt but catch myself before the story spirals out of control.
I own my stories and call them out for the nonsense that they are.
And I can keep the dialogue open with my husband, even while my stomach is falling out through the floor.
It’s been a hard-won skill, but an invaluable one.
It’s a skill that’s meant this relationship has lasted longer than any other I’ve ever been in.
It’s a skill that makes me confident that it will keep on lasting.
It’s a skill that might just create more love and acceptance on this planet of ours.
A skill that could shrink divorce rates.
Heal broken homes.
Heal broken hearts.
No, it’s not the cure all for every relationship.
But it’s an epic start.

Keep your hearts open, lovers.

❤️, Karen

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Significant Other Asking For Space? Here’s What It Actually Means (And How To Keep Your Sh*t Together)


A client of mine, Mark, asked me the following question during one of our recent sessions:

“My fiancé recently said she wanted time apart to think about the future and doesn’t feel a lot of hope for us.  I’m despondent.  How do I not try to control this outcome?”

This brief question holds so much information.  Let’s dig into what it’s telling us.

What does this development mean?

Often, when someone wants space, it’s because he/she is feeling controlled and engulfed in the relationship and just wants to get away from it.  The fact that Mark asked, “How do I not try to control this outcome?” indicates that trying to control his fiancé has been a pattern in their relationship.

This could either be a moment in which Mark continues his unhealthy controlling patterns, or it could be an opportunity for him to ask himself questions and start finding a new, healthier way of dealing with anxiety in his relationship.

The questions for Mark to ask himself:

  • How have I been trying to control her that has led to her wanting space?
  • What are the fears and false beliefs I’m operating from that lead me to try to control her?
  • Where did I learn my controlling behavior?
  • What signals has she been giving me that I’ve been ignoring that have led to her wanting space?
  • How am I abandoning myself that leads me to feel insecure, resulting in me trying to control her?

Next, he needs to identify the motivation for his behavior:

Instead of asking about how not to try to control his fiancé, Mark needs to do his inner work to heal the fears that lead to his controlling behavior.  He needs to understand that trying to control his fiancé isn’t loving to her—nor is it loving to him.  He needs to learn to love himself so that he can share his love with her rather than trying to get love from her—which is what controlling behavior is about.

It’s unrealistic to believe that we can try to control someone else’s feelings without pushing the other person away.  Mark is struggling with a typical relationship system, in which one person tries to control someone else’s love and attention, and the other person, feeling engulfed and trapped, withdraws.  The more Mark tries to force love, attention, and affection, the more his fiancé likely withdraws, and the more she withdraws, the more likely it is that Mark will put even more pressure on her—a very negative relationship system.

Why it’s not just about Mark:

Since people come together at their common level of woundedness, both Mark and his fiancé are abandoning themselves.  Mark abandons himself by trying to control her instead of learning to give himself the love and validation he needs so that he can share his love with her, and she abandons herself by withdrawing rather than speaking up for herself when Mark tries to control her.

Relationships work when each person learns how to take responsibility for their own feelings rather than making the other person responsible.  Relationships work when we come to each other full of love to share rather than trying to get love or avoid being controlled.

What Mark needs to do is back off from his fiancé.  He needs to give her space while he focuses on his own inner work.  If he lets go of trying to control her and learns to be loving to himself and to her, it’s possible that she will come back into the relationship.  She must have loved him when she accepted his proposal, and she likely still loves him, but she can’t feel her love for Mark when he’s trying to control her.  Letting go of the control and learning to take responsibility for his own feelings may give her the space to again feel her love for him.

While there are no guarantees that learning to love himself and share his love will bring her back into the relationship, he is virtually guaranteed that she won’t come back if he continues to try to control her.

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HOW TO FORGIVE COMPLETELY


I consider forgiveness one of the most powerful and spiritual things we have the ability to do as humans.  Yet it’s often misused and misunderstood.

First let me address the misuse – or rather the idea of moving into forgiveness too early.  An important part of the healing journey is to express and release the feelings we stuffed inside.  Usually, when a painful event happened in our past we had to go into survival mode and couldn’t express what we needed to in a healthy way.  Even if we did express our feelings, chances are it usually wasn’t greeted with compassion.

