5 Rules for Having Constructive Relationship Conflict Conversation

5 RULES FOR HAVING CONSTRUCTIVE RELATIONSHIP CONFLICT CONVERSATION

Kyle Benson

How do you fight with your partner? Do you argue with them over how to love you or criticize them for their flaws?

Conflict conversations  in a relationship are not about the conflict. Most arguments are about nothing more than what the event means to each person in the relationship. It is the differences in personality, values, and perception, not the conflict, that are the root of disagreements.

So how do you work on those differences?

The Destructive Nature of Conflict Conversations

Have you ever felt like your partner was the enemy? In 1969, George Bach felt that way when he published The Intimate Enemy. Bach believed that relationships failed because partners didn’t air their resentments, so he encouraged couples to “let it all out.”

He gave couples foam rubber bats and encouraged partners to take turns saying what they resented about the other person. One partner might say, “I resent you for spending our money on a stupid boat we never use,” followed by a whack with the bat. Then the other partner might say, “I resent you for never having sex with me,” accompanied with a whack.

It turns out this method only made couples feel more resentful toward one another. “Letting it all out” is not the solution.

It’s important to reframe your approach toward a conflict conversation. Happy couples start conflict conversations gently and allow their partner to influence them. They work with each other to compromise and find a solution. In this way, anger and frustration can actually be a catalyst for profound growth in a relationship. Conflicts can be used to reconstruct the way we love each other over time.

How to Have a Constructive Conflict Conversation

Before you even have a conflict conversation in your relationship, I recommend reading Are Love Laws Throwing You in Relationship Jail? Below are five guidelines for making a conflict conversation work:
1. Be on the Same Team
People often perceive their partner as dissimilar to them, especially during conflict. They believe they have all the positive qualities and their partner only has a few or lots of negative traits.

When you give your partner a negative quality in your thoughts, try to see that same quality in yourself. And when you identify a positive quality in yourself, try to see that same quality in your partner. The assumption of similarity is what keeps The Story of Us focused on we-ness, not me-ness.

2. Stop if You’re Flooded
Couples can only have a constructive conflict conversation if they can manage their own physiological flooding. At its peak, flooding can cause couples to verbally attack each other. Any conversation you have while being flooded will be useless, if not damaging. Regrettable words will be said and partners will put up walls as they defend themselves against one another.

Dr. John Gottman’s research has shown that a simple 20 to 30 minute break can really help you calm yourself down. During that time, do things that help you relax like taking a walk or listening to your favorite music.

3. Postpone Persuasion
Trying to persuade your partner to compromise before both of you have stated your position will lead to resentment and an unfair solution. If your partner feels unheard, they will unlikely to be motivated to open up and hear your side of the story. It is only when both partners feel understood by each other that you can begin to work together to find a compromise.

If your partner does not feel understood and accepts your persuasion, over time they may resent you or undermine the solution you set.

Slow down, understand each other, and the solution will last.

4. Express Your Needs
As a speaker, it’s your responsibility to express your needs in a way that your partner can do something about that will be successful for you. The trap most people fall into is only expressing how they want to feel: “I want to feel more loved.”

The problem is that it gives your partner no clue how to help you feel that way. A better way to ask for more love is, “I need a romantic date night once a week and an overnight to a bed and breakfast every two months.” Be as specific as you can.

5. Believe Both Points of View are Valid
When partners believe there is only one truth, they argue tooth and nail for their own position. That belief is a dead end.

There is only one essential assumption that will make the conversation about hurt feelings or the aftermath of a fight workout constructively: that in every disagreement or miscommunication, there are always two points of view, and they are both valid.

Once you accept that idea, it’s no longer necessary to argue for your own position. Now you can focus on understanding and validating your partner’s position.

Note: Validation and understanding are not the same as compliance or agreement.
This process will only work if both partners agree that there are two valid viewpoints, and if BOTH partners are not focused  on “facts” but on understanding the other’s side of the event.

These five rules will guide you to stop fighting and start connecting in your relationship. If you find you and your partner’s core needs are at war with each other, don’t fret. Check out the 4 Steps to Overcome Relationship Gridlock here.

Additionally, Dr. John Gottman’s 40 years of research with thousands of couples has revealed an effective conflict blueprint that provides both the speaker and listener with responsibilities for making the conversation constructive.

This exercise has been proven to be the most effective way to use conflicts as a catalyst for increasing the romance, affection, and appreciation in your relationship.

Demonstrate Love

DEMONSTRATE LOVE

Family Life Radio

Victoria’s heart hurt. She’d just received news, a few days before, that the marriage of her best friend, Callie, had unexpectedly hit a breaking point. Although they were a part of her church family, few people really knew what was going on.

When she walked in to teach her Sunday school class, she could see the pain on the faces of Callie’s two youngest children. She silently prayed, “Lord, what can I do?”
 
She stepped up and greeted the kids in a different way. She said, “I am sad today. And it’s okay to be sad. Lots of times we put on a smile for everyone to see on the outside, but inside we hurt. You wouldn’t know that I was sad today, except that I told you.”
 
She then asked the children for a hug. “When our hearts hurt, we can share the love that God puts in our hearts with one another, and it helps us feel better. Would anyone want to give me a hug, today?” Immediately all of the children lined up. As she hugged each child, some of them admitted to her that they needed a hug too, including Callie’s children.
 
The atmosphere in the room changed. Her simple demonstration of honesty and love had turned things around for her entire classroom. She encouraged her children to ask for a hug from others if they felt they needed one during the next week.

Today’s One Thing

Demonstrate God’s love to someone in a special way today. If you’re not sure how, ask God to show you. There are times in our lives where our authenticity can open the door for our friends or family to share with us things they may be facing or even encourage them to know that no one has a perfect life. We are all struggling together and can lean on one another and God for help in our time of need!

