5 Tips to Stress-Proof Your Marriage This Holiday Season

5 TIPS TO STRESS-PROOF YOUR MARRIAGE THIS HOLIDAY SEASON

Kyle Benson

When I was a kid, I was giddy when the holiday season came around. I opened presents, ate candy canes, and snuggled with my dogs near the fireplace.

But as an adult, the holidays come with a fair amount of stress. I found there was less fun and more planning, like how you’re going to visit family, what food you’re going to cook, saving money for gifts, going shopping, and so much more.

It’s not uncommon for couples to feel overwhelmed or disconnected during the holiday season, especially if one or both partners feel triggered by certain events. The added stress can create tension and highlight relationship difficulties during a time when it is important to stay connected and feel loved.

But there is a better way through the holiday season, which is getting through it together.

Having a plan and sticking to it is one of the most effective ways to eliminate stress and spend more time having fun and enjoying each other’s company.

Take the Stress out of Holiday Preparations and Decisions

The holiday season can leave a partner feeling unappreciated or resentful for doing all the shopping and cooking, or it can lead to another partner feeling pressured into doing things their partner’s way. But the holidays are a time to come together as a team and create a sense of balance. Try to follow this template toward creating a holiday plan:

1. List out all the chores and responsibilities that require attention. This will give you an objective view for determining who should be in charge of what.

2. Add three columns to the list: one for you, one for your partner, and one for both of you.

3. Read the list together. Talk about each other’s perception of how holiday responsibilities were handled in the past, and discuss how you would like them handled this year.

4. Go through the items that are easy to assign this year and choose who is responsible (you, your partner, or both), check the appropriate task and partner on the list, and set aside the tasks that may need to be talked through for later.

5. For the items you didn’t assign, take the time to ask each other open-ended questions about the task and the difficulties associated with it. Truly listen to what your partner likes and doesn’t like, which is an opportunity to learn something new about your partner and their preferences and concerns.

Then, after both partners feel understood, determine how you’d like to proceed this year, and compromise when needed so that both of you feel comfortable with your plans. You can cover a lot of different kinds of tasks, including cooking and cleaning duties, shopping, travel plans, and holiday traditions that you’d both like to include in your festivities.

ListPartner A’s ListPartner B’s ListTogether List
Warping gifts X 12/22/17
Organizing the grocery list X 12/21/17
Call family & see who is bringing what for dinner X 12/22/17

The goal here is to find win-win solutions that put your partner’s needs on par with your own. Your partner may agree with you or may suggest something else.

Sometimes you may have to do a task together, but that can be helpful if both of you don’t enjoy something that still needs to get done.

Work together to find a solution for this year that satisfies both of your needs. Then decide who is responsible, assign the task, and note the date that it needs to be completed by.

Now you have a better idea of who does what and when, which should already relieve a great deal of stress.

Dr. John Gottman’s research discovered that a purely equal division of tasks isn’t what matters (keeping score can lead to resentment), but instead that each partner feels like responsibilities are balanced. And, of course, modify plans if necessary. If your partner feels overwhelmed, then see if you can help out by taking on some of their tasks, and remember to support each other.

De-stress with Your Spouse

Throughout the holidays, try to take time to have a Stress-Reducing Conversation, which allows you talk about your stressful feelings and thoughts without actually discussing your marriage or any issues you may have with your partner.

Ask some open-ended questions about how they’re feeling this holiday season, but don’t try to problem solve. Instead, truly listen to your partner’s concerns and express empathy.

If you have this conversation every day this season, it can’t help but make your spirits bright.

Verbalize Appreciations

Another way to relieve stress is to offer compliments, gratitude, and appreciation to your partner, which can help your partner stay connected to you.

Make an extra effort to notice the small things your partner does such as grocery shopping, wrapping gifts, taking out the trash, or making time for just you, and verbalize your appreciation. Small acts of gratitude will help uplift your spirits.

If you cultivate an attitude of gratitude around your partner and loved ones during the holidays, everyone should feel more comfortable, appreciated, and emotionally satisfied.

Do the Small Things Often

As Liz Higgins reminds us, “Marriage is Not a Big Thing, It’s a Million Little Things.”