For example, let’s say you were abandoned or abused as a child or young adult.  You may not have had an emotionally mature or capable adult around to hold a space of compassion for you and tell you that you didn’t do anything wrong.  So, it’s important that as an adult you feel and express those feelings in a healthy way. Because I know from my own personal experience how important it is to feel the feelings that are attached to the painful experiences in our past.

I teach about this in detail in my one-on-one coaching program.

In the personal development space, I see a lot of to “forgive” as a spiritual practice.  But if we jump to forgiveness too quickly without first acknowledging and expressing any anger, sadness, or shame inside, we’re indulging in spiritual bypass.  This means we’re attempting to forgive something in our mind without first moving it through our emotional body.  If we don’t do this, we won’t experience the true freedom that comes from forgiveness.

Once you move through and release pent up emotions, then you can truly tap into the transformative power of forgiveness.  Thru forgiving others and ourselves, we become free from resentment, blame and old hurts that are obstacles to our well-being and success.  This is when forgiveness also truly becomes a spiritual practice because it requires that we look at certain situations in our life without judgment.  That we stop seeing things as good, bad, right or wrong and instead see everything with neutrality.

I understand that this is easier said than done … which brings me to breaking down some of the misunderstanding around forgiveness.  Forgiveness isn’t an easy concept since we’ve been conditioned to live a little too much in victimhood.  We often get into the habit of blaming someone else, ourselves, or a combination of both, for the challenging events where we felt hurt or harmed.

Our egos get really attached to being right, which often perpetuates blame, resentment, and holding on to grudges.  We resist forgiving because we believe we were wronged and think we need to hold on to our judgments of a person or situation to feel justified.  What is key to understand about forgiveness is that it’s not about letting someone else off the hook — it’s about setting you free.  Forgiveness doesn’t mean we’re agreeing with or condoning what happened.

Forgiveness does mean we’re letting go of the judgments and pain we’ve been holding inside. What happened, happened.  You can continue to blame and be angry and think you were wronged but honestly your life is not going to be as good as it could be because hanging onto all that stuff takes up a lot of energy and keeps you at a lower vibration.

And from what I’ve learned from my own experiences, and coaching so many people, is that often the people that we perceived wronged or hurt us the most are our biggest spiritual teachers and catalysts for growth.  Think about it, hasn’t a painful situation been a huge reason why you’re on this path of growth?

Can you change your perception of a situation you’ve deemed unforgivable and see it as something your soul chose for you to experience to grow in a certain way?

Now I know you may be thinking…why would my soul have chosen to be abused or betrayed? The best answer I can give you is for YOU to ask your inner guidance that question.  I suspect if you get really quiet and listen inside, you will arrive at an answer.

Also, when it comes to forgiving someone else, it’s not something that has to be done face-to-face with anyone.  Forgiveness is an inside job.

I invite you to set yourself free by seeing the people in your life, including those you judged as harming you, from a more spiritual, less judgmental perspective.  Be willing to see their life curriculum and know that they’ve experienced things that have been painful.  Their own pain and unresolved issues have triggered behavior that may have been the source of yours.  People who seemingly harm others are coming from a place of profound disconnection.  Everyone is truly doing the best they can.  Even if you feel passionately that they knew better or could do better, it’s unreasonable to expect people to act the way we would have acted in a similar situation.

To experience the liberation and transformation that comes from forgiving, we must be willing to drop our expectations of others and forgive them for any suffering we have accused them of causing.  Be a seeker rather than a victim by seeing their pain and having compassion for their human experience rather than holding on to pain and blame.  And just a reminder here…you do this, with self-compassion, AFTER you move through the hurt feelings.

And finally, I want to speak to the person who is often hardest to forgive: yourself.  When we’re plagued by regret, we buy into the misunderstanding that if we forgive ourselves, we may be letting ourselves off the hook.  Or that we won’t learn the lesson we need to learn.  This could not be further from the truth.  We all make so-called mistakes.  The process of forgiveness recognizes that we are all humans doing the best we can at any moment in spite of the fact that our performance falls short of our expectations.  Please release the expectation that you are supposed to get it “right” all the time, be kind to yourself and drop the shoulda/coulda/woulda’s.