Divorce prevention: the light switch of love dilemma

DIVORCE PREVENTION: THE LIGHT SWITCH OF LOVE DILEMMA

Kyle Benson

Love is like a light switch.

When people fall in love, the light turns on. They typically feel excited, captivated, and eager to get to know their partners. They see each other in a positive light.

When couples divorce, the most common reason is that they “grew apart.” Essentially, the light switched off at some point.

So what happened?

The way it plays out reminds me of something from my childhood imagination.

As a child, I used to hate when my parents turned off my bedroom light.

I would start seeing Batman in my closet and fear that he was going to kidnap me.

When an earthquake would happen while I was sleeping, my first thought was that the Joker (from Batman) was under my bed trying to get me.

When the light switch was off, I would imagine all the worst things happening.

This happens in relationships too.

When the light is on, couples will experience negative events in the relationship, yet still evaluate the relationship as satisfying overall.

However, as negative experiences accumulate (without repair and constructive changes), the light switch reaches a tipping point.[1]

It turns off.

All of a sudden we evaluate our relationship as dissatisfying.

With the lights off, our brains imagine the worst intentions of our partner.

Of the 19% of couples who seek out help with their marital challenges, most start couples therapy with the lights off, as evidenced by research revealing that couples wait six years on average before seeking outside help.[2]

As a result, they have to accumulate a lot of positive experiences while having a dissatisfying view of their relationship just to turn the light switch on. That’s hard.

It’s like my dad telling me Batman isn’t in my bedroom closet, but my imagination saying he is. I want to trust my dad, but my brain is screaming “See! See! There’s Batman.”

Research confirms this. When we have a negative perspective of our partner, we even misinterpret the neutral and positive actions of our partner as negative.[3]

The divorce rate for first marriages in the U.S. is around 45% and the divorce rate for subsequent marriages is even higher.[4] Despite these high numbers, only a third of couples who divorce work with a counselor, coach, or therapist before signing the papers.[5]

What this illuminates is that there are opportunities to repair and strengthen a relationship before the light switches off.

Like most things in life, prevention is often the best intervention.

The goal of prevention includes three key steps:

  1. Stop negative interactions in a relationship from eroding trustemotional connection, and intimacy.
  2. Catch the accumulating problems early and turn the issues into material to construct a stronger and more secure relationship.
  3. Proactively strengthen both a couple’s friendship and their emotional and sexual intimacy while exploring ways to create a meaningful bond.

Let’s keep the lights on,

Kyle

P.S. Prevention options are listed below.

P.S.S. While this article is pro-relationship, it is not my position to decide whether you should stay or leave a relationship. After all, it is your love life. Clients who have worked with me know that I am not pro-relationship or pro-separation. My goal is to help the couple clean things up so they can decide for themselves from a mature place. I would also say that I have recommended people leave abusive, or unhealthy relationships in which partners do not want to become secure-functioning.

Prevention Options:

  1. Bibliotherapy: Books and articles can help you improve your relationship. Ideally, both partners engage with this. My top three book suggestions are Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of LoveFighting For Your Marriage (this one has a DVD with example conflict conversations), and Relationship Rx.
  2. Psychoeducational: This includes online courses and in-person workshops. My top three suggestions include The 7-Day Emotional Connection Challenge, a live event such as The Art and Science of Love, The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work (Google search in your area), and Hold Me Tight (Google search in your area), or completing other online evidenced-based courses such as OurRelationship.com and Rock Solid Marriage.
  3. Take an Annual Couple Checkup: Research from Clark University in Oregon indicates that having an annual marriage checkup can positively decrease the chances of a relationship getting worse and help strengthen a relationship overtime. All of us do health checkups, shouldn’t we do the same for our marriage? If you’re in Oregon, you can check it out here. You can also take the Couples Checkup by Prepare-Enrich here (they also send you a variety of discussion questions to support you in making changes). Another checkup option is RELATE.
  4. Seek Personalized Support: If you are on the brink of divorce, I might recommend starting with Discernment Counseling before starting therapy. Furthermore, therapy and coaching offer a variety of ways to receive one-on-one support. Depending on your needs, you can do marathon therapy, weekly sessions, or virtual sessions via video chat. I’d recommend working with someone who has professional training in couples therapy. Here are some places you can search for a therapist near you: Gottman TherapistEmotionally Focused Couples TherapistPACT TherapistAASECT (for support with sex and intimacy challenges) and Imago Therapist.


Sources


[1]Gottman, J. M., Silver, N., & Berkrot, P. (2012). What makes love last?: how to build trust and avoid betrayal. Old Saybrook, CT: Tantor Media.

[2]Johnson, C., Stanely, S., Glenn, N., Amato, P., Nock, S., Markman, H., & Dion, M. (2002). Marriage in Oklahoma: 2001 baseline statewide survey on marriage and divorce (SO2096 OKDHS). Oklahoma City, OK: Oklahoma Department of Human Services.

Gottman, J. M. (1994). What predicts divorce? The relationship between marital processes and marital outcomes. Hillsdale, NK: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates

[3]Robinson, E. A., & Price, M. G. (1980). Pleasurable behavior in marital interaction: An observational study. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology , 48(1), 117-118 DOI: 10.1037/0022-006X.48.1.117

[4]https://www.fatherly.com/love-money/what-is-divorc…

[5]Johnson, C., Stanely, S., Glenn, N., Amato, P., Nock, S., Markman, H., & Dion, M. (2002). Marriage in Oklahoma: 2001 baseline statewide survey on marriage and divorce (SO2096 OKDHS). Oklahoma City, OK: Oklahoma Department of Human Services.