Take a few moments this holiday season and plan three little surprises for your spouse. This could be:

  • A short and sweet love note slipped into their wallet or purse
  • Filling up a hot bath for them to relax in at after a long stressful day (bonus if you join)
  • Dance to holiday music in your home

Take Time to Connect with Your Partner

Most importantly, try to schedule some time for just you and your partner to connect. It may be difficult to get away from family and friends during a busy holiday season, but making intentional efforts to spend a few hours or an evening together will help you feel more loved and stress-free.

Maybe you:

  • Sneak off to give each other a quick massage.
  • Find a mistletoe to passionately kiss under
  • Give each other personalized gifts before the holiday.
  • Snuggle while watching a holiday movie
  • Hold hands while taking an evening walk

If you follow these tips throughout the holiday season, it may bring you closer to feeling that sense of fun, excitement, and wonder that I once felt as a kid. While planning isn’t as fun as decorating and opening gifts, having a solid plan you can rely on enables you and your partner to spend less time stressing and more time enjoying the holiday season.

6 Things to Remember When Your Heart is Breaking

6 THINGS TO REMEMBER WHEN YOUR HEART IS BREAKING

Angel Chernoff

It’s a dull, subdued sensation when your heart is breaking, like the muffled sound of a distant gunshot. It doesn’t physically pierce your skin or tear you to pieces, but the sensation is physically present – the paralyzing discomfort of realizing that something you took for granted is leaving for good.

Although it’s hard to accept at first, this is actually a good sign, having a broken heart. It means you have loved something, you have tried for something, and you have let life teach you.

Life will attempt to break you down sometimes; nothing and no one can completely protect you from this reality. Remaining alone and hiding from the world won’t either, for endless, stagnant solitude will also break you with unhealthy nostalgia and yearning.

You have to stand back up and put yourself out there again. Your heart is stronger than you realize. I’ve been there and I’ve seen heartbreak through to the other side. It takes time, effort and patience.

Deep heartbreak is kind of like being lost in the woods – every direction leads to nowhere at first. When you are standing in a forest of darkness, you cannot see any light that could ever lead you home. But if you wait for the sun to rise again, and listen when someone assures you that they themselves have stood in that same dark place, and have since moved forward with their life, oftentimes this will bring the hope that’s needed.

It’s so hard to give you advice when you’ve got a broken heart, but some words can heal, and this is my attempt to give you hope. You are stronger than you know!

Please remember…

1. The person you liked or loved in the past, who treated you like dirt repeatedly, has nothing intellectually or spiritually to offer you in the present moment, but more headaches and heartache.

2. When you don’t get what you want, sometimes it’s necessary preparation, and other times it’s necessary protection. But the time is never wasted. It’s a step on your journey. Someday you’re going look back on this time in your life as such an important time of grieving and growing. You will see that you were in mourning and your heart was breaking, but your life was changing.

3. Some chapters in our lives have to close without closure. There’s no point in losing yourself by trying to hold on to what’s not meant to stay. Remember this, and always keep two simple questions in mind: What opportunities do I have right now? What’s one small, positive step forward I can take today?

4. One of the hardest lessons to learn: You cannot change other people. Every interaction, rejection and heartbreaking lesson is an opportunity to change yourself only. And there is great freedom and piece of mind to be found in this awareness.

5. It’s always better to be alone than to be in bad company. And when you do decide to give someone a chance, do so because you’re truly better off with this person. Don’t do it just for the sake of not being alone.

6. Be determined to be positive. Understand that the greater part of your misery or unhappiness from this point forward is determined not by your circumstances, but by your attitude.

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 feel better, think more clearly, and get our lives back on track.

The One Daily Talk That Will Change Your Relationship

THE ONE DAILY TALK THAT WILL CHANGE YOUR RELATIONSHIP

Kyle Benson

When Steven gets home from work, his partner Katie asks him, “How was your day, dear?” Their conversation goes like this.

Steven: At my weekly meeting my manager challenged my knowledge of our products and told the CEO that I am incompetent. She’s such a jerk.