If you continue to beat yourself up, forgiveness isn’t possible because you cannot transform when you’re still harboring judgments.

Remember, we choose our inner response to everything in our life and holding on to all that anger and harboring resentment against yourself or others offers no relief from our pain.  You deserve to be free – it’s time to let go through forgiveness.  And if you feel really stuck, I highly recommend joining me in my one-on-one coaching program.  You can learn more about that by going towww.karenmcguirecoaching/breakthrough.

❤️, Karen

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HOW TO GET OVER REGRET


Regret.  We’ve all felt it at some point.  Some of you are feeling it right now and you’re suffering because of it.

Something did or didn’t happen the way you wanted.  You did or didn’t do something the way you wished you would have.  And you want more than anything to be able to rewind time and get a do-over.  You’ve replayed scenarios over and over in your head thinking of all the things you could’ve done or said.  You’re trapped in a shoulda/coulda/woulda perspective and it’s a miserable place to be, isn’t it?

As much as you’re aware that regret is a miserable place to hang out in, you cannot get free of it.  But I have good news: liberation from regret is 100% possible!!  And it’s essential to your well-being that you commit to letting go of regret.  Why?

Well, because it feels awful and feeling awful doesn’t support the co-creation of an awesome life.  Regret keeps you in the past and when you’re consistently looking behind you, you don’t notice what’s right in front of you. And, when you’re hanging out in regret, you may be feeling depressed and beating yourself up – and that’s not useful in any way!

So how do you get out of regret?  First, understand that when you’re experiencing regret, you’re evaluating a situation that happened in the past with the awareness you now have in the present.

Let me break it down: Something happens.  You react, you make a choice, you take an action. Then time passes.  And you think about what happened.  You analyze it, obsess over it and talk ad nauseam about it with your friends.  You continue to gather more information and knowledge.  Then you take all this awareness and information that you have NOW and beat yourself up because you did not know it THEN.  It’s totally unfair and unreasonable to take what you know now and use it to beat yourself up for what you didn’t know then.

Please take this in: You really truly did the best you could at the time!  Trust me.  And until you really take in this truth, you’ll stay stuck in regret.

The wonderful thing about regret is that it gets your attention and offers you a tremendous opportunity for learning and transformation.  But in order to do that, you have to let go of the shoulda/coulda/woulda’s!

Now that you have the awareness that it’s unreasonable to use what you know in the present to judge your actions in the past, you’re ready to move on to a three-step process that will support you in fully moving out of regret.

Step One: Look for the lessons.  Take some time to do some journaling about what you learned from whatever it is that you’re regretting.  What did you learn about yourself?  What did you learn about someone else?  What patterns do you see?  What are you noticing about your reactions and responses?  ALL situations in life are rich with learning.  When you look at your past, view it from a learning-oriented perspective rather than a shoulda/coulda/woulda perspective.

Rewinding time is not possible but “do-over’s” actually are. Of course, we can’t get a
do-over of the exact same situation, but the Universe will deliver to you similar situations where you’ll get to practice what you learned.  The first time it happened you didn’t know any better.  The second time you’ll know a little more, so you can do a little better.

Step Two: Take action.  Regret keeps us stuck in the past, so ask yourself what you need to do right now to support yourself in moving forward.  Is there support you need?  Is there a conversation you need to have?  Are there some boundaries you need to set and hold yourself accountable to?  Regret is a reactive response.  Identifying and committing to action steps you can take NOW is proactive.  Reactive responses keep you stuck; proactive responses move you forward.  You want to move forward, don’t you?

Step Three: Forgive yourself!!  This is the most important (and often most challenging part).  We all make so-called mistakes.  Remember, you’re a human being so stop placing an expectation on yourself that you are supposed to get it “right” all of the time!  Remember the truth: YOU DID THE BEST YOU COULD.  YOU DID THE BEST YOU COULD.  YOU DID THE BEST YOU COULD WITH WHAT YOU KNEW AT THE TIME.  Really.  I encourage you to say to yourself, “I forgive myself for buying into the misunderstanding that I did something wrong.  The truth is that I was doing the best I could.”  Repeat that several times.  Breathe.  Take it in.