If you stopped believing in love, read this essay now

IF YOU STOPPED BELIEVING IN LOVE, READ THIS ESSAY NOW

Karen Salmansohn

Have you endured a lot of heartbreak, and now you’ve stopped believing in love? I’m here to give you the courage and insights you need to trust love one more time. Read on…

It’s always fascinating to me the responses I receive when I tell women that if they want to break their Prince Harming patterns, then they must stop overly prioritizing finding a man who is sexy and successful.

They must ALSO prioritize finding a man who:

  • values growing
  • revels in open, honest communication
  • displays 20/20 listening skills
  • shows a  Gumby-like flexibility for compromise

Often women wind up laughing heartily at my description of this evolved kind of man.

They insist this type of man does not exist!

“You’re a female chauvinist! I’ve called these women.

I then further explain to these women how prejudiced they are being – because they cannot believe it’s possible for men to be emotionally evolved.

It’s no wonder these women have stopped believing in love!

How can they believe in love – when they have stopped believing there are men out there who are capable of communicating honestly and deeply from their hearts?

“You’re basically saying that all men are emotional bimbos,” I tell these women.

Usually the combo of the words “female chauvinist” and “emotional bimbo” shock these women into a fuller awareness of how gender-prejudiced they’re being.

Next up…

I tell these women that they must stop being “negative evidence collectors,” seeking proof that all men are “emotional bimbos.

Plus I warn these women about how they can accidentally encourage a self-fulfilling prophecy of bad behavior from their man –   if they treat a good man to their bad attitude toward him.

The solution?

I instruct these women to become “positive evidence collectors.

Their assignment: They must mindfully start to look for proof of the plentiful, wonderful Prince Charming–esque guys who are out there.

  • These good men could be married to or dating their lucky girlfriends.
  • Or they could be written up in the news.
  • Maybe they are working alongside them at their offices.
  • Plus they could even be in the very bed with them – right beside them!

Finally…

I warn women against using the words “always” and “never” – in either reference to their love life or men as a category.

Two examples:

  • “I will never find a man who values growing.”
  • “I always meet guys who cheat.”

Any time you create a sentence with an “always” and/or “never” you set yourself up with a limiting belief that can create a self-fulfilling prophecy of doom and gloom.

Basically when you use “always” and/or “never” in a sentence, you put yourself in a hopeless, depressed frame of mind.

In fact…

Whenever I’m with someone who says they’re depressed, I assign them to jackhammer-drill down to find and dump their pesky “always” and/or “never.”

Usually one of these two words is at the root of their depression – draining them of faith and vitality.

The words “Always” and “Never” are liars.

They whisper mean beliefs into your subconscious and conscious mind, about how you will forever be unable to change your situation.

Psychologists call these beliefs “permanent” and “pervasive.”

They are wildly dangerous to your spirit and your potential for a happily ever after destiny.

The truth is:

It’s very rare that there’s a “never” or an “always” in someone’s life.

Have you stopped believing in love?

  • If so, try to locate your “always” and “never” limiting beliefs.
  • Try to understand the root of these beliefs. Do they come from your childhood and/or a series of bad experiences?
  • Next, be willing to unblock these limiting beliefs. Be open to the possibility that you can find a good partner – someone who truly has lots of emotionally evolved qualities!
  • This brings us to lawyer time. Pretend you’re a lawyer! Find proof that your “always” and “never” are liars!
  • Finally – get yourself to fully accept that good partners are very much walking around on this planet! Once you believe in the existence of these good quality people – you will be more likely to find them!!

It’s amazing how powerful changing your belief system can be. When you change the way you look at men and love, you wind up changing what you notice and find.

How to heal from heartbreak and get stronger sooner

HOW TO HEAL FROM HEARTBREAK AND GET STRONGER SOONER

Karen Salmansohn

When your heart is broken, you can feel like your whole life is broken. These four tools will help you to heal from heartbreak – and move on stronger and wiser – and more quickly.

I refuse to ever become Rhonda Rifkin – the fake name for a real woman I know – who went a little nutso after a horrific divorce.

Post-break-up, Rhonda moved into a new apartment, a cheap but dilapidated one bedroom. The walls were cracked and peeling, the carpet stained and torn. Rhonda, however, was too miserable from her break up to think about interior design. Her only new investments:

  • A new cast iron bed. (She couldn’t sleep on the same bed once shared with her ex.)
  • A huge dollhouse.

Soon Rhonda ignored her new bed, spent all her time and money on this dollhouse, buying it little sofas and petite antique armoires. In the evenings Rhonda would stay in refurbishing her miniature house – wallpapering its petite kitchen and shellacking its tiny living room floor.

Meanwhile, everything else in Rhonda’s own human-sized home was falling apart.

Eventually she bought a little dollhouse family – and I never heard from her again.

Yes, Rhonda went a wee bit crazy from bad love.

Oddly enough, this is a true story. I kid you not!

After a particularly challenging break up (which I’ve shared about here), I began thinking a lot about Rhonda Rifkin.  I started to more fully understand how easy it could be to allow a tough time to harden your heart.

Although I never went so far as to buy a dollhouse, I did similarly begin to avoid the company of people – and prefer to stay home alone – except for the company of my dog Maxine – “my better one-eighth.”

Maxine was a nine pound mutt – part Jack Russell Terrier, part Chihuahua, part spiritual healer.

After the break up, I found myself spending many hours alone with Maxine, laying on my bed softly crying. Maxine would nuzzle up next to me and lick the falling tears from my face.

At the time I wasn’t sure if Maxine was licking my tears out of loving canine support   – or because she enjoyed their salty flavor. Such was my state of cynicism – that I became suspicious of the affections of my longtime faithful dog.