Katie: There you go again. Overacting and blaming your manager. When I met her she seemed very logical and reasonable. You’re probably being insensitive to her worries about your department. (siding with the enemy)

Steven: The woman has it out for me.

Katie: And there’s your paranoia. You really need to get a handle on that. (criticism)

Steven: Forget I ever said anything.

Do you think Steven feels love by Katie in this moment?

Probably not.

Instead of providing a safe haven for him to be heard, she adds to his stress.

Learning to cope with external pressures and tensions outside your relationship is crucial to a relationship’s long-term health, according to research by Neil Jacobson.

A simple, effective way for couples to earn deposits in their emotional bank account is to reunite at the end of the day and talk about how it went. This is called the “How was your day, dear?” conversation, or more formally, the Stress-Reducing Conversation.

Like Steven and Katie, many couples have the “How was your day, dear?” conversation but the talk does not help either partner relax. Instead it escalates the stress and tension between them because they end up not feeling heard.

If this sounds like you and your partner, changing your approach to these end-of-the-day talks can ensure that they help both of you unwind.

The 4 Agreements of Love Talk

Before you start your end-of-the-day discussion, I’d recommend making some agreements. Agreements are what I use with my clients to bring their unspoken expectations into view.

Agreement #1: Agree on Timing
Some individuals want to connect the moment they walk into the door. Others need to decompress on their own before they’re ready to interact. When this expectation goes unspoken it can create tension and leave both partners feeling missed by each other. Agree on a time that will meet both of your needs. This can be at 7 pm every night or it can be 10 minutes after both of you get home.

Agreement #2: Dedicate Your Presence for 20-30 Minutes
Some couples struggle because they don’t spend enough time in the presence of each other to allow love to be cultivated. Take time to truly connect during this conversation.

Agreement #3: Don’t Discuss Your Marriage
This talk gives you and your partner the space to discuss about whatever is on your mind outside your marriage. It is not the time to bring up conflicts between you. Instead, it’s a chance to truly support each other in other areas of your life.

This conversation is a form of active listening in which you respond to each other’s venting with empathy and without judgement. Since the issues have nothing to do with the marriage, it’s much easier to express support and understanding of your partner’s worries and stresses.

Agreement #4: All Emotions are Welcome
This conversation is an opportunity to unload about irritants or issues, both big and small. If your partner shares sadness, fear, or anger and it feels uncomfortable, it may be time to explore why. Often this discomfort is rooted in childhood restrictions against expressing negative emotions. If this is the case, check out “Coping with Your Partner’s Sadness, Fear, and Anger” on page 103 in The Seven Principles That Make Marriage Work.

Allow this space to be a place of celebration too. If you have a victory at work or as a parent, mention that. Beyond sharing frustrations, a relationship is about sharing and relishing in the victories of life together. That’s what makes it meaningful.

7 Steps to an Effective End-of-Day Conversation

Below are detailed instructions for using active listening during the stress-reducing and intimacy building conversation.

1. Take turns. Let each partner be the complainer for fifteen minutes.

2. Show Compassion. It’s very easy to let your mind wander, but losing yourself will make your partner feel like you’ve lost touch with them. Stay focused on them. Ask questions to understand. Make eye contact.

3. Don’t provide unsolicited solutions. It’s natural to want to fix problems or make our lover feel better when they express pain. Often partners just want an ear to listen and a shoulder to cry on. Unless your partner has asked for help, don’t try to fix the problem, change how they feel, or rescue them. Just be present with them.

Men get caught up in this trap more frequently than women, but it is not the man’s responsibility to rescue his partner. Often trying to “save her” backfires. In the Love Lab, Dr. John Gottman noticed that when a wife shares her troubles, she reacts negatively to her husband offering advice right away. What she wants is to be heard and understood.

It’s not that problem-solving doesn’t have it’s place. It is important, but as psychologist Haim Ginott says, “Understanding must precede advice.” It’s only when your partner feels fully understood that they will be receptive to suggestions.

4. Express your understanding and validate emotions. Let your spouse know that you understand what they are saying. Here’s a list of phrases I have my clients use.