You don’t have to suffer from regret.  You can stop beating yourself up; it’s not serving you. Learn, take action, forgive and stop looking behind you.  TURN AROUND.  See what’s right in front of you…and, better yet, what lies ahead.

❤️, Karen

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ALL WORK AND NO PLAY…


We know how that saying goes. But really, when was the last time that you and your partner were playfulwith each other?

Like… had a random dance party in your living room, or jumped in the pool together with your clothes on, or teased each other until you both burst out laughing, or played twister while sharing a bottle of wine?

Sure, amazing relationships can be a lot of work.  And to really work well, they need us to be intentional, mindful, thoughtful, and respectful.

But they also need us to be playful, too.  Even silly!  Laughing together is always a wonderful way to connect.  And having fun together is a great way to find some relief from the serious stuff in life.

And doing that with your partner can lead to good memories and positive experiences.  Have some fun together.  Make a ritual of connection out of it.  What do you have to lose?

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WHAT DOES COMPATIBILITY REALLY MEAN?


Think about online dating apps/sites and their assessments of compatibility.  What do they ask you to list?  Interests, activities, beliefs, goals, values.  Those are important to know, but they’re not indicators of true compatibility.

Instead, compatibility is related to emotional intelligence.  Social psychologist Eli Finkel proposes that what’s more important than finding someone just like you, or who compliments you, is to find someone “with a personality that is conducive to relationships…someone who has relationship aptitude.”

So, what’s relationship aptitude?  It’s the ability to develop and sustain intimacy and trust.  Broadly speaking, it’s someone who’s respectful in their communication and actions, yet assertive of their needs and aware of and receptive to others’ needs.

When you think about compatibility, think less about what you have in common, and more about intentionally treating one another with respect, validation, and appreciation for the good things you share in your relationship.

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NOTHING “BRINGS” YOU JOY!


When we’re being powerful, we own the fact that we create our moods, or our states. One of my favorite phrases is:

“Create the state, don’t wait!”

Nothing brings you joy.  Similarly, nothing makes you anxious.  You CREATE every state you ever experience with the way you CHOOSE to think.  When you think well, you feel great.  When you think poorly, you feel bad.  Simple as that.

The challenge: remembering this.

The practice:

  1. CATCH yourself feeling unpleasant.

  2. OWN that mood by telling yourself you’re feeling that way because of how you’re choosing to think, NOT because of what’s happening.

  3. REPLACE your thought and create a new state.

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HOW TO REKINDLE THE SPARK


You’re not alone if you wake up one morning and find that the romance is gone in your relationship.  One of the most common challenges I hear from clients is that the spark has faded over time, and what once was a fulfilling relationship is now hollow, lifeless and running on autopilot.

While waking up to a hollowed relationship is a common situation, thankfully there’s a clear pathway for rekindling the spark. The secret to a vibrant relationship that’s filled with love, connection and happiness is fostering more safety within your partnership.

Let’s look at why the spark with our partner goes away, and how we can renew it by fostering more safety in the relationship.

Why we lose the spark

The reason that many of us lose the spark starts with the nature of relationships themselves: They’re always changing.

We like to think that we buy into a relationship and that’s what we can expect in the future, but relationships are always changing because WE are always changing.

You’re not the same person today that you were five years ago.  It’s not the same relationship you have today that you had five years ago.  So, you have to keep learning, keep growing, keep trying things out.

The spark in our relationship comes from the dynamic energy of constantly growing and renewing the partnership as we grow. This renewal keeps our relationship strong and introduces new elements that make if fresh and continually vibrant.

The death of the spark occurs when we stop sharing in the relationship.  Our relationship starts drifting and becomes lifeless when we don’t renew it through constant sharing and adjustment.