I also became suspicious about the inner workings of the universe.

I questioned what kind of universe would purposefully create a living, breathing creature called “Total A**hole” and allow this creature to roam our planet, hurting others in its path!

Simultaneously I was determined to push past my cynicism and hopelessness. With this in mind, I began reading as many inspiring books as I could – looking for helpful research studies and motivational stories on how others had bounced back from challenging events.

Below are my top 4 tools which helped me to move on from my broken heart.

4 Tools To Help You Heal From Heartbreak

1. Heartbreak Healing Tool 

My first tool I developed was starting an “Invisible Blessings Journal.” I developed this tool after reading research studies by Professor Richard Lucas, from Michigan State University. Lucas looked at people who had experienced debilitating injuries – who were told they’d never be able to walk again.

Lucas’ studies showed that although at first many folks were mired in cynicism and hopelessness, eventually these people not only returned to their former “happiness set point,” many reported rebounding to a higher-than-usual good mood – becoming happier than they were before their trauma!

Lucas’ explanation:  The darkness surrounding a bad event eventually helped people to better notice all the bright good stuff in their life.

Basically, after a challenging event, people developed a heightened awareness of what I call “invisible blessings” – all the good stuff we take for granted.

When I read this, I decided to speed up my clarity for the good stuff.

I began what I called “My Invisible Blessings Journal.”

Each day I’d write down 5 things I was grateful about having in my life.

I forced myself to always write 5 new and different things.

Eventually amassed quite a long list of invisible blessings.

2. Heartbreak Healing Tool

I began meditating – 15 minutes every day.

In my reading of inspiring books, I consistently found studies which support how meditation can retrain your brain to be “better wired” for calmness and happiness.

I know lots of people assume meditation is some Buddhist mumbo-jumbo. But it’s truly been scientifically documented to create therapeutic neurological changes.

For example, Dr. Richard Davidson, one of the world’s foremost brain scientists, had the lucky opportunity to test the brain of a Senior Tibetan Lama — a man known for meditating many hours daily.

Sure enough Davidson discovered that this Senior Tibetan Lama had an “extreme left-to-right ratio” in his prefrontal cortex — the M.R.I. sign of a happy, relaxed mind.

More Neuroscientific Cliff Notes:

Meditation strengthens the neurological circuits which calm the brain.

Basically, meditation creates a kind of “buffer” between our brain’s violent impulses and our actions. Hence why if you meditate regularly you physically feel less stressful and less aggressive.

With this in mind, I began meditating in the morning, right before I brushed my teeth. On an interesting side note, these two morning habits actually share the same purpose and process – just for different body parts.

Think about it:

  • When you brush your teeth, you’re removing the buildup of plaque (and stray spinach!).
  • When you meditate, you’re removing the buildup of fear and worry.

3. Heartbreak Healing Tool

Another powerful tool: Visualization. In my research, I found many studies which support how repeated visualization of a happy future can help your brain to lighten up – literally. The aspects of your brain associated with positivity wind up lighting up more in your present when you think positively about your future.

With this in mind, I bought a scheduling book which had a calendared set-up.

I wrote on the front “My Happily-ever-after Future.

Next, I created pages for the upcoming 12 months – describing how I envisioned each month unfolding in a joyful, peaceful way.

Finally, I pre-planned in this 12 month calendar a range of positive steps I could take to move forward to my “happily ever future.” Plus, I made sure to make my plans and goals as reasonable as possible.

This was amazingly therapeutic for me to envision my life happily unfolding.

Basically, this 12 month schedule of recovery allowed me to both hold the vision and embrace the process.

4. Heartbreak Healing Tool 

In my research I also found that mantras can help. One of my go-to mantras became: “Bitterness is not an option!”  I repeated this whenever I felt my heart begin to harden.

I also developed a funny mantra:

“Every jerk has a silver lining.”

This mantra helped to motivate me to look for the silver lining benefits to my ex. Plus lessons to learn – and growth opportunities to help me evolve.

I also include a few more healing mantras in my book Instant Calm.

Heal your heart… If you’re having a difficult time feeling happy and letting go of emotional pain, check out all the many relaxing and healing 2-minute sensory meditations in Instant Calm.

Significant Mother

SIGNIFICANT MOTHER

Robert Landon

Beth was my ex-stepmother, but “mother” was still a part of her title. Could I share a home with her?

Beth and I first lived under the same roof in 1982, when I was 13. My father, who was 47 at the time, invited Beth, then 23, to spend the summer in the Maine lake house he and I had fixed up the summer before. I refused to leave my room the night she arrived.

Without laying eyes on her, I knew she would be another of Dad’s interchangeable “little chickies” as he called them — the skinny, busty former students he liked to date.

The next morning, I was eating Honey Nut Cheerios when I heard her coming down the stairs. My father had already retreated to his desk upstairs, purportedly to work on a lecture on Puritan literature, but mostly to take hits from a hidden bottle of vodka.

I planned to freeze Beth out of existence with my thoughts — a superpower every gay boy needed in the 80s. But instead of making awkward chitchat, Beth just smiled, picked up her copy of “Crime and Punishment,” and ate her own Cheerios in silence.

When done, she asked if I liked the book I was reading — stories by John Cheever. Dad asked such questions only to hear his own opinion. Beth was actually curious to know mine. She was making me like her before I had the chance to hate her.

Soon on sunny afternoons, Beth and I lay on the dock together, tanning and lightening our hair with lemon juice, as one did in the 80s. Neither mentioned a shared lust for a neighbor — a combination seminarian and jock — who joined us for a swim from time to time.

Dad and Beth married the following September. By May, two semesters later, my father’s tantrums had driven her away. Amazingly, he never once had an ill word to say about Beth. And this was a man who in five minutes could convince you Gandhi was a narcissist and Jesus a sociopath.

He did have bad things to say about his first wife, my mother. And she gave him reasons. Beneath her charms lay inchoate storms of hurt and aggression. As Dad was leaving her for the last time — I was 12, a year before Dad met Beth — she told him she was going to take me to “Luna,” a recent Bertolucci film. A terrible look came over his face, not rage this time but horror.

After he left, I was too terrified to look at the art house flyer taped to the fridge. My mother never did take me to see the movie, but a few years later, “Luna returned for a Bertolucci retrospective. This time I did read the flyer and wished I hadn’t. “Luna,” it turned out, was “the story of the incestuous relationship between a mother and her teenage son.”

To be clear, my mother had never acted on the themes of the film, but she craved an emotional closeness that was too much for a son to give.

At 17, I went as far away as I could, first to college in California and then on to a journalistic career I kept undercutting with debt-fueled geographic cures that never worked for long — not Los Angeles, not Paris, not even Rio de Janeiro.

At first, Beth and I stayed in touch, but like me, she kept moving. She married again, had a daughter, divorced and, as a social worker/actress, constantly chased cheap New York City rents. By around 1995, the handwritten phone numbers in our respective address books were no longer valid.

When Dad died in 2005, the vodka finally having wiped out his liver, my sister tracked down Beth’s email and cc’d me. I was living in Rio, where I thought I’d found both happiness and a mate for life. Right away, Beth and I were yakking the way we had on the dock. Soon, I was visiting her for weeks at a time, ostensibly to work on a screenplay but mostly just to be together.

In 2013, a Supreme Court decision legalized same-sex marriage, enabling my Brazilian husband, 14 years my junior, to immigrate to the United States as my spouse. We moved to Upper Manhattan — two blocks from Beth. The Brazilian complained that she and I analyzed movies to death. We both thought, but we live to analyze movies to death.

One afternoon, I left him on the couch playing video games and texting bar plans that I no longer wanted to be part of. I walked to Beth’s, where she and I talked about substantive things — books, movies, joys, griefs. On the way back, I realized I wasn’t just bored at home. I was also lonely.

It was the Brazilian who left in the end. Beth comforted me as neither of my parents nor the Brazilian could have — she was patient, protective but never pitying, sure of my strength.

Suddenly, she and I were both single and struggling to pay Manhattan rents. Why shouldn’t she move into my extra bedroom? I hesitated, ostensibly because of her clutter problem. I once left some junk mail on her coffee table, only to find it in the same place when I returned six months later. When I threw it away, she was actually a little sad. I, by contrast, strove for the modernist austerity of the homes I wrote about for architecture magazines, and threw away not only clutter but even things I actually needed.

However, clutter was just cover for a deeper fear. By living with my father’s former wife, would the incestuous waves, at last, pull me under?

In 2010, Mom learned that her gut discomfort was stage-four colon cancer. “Forgive me …,” she said nine months later, from her hospice bed. Whether because of the pain, the morphine, or her own hesitation, she couldn’t name the thing to be forgiven. “For … for … well, you know,” she said.

I had found peace with my dying mother, but was still haunted by her earlier avatar — the Medea willing to psychically drown her son. Beth was my ex-stepmother, but “mother” was still a part of her title. Could I really share a home with her?

Then when I was 47, I lost my biggest freelance client. My finances were in free fall. Two months later, Beth, by then 57, moved in. I gave her the master bedroom and the two largest closets. In return, she ceded all aesthetic control of common spaces.

The clutter problem turned out to be only a minor annoyance. When her things piled up, I placed them on her bed while she was out.

The Mommy issues took longer. I would share details of my own peccadilloes, but plugged my ears and hummed when Beth did the same. “So you can talk about sex and I can’t?” she asked. “I guess that’s another one of your double standards, sweetie.”

Like aversion therapy, this controlled exposure has had marvelously curative effects. Now, Beth can get as graphic as she wants, and it is fine — at least tolerable. And gradually I have come to see my mother as a charming, cultured woman who, in 1980s Baltimore, kept up with Italian cinema.

Beth and I still analyze movies to death, but now from the comfort of the sectional couch I bought with the Brazilian. I am still regrouping for my next foray into love and marriage, but most days that question seems moot.

I’m still learning that a happy home is constructed not with Modernist furnishings but emotional safety — a language that, after nearly four decades, Beth is still teaching me to speak.

How to recover from betrayal (not just love betrayal, but betrayal of all kinds)

HOW TO RECOVER FROM BETRAYAL (NOT JUST LOVE BETRAYAL, BUT BETRAYAL OF ALL KINDS)

Karen Salmonsohn

Betrayal is incredibly painful. It’s hard to heal and move on. If you’re searching for how to recover from betrayal – in a realistic way – read on.

I endured a huge betrayal from an unlikely place – a younger woman whom I was close friends with and mentored for many years. When we first met, she was trying to write and sell a book – to no avail.

Eventually,  I gave her an idea for a book – then helped her to write the proposal – asking for no upfront money – just a small 10% back end commission – should the book sell.   She enthusiastically agreed – thanking me profusely for not charging her upfront for my time. She had a lawyer draw up papers – which we each signed.

To my shock, soon after I got her the highly successful book deal she’d always dreamed about, she turned into an “All About Eve” kind of character  – displaying low-character behavior –  in a variety of fibbing, royalty-hiding and contract-breaking ways.