Of course, most of us don’t consciously stop sharing and adjusting with our partner.  We pull away slowly and almost unperceptively through little omissions when we don’t feel safe enough to share.  If we feel that our partner might not accept what we want to share, we hedge or avoid these taboo topics.

Most of us aren’t trying to hurt our relationship when we avoid certain topics, obviously.  We’re actually trying to help the relationship by avoiding fights and disunity.  But this avoidance comes at a big cost.  Because you care about your partner and you don’t want to fight with them, you’re not giving yourself as much.  But actually, you’re avoiding growth.  You’re avoiding continuing to change.  And that’s part of what’s needed in a relationship to keep it alive.

Instead of growing the relationship, we just keep the peace.  We don’t want to rock the boat or face criticism.  In the process, we stop sharing our full selves and we stop growing the relationship.  Hence the spark fades and eventually dims to the point that we may even lose track of the love we have for our partner!

How to Renew the Spark

If your relationship is lacking the spark (and most of us get there at some point!), the solution is nurturing more safety in the relationship and then reconnecting in the areas where avoidance has grown into big disconnects.

Here are three steps you can take right now to start reversing the trend.

  1. Find the walls

Here’s a truth for you: What you don’t accept, your partner probably won’t share. When you don’t accept an idea, emotion or action, you’re basically telling your partner they won’t be accepted in these areas. This leads to secrets and things unsaid.

So, the first step toward rekindling the spark is acknowledging the areas where you and your partner are communicating a lack of acceptance, where there are walls that inhibit sharing.  This lack of acceptance might only be a fear in your partner’s head, not an actual wall that has been erected, but it matters as long as you or your partner feels they cannot share in a particular area.

Together, define these areas where you and your partner feel there’s a lack of acceptance within the relationship and zero in on these areas as the walls that are hurting communication and the process of growing together.

Some areas where couples commonly struggle with sharing include money, career change, hopes and dreams, and sexual needs.  Be on the lookout for any wall that might limit communication in these or other areas.

  1. Build Acceptance

Once you understand the areas where sharing is inhibited by a lack of safety, the next step is addressing these areas through an understanding of the difference between acceptance and agreement.

There’s a huge difference between acceptance and agreement, but we often get the two confused and this creates the lack of safety that keeps us from sharing.

Basically, acceptance is the acknowledgment that an idea, emotion or action exists.  Acceptance is not a judgment on the validity of an idea, emotion or action; it’s just an acknowledgment that it exists.  Yes, we as humans can do both good and bad things in the right situation.  Yes, we can think a range of thoughts. Yes, we can respond emotionally in a variety of ways, both good and bad.  Acceptance is just acknowledging this fact.

Agreement, on the other hand, is the value judgment that most of us confuse with acceptance. Agreement is where we weigh in on whether an idea, emotion or action is constructive or destructive, good or bad.

The problem is not judging the goodness or badness of something, because we all have our opinions.  The problem is when we withhold acceptance because we disagree with the validity of something.

If we accept an action but think it might not have been smart, our partner will feel safe enough to share.  If we confuse acceptance with agreement and withhold the acceptance part, however, that’s when we send those signals to stop sharing.  That’s when we’ll condemn, judge, and not necessarily still be on our partner’s side.

  1. Create a Safe Space

Now that you have identified the walls of non-acceptance and both you and your partner understand that you can disagree with the rightness of an idea, emotion or action but still accept it, the next step is creating a safe space where you can get past the walls in your relationship.

Creating a safe space is relatively simple, but it takes conscious effort.

Once a week for at least five weeks, sit down with your partner for an hour and just talk.  Unlike normal conversations, however, set some rules for these special conversations.

Rule #1 is that you will take turns talking, and while the other person speaks you will listen silently and then verbalize back what you’ve heard when they are finished.  Rule #2 is that both of you promise to accept whatever the other person says, even if you reserve the right to agree or disagree.

Don’t talk about just anything, too.  Instead, focus on sharing the deep issues in your mind and in your heart during these special conversations.  Share the things that matter most to you, and especially the areas where there have been walls.

If you follow these three steps, you’ll be well on your way to rekindling the spark in your relationship by building more safety and opening the lines of communication for continued relationship growth.

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