At this point, I’ll stop sharing specific details of the story  – because my purpose for this essay is not to complain! Quite the opposite! I want to share my path to recovery. I want to help others who are also suffering from a betrayal – either from a friend, a relative, a spouse, a love partner, a colleague, a boss, a neighbor.

A betrayal can destroy so many varied kinds of relationships – and turn one’s view of the world topsy turvy.

Some of my main upside-down effects after this woman’s betrayal:

I found myself less eager to socialize. In particular, I felt nervous to open my heart to new friendships – and thereby to new pain. I felt hesitant to help others with books and projects. I worried they too might take advantage. Plus I did not want to go any place I might see this betrayer: events, cafes, gyms, yoga studios, social clubs.  All my usual haunts now felt haunted by a potential sighting of her.

My initial solution to recover from betrayal:

I told myself I needed to take some time alone to heal and gain insight.  So I chose to stay in my home more, socialize less. It was easy to do.  I’d just become pregnant. Then I became a mom.  In fact, at the time I thought I was going into a healthful “cocoon” – a less social, nesting period.

But as it turned out, I was entering a “cave.”

The difference:

A COCOON is a quiet, comfortable place you go to evolve into a more beautiful you. It’s a safe haven to experiment with new, uplifting thought patterns. When you emerge, you feel in your full, majestic power – flying higher and further than before.

A CAVE is a quiet, uncomfortable place you go to think and brood – to hibernate. Instead of spending time thinking grand thoughts, you growl. You view the world as cold and unsafe.

How did I finally realize I was in a cave not a cocoon?

When I thought about leaving my home to socialize, I found myself feeling heavy in the heart.

In fact, if you ever want to know if you’re in a cocoon or a cave – check in to feel the weight of your heart when you think about leaving your home.

If you feel light in the heart, you’re telling yourself “Butterfly Stories” about the world – viewing life as a beautiful, safe haven to spread your wings.

If you feel heavy in the heart, you’re telling yourself “Bear Stories”   –  viewing the world as cold and unsafe.

I was telling myself “Bear Stories.” I was even doing “Bear Math.”

This is “Butterfly Math”:

1 untrustworthy person = 1 untrustworthy person

This is “Bear Math”

1 untrustworthy person = infinite untrustworthy people

Positive Psychologists have a term for this “Bear Lens On The World.” They call it “Permanent and Pervasive Thinking.” It’s when you tell yourself stories which make you feel like one negative incident has permanent, pervasive, lifelong negative effects.

In my case, these were some of my permanent and pervasive stories:

“I can’t trust anyone.”

“People Suck”  

“I’m an idiot for being suckered!” 

“I shouldn’t help people any more – they just take advantage.”

This 1 bad thing means I need to keep my heart safely stored in a betrayal-proof Tupperwear container.”

I’m not proud of these thoughts. They are grizzly “Bear Thoughts.” And they were keeping my life limited, dark, dank – and making me feel batty – all signs I was in a cave – not a cocoon!

Basically, a cave is a place you go to shrink your life – a prison for the soul.

A cocoon is where you go to grow your life – an ashram for the soul.

It took me a while to look around and realize I was in a cave. I just knew my heart felt heavier when I thought about going outside to play with others. So I decided to journal about my heavy heart. That’s when I realized I was telling myself painful permanent/pervasive stories – triggered by this friend’s betrayal!

Know this now:

Although you can’t change your past, you can control the story you tell about it – and thereby change the effects your past has upon your future.

I decided the time had come to rewrite my story so it was a happier one.  Literally.

In my journal, I began by writing down all my permanent/pervasive thoughts.  Next to each, I wrote how non-permanent/non-pervasive the situation truly was!

5 Tools To Help You Recover From Betrayal

1. “I can’t trust anyone.”

I realized this betrayal shouldn’t be making me permanently anti-social. It

should simply be making me anti-jerks. I realized I should even look upon this betrayal with a bit of gratitude – because it was a powerful reminder to honor my intuition more -and stop being color blind to red flags – no matter if they show up as smaller red hankees.

(Truth be told, looking back, there were times I felt this woman’s energy to be pushy in an uncomfortable, aggressive way.)

Basically, this event was not meant to stop me from trusting. It was meant to stop me from ignoring my gut – and thereby keep me safe from falling for even bigger business betrayals down the road.

2. “People Suck”

Yes, some people do suck. But not ALL people! Plus, I should never allow someone who sucks to suck all the joy out of my day – and my life!

Sure it’s bad when someone’s a jerk. But things could be worst. I could be the person who’s doing sucky, low-character things.

And I am truly proud of NOT being someone who could behave so badly. Indeed I feel compassion for my betrayer. She is stuck living with herself – while I get to move on and away.

But how could I move on and away, when I was still holding onto resentment? After all, anybody who angers me is actually controlling me – which means they are still an active (and negative) presence in my life.  If I wanted to be happy, I needed “To Pull An Elsa” – and “Let it go”!

3.  “I’m an idiot for being suckered!”

When I re-read this permanent/pervasive thought, I realized I was displaying the classic case of “blaming the victim.”

(Not that I enjoyed using the word “victim.” In fact, I’ll be writing more about the word “victim” at the bottom of this essay!)

Basically, calling myself “an idiot” is showing anger and shame at myself – rather than focusing the anger and shame where it more rightfully belongs – on my betrayer!

My solution?

I re-wrote my word choice from “I am an idiot” to “I am a wronged person.”

And the reason I was wronged did not truly have to do with intelligence.

I simply didn’t see the betrayal coming, because I never would have done such a thing. My heart is awake, good, active. My heart values loyalty, strong character and sticking to commitments. Not just for legal reasons – but moral reasons.

I remembered a quote I’d heard: “Fools take a knife and stab people in the back. The wise take a knife, cut the cord and free themselves from the fools. ”

I decided that since I very much value the trait of being a non-idiot  – that I should do this wise choice – cut the emotional cord – and set myself free as a butterfly leaving a cocoon!  The best way to cut the cord? Forgiveness. Yes, even if the betrayer was not sorry, forgiveness was still necessary.

How could I forgive? I needed to keep reminding myself:  Forgiveness doesn’t excuse my betrayer’s behavior. Forgiveness simply stops her behavior from destroying my heart! 

Plus it helped to keep in mind a great Wayne Dyer quote: “How people treat you is their karma. How you react is yours.” 

4. ‘This 1 bad thing means I need to permanently keep my heart safely stored in a betrayal-proof Tupperwear container.”

When I first re-read this particular pervasive/permanent story, I chuckled. I wondered: “Why should I punish myself for the crime this woman committed? Isn’t that misplaced punishment?” And this new choice (to avoid letting love into my life) was very much a big self-punishment.

After all, love is good stuff! I love love!

Plus whenever I push friends and/or potential-new-friends away, it’s as if I’m punishing these people for the sins of my betrayer! 

Once again I was reminded of the lessons I should be learning: “Pay attention to the energy I feel around people. Listen to my gut!”

Truth be told, it wasn’t my trust in other people that was being shaken up by this betrayal. It was my trust in myself

I needed to re-gain my trust in my abilities to see people clearly! So I gave myself another writing assignment: Jot down all the times I’ve trusted my life choices – and I was correct. Write about all the awesome, trust-worthy, loving friends I’ve chosen to be in my life – so I’m reminded that I have a “good internal picker” and that love is indeed good stuff.

5.  “I shouldn’t help people any more – they just take advantage.”  

When I re-read this permanent/pervasive thought, I also saw it as a form of self-punishment – because I love helping people! I shouldn’t become less of me because this woman showed low character values.

Instead, I should become even more aware of how important strong character values are to me – and embrace them even more fully.

So I gave myself another writing assignment: Write down a list of people I’ve helped with creative projects – and stay reminded how most people do NOT take advantage, fib and break contracts.

Next I wrote about how good it always feels to help and support people – a win/win – for both the giver and receiver!

If you’re presently recovering from a betrayal, I encourage you to watch out for thinking painful, permanent and pervasive thoughts.

Please refuse to become a member of that club called “People Suck.” Please refuse to distribute any of that club’s untrue literature.

Instead I invite you to join me in a club called “You Live. You Learn. Life Gets Better. Yes, You Can And Will Trust Again.”

Although we can’t always control what happens to us, we can control our response.

We can choose the role of victim – focusing on blame, anger, regret and resentment.

Or we can choose the role of victor – seeking support, healing our wounds, retrieving our power, and moving forward stronger and wiser than before.

When life doesn’t go as planned, remember this

WHEN LIFE DOESN’T GO AS PLANNED, REMEMBER THIS

Angel Chernoff

Over the years, I’ve learned that a great deal of the control we believe we have over our lives is an absolute illusion. For example, I’ve recently met …

  • a young man who had his life turned upside down by cancer
  • a young woman, and mother of two, who lost her husband to death at 27
  • a hard-working employee who lost her job when her employer of 25 years filed for bankruptcy
  • and many, many more people just like them

It happens every single day; we wrestle with situations and circumstances we think we can control, but we really can’t.

So what can we do?

The only choice we have …

In the game of life, we all receive a unique set of unexpected limitations and variables in the field of play. The question is: How will you respond to the hand you’ve been dealt? You can either focus on the lack thereof or empower yourself to play the game sensibly and resourcefully, making the very best of every outcome as it arises, even when it’s heartbreaking and hard to accept.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the mind is our biggest battleground.

It’s the place where the strongest conflict resides. It’s where half of the things we thought were going to happen, never did happen. It’s where our expectations always get the best of us. It’s where we fall victim to our cravings to control the uncontrollable.

Without a doubt, we all face our share of difficult circumstances, many of which are not the results of anything we’ve done. Think about the people I mentioned above. Like them, we have choices when it comes to how we’ll respond to seemingly-random tragedies that afflict us.

The choice is as simple as it is universal:

  • Grit our teeth and try to move the immovable object, and become frustrated and bitter when we realize we can’t.
  • Let it be. Let go.

Paradoxically, the first choice is easier because it’s our default action. We want control because feeling out of control is utterly terrifying.

You need to know how to let go—how to understand the difference between what you can control and what you can’t.

Empowering yourself to relinquish control is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself—the ability to exist peacefully amidst the chaos of life.

If you feel yourself slowly collapsing under the weight of life and circumstances, we have a proven path to a more peaceful life. We’d love to share it with you.

French philosopher François-Marie Arouet once said:

“We are free at the instant we wish to be.”

And of course, if you’re struggling with any of this, know that you are not alone. Many of us are right there with you, working hard to think more clearly, respond to life more effectively, and get ourselves back on track.

Broken Toes

BROKEN TOES

Bruce Muzik

Before I share about the night I spent in jail (and how it relates to your marriage), I want to remind you that…

…there was a time when my wife and I could have described our relationship history like this:

Jerk meets Pain-In-The-Ass…

They fall in love…

They destroy each other fighting…

The End.

We couldn’t last longer than three days without a blowup.

We’d point fingers at each other.

She’d retreat to the bedroom. I’d storm out exasperated.

This went on and on, over and over again.

Yet, beneath our angry exteriors, both of us were in pain – hurt, sad and lonely – longing for comfort and connection.

You get the picture?

How did we get past all of that to being a great team together?

One of the big contributing factors was that we stopped trying to change each other and began accepting our differences.

There are skills needed to bring acceptance to your marriage:

1. Assume a Positive Intention
2. Appreciate How Your Differences Benefit You
3. Awareness of Broken Toes

Imagine that your relationship is like a partner dance with one of you leading and the other following.

In order to dance elegantly, you need to coordinate your steps.

Now, imagine that you each have a broken toe.

When you dance together, you both scream out in pain as you bump up against each other’s broken toes.

Of course, neither of you are aware of your own broken toe, so you push your partner away yelling,

“What the hell is wrong with you? Why did you just hurt me?”

Sound familiar?

What are broken toes?

They’re emotionally sensitive spots created in your past.

Here’s one from my past.

As a teenager I spent a night in jail for a crime I didn’t commit.

I was arrested for ‘stealing a car.’

The short version of the story is that I just happened to be near a car that was being stolen.

The police arrived out of nowhere and arrested me along with the thieves (assuming that I was one of them).

Ever since then, I’ve been hypersensitive to being wrongly accused.

It makes sense that I’d be hypersensitive after having gone to jail for something I didn’t do, right?

Knowing this about my past, my wife is sensitive to this ‘broken toe’ and is understanding of my overreaction when I perceive that she has wrongly accused me.

When she recognizes that my overreaction comes from my ‘jail-time’ broken toe, she doesn’t feel the need to defend herself.

Instead, she just holds me. Her gentle touch helps pull me out of the past and back into the present moment.

Make sense?

Your ability to build emotional safety between you and your wife is directly proportionate to your awareness (and respect) of her broken toes.

What Does Trust and Commitment Look Like in a Relationship?

WHAT DOES TRUST AND COMMITMENT LOOK LIKE IN A RELATIONSHIP?

Mary Beth George

With bellies miserably full of Thai beef and noodles, he washed the dishes and I dried. “Thinking Out Loud” by Ed Sheeran was playing in the background.

When your legs don’t work like they used to before
And I can’t sweep you off of your feet
Will your mouth still remember the taste of my love
Will your eyes still smile from your cheeks

“We’ll start our low carb diet tomorrow. This time for real,” I said with conviction to my husband, Sean.

He nodded in agreement. He’s heard it before. But he knows my weaknesses after 25 years together, noodles being at the top of the list. I overeat and then complain.

Instead of judging me, he grabbed a bottle of wine and some dark chocolate (this man really knows me) and sat down at the table to continue our quiet, stay-at-home Valentine’s Day celebration.

“So, who wants to go first?” he asked.

Earlier in the day, I told him I wanted to have the first date from John and Julie Gottman’s new book, Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love. Each date is focused on a topic crucial to a healthy relationship.

“I do!” I said, not giving him a chance to respond.

Date One is “Lean on Me: Trust and Commitment.” Conversation topics include: What does trust and commitment look like in our relationship? How can we make each other feel safe? What are our agreements about trust and commitment?

After reading that chapter earlier in the day, I followed the directions in the book and compiled a list of things I cherish about Sean. While there were many things on my list, there were ten that stood out. I envisioned sharing in David Letterman Top 10 List fashion.

Trust, Cherishing, and Commitment

When we cherish our partner, we feel that they’re irreplaceable. We simply cannot imagine our lives without them, even when times are rough. We find ways to tell them that we appreciate them, and do that often. This builds trust in the relationship.

Cherishing and commitment go together, but they’re different. Commitment is really a verb because it is the actions we take daily to let our partner know we are with them, and that we make decisions with them in mind.  

When we choose commitment, we resist temptation to betray our partner. We create trust and safety by turning towards them to work out our differences. Gratitude is nurtured by knowing what we have rather than focusing on what we don’t have. There is no gossiping or trashing of our partner to others.  

Commitment in Action

Sean and I have had our share of difficult times, that’s for sure. When our son was a colicky infant we leaned on each other for support despite being sleep deprived and cranky with one another. When my mother and beloved dog both died in the same year, I had a hard time shaking off my depression. We argued more than ever and found ourselves in couples counseling. Despite these and other challenges, we never gave up on one another.

The thing that sealed the deal for me was when I had a major health crisis 12 years ago. My mysterious illness had my doctors stumped and I was terrified. Our lives were turned upside down for months on end with scary symptoms and no treatment. My life and my outlook were forever changed. It wasn’t until I got a diagnosis and learned to manage my chronic symptoms that I could reflect on how it changed us as a couple.

I had been too absorbed in my own fear to recognize how scared my husband was, too. His life was also forever changed. But instead of complaining, he expressed cherishing and commitment by supporting me through my illness in ways that I took for granted at the time.

He rubbed my back when I was scared. He drove me to the Emergency Room in the middle of the night on countless occasions. When I had to change my diet, he joined me. He developed a patience with me that had not been there before. He was less quick to anger over small stuff and he started leaving love notes for me.

While he never came out and said it, almost losing me made him realize how much I meant to him. I felt loved and cared for. We now joke that my near-death experience is the secret to our healthy marriage.

Thinking Out Loud

As I compiled my Top 10 List for our date, I realized I was describing our everyday life. I wrote down things like playing and laughing together, and that we get each other’s sense of humor.

I wrote down raising a child and dogs together, a connection that is precious to us but was often fraught with stress, cleaning up bodily functions and money we could have spent in far more fun ways.

I wrote down being comfortable to be myself with Sean and having my faults and bad habits accepted. And that includes binge eating noodles, knowing full well I will complain about it afterwards.  

The song was still playing as I started reading my list to him.

So honey now
Take me into your loving arms
Kiss me under the light of a thousand stars
Place your head on my beating heart
I’m thinking out loud
Maybe we found love right where we are

Yes, I believe we have found love right where we are. And I could hardly wait to tell him.

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