  • “Hearing that makes perfect sense why you’re upset.”
  • “That sounds terrible.”
  • “I totally agree with how you see it.”
  • “I’d be stressed too.”
  • “That would have hurt my feelings too.”

5. Take your partner’s side. Express support of your partner’s view even if you feel their perspective is unreasonable. If you back the opposition, your lover will be resentful. When your partner reaches out for emotional support (rather than advice), your role is not to cast judgement or to tell them what to do. It’s your job to express empathy.

6. Adopt a “We Against Others” attitude. If your partner is feeling alone while facing difficulty, express that you are there with them and you two are in this together.

7. Be Affectionate. Touch is one of the most expressive ways we can love our partners. As your partner talks, hold them or put an arm on their shoulder. Hold that space for them and love them through thick and thin.

Here is how the conversation changed after these instructions were given to Steven and Katie.

Katie: How was your day, dear?

Steven: At my weekly meeting my manager challenged my knowledge of our products and told the CEO that I am incompetent. She’s such a jerk.

Katie: What a jerk! She is so rude. (us against others) What did you say to her? (expressing genuine interest)

Steven: I told her I feel like she is out to get me and it’s not fair. I am the number one salesman on the floor.

Katie: I completely understand why you feel like that. I’m sorry she’s doing this to you. (expressing affection) She needs to get taken care of. (us against others)

Steven: I agree, but I think she’s doing it to herself. The CEO doesn’t appreciate her telling him everyone is incompetent but her. It’s probably best to leave it alone.

Katie: I’m glad he’s is aware of that. It’s not good and will backfire sooner or later.

Steven: I hope so. I feel like pizza, cuddles, and a movie tonight. You in?

Katie: Of course, love.

If you have this conversation everyday, it can’t help but benefit your relationship. You’ll come away with the feeling that your partner is on your side, and that’s one of the foundations of a long-lasting friendship.

A Fresh 60-Second Reminder that Will Change Your Mindset (and Spare Some Pain)

A FRESH 60-SECOND REMINDER THAT WILL CHANGE YOUR MINDSET (AND SPARE SOME PAIN)

Angel Chernoff

As you read these words, you are breathing. Stop for a moment and notice this breath. You can control this breath, and make it faster or slower, or make it behave as you like. Or you can simply let yourself inhale and exhale naturally. There is peace in just letting your lungs breathe, without having to control the situation or do anything about it. Now imagine letting other parts of your body breathe, like your tense shoulders. Just let them be, without having to tense them or control them.

Now look around the room you’re in and notice the objects around you. Pick one, and let it breathe. There are likely people in the room with you too, or in the same house or building, or in nearby houses or buildings. Visualize them in your mind, and let them breathe.

When you let everything and everyone breathe, you just let them be, exactly as they are. You don’t need to control them, worry about them, or change them. You just let them breathe, in peace, and you accept them as they are. This is what letting go is all about. It can be a life-changing practice.

At our annual conference, Think Better, Live Better, Marc and I guide attendees through this process of letting go—and breathing steadily through life’s twists and turns (you should get an HD recording of the event).

Truth be told, inner peace begins the moment you take a new breath and choose not to allow an uncontrollable event to dominate you in the long-term. You are not what happened to you. You are what you choose to become in this moment. Let go, breathe, and begin again…

7 Hard Things You Should Start Doing for Others

7 HARD THINGS YOU SHOULD START DOING FOR OTHERS

Marc Chernoff

Don’t just rant online for a better world. Love your family. Be a good neighbor. Practice kindness. Build bridges. Embody what you preach. Today. And always.

About a decade ago, at one o’clock in the morning, my grandpa who was suffering from Alzheimer’s got up, got into my car and drove off. Angel and I contacted the police, but before they could find him, two college kids pulled into our driveway with my grandpa. One was driving him in my car and the other was following in their car. They said they overheard him crying about being lost at an empty gas station 10 miles away. My grandpa couldn’t remember our address, but gave the kids his first and last name. They looked him up online, found our address, and drove him home.

I was randomly reflecting on that incident today while sitting near the edge of a beautiful ocean-side cliff in San Diego. As I stared off into the distance, the sudden awareness of footsteps behind me startled me. I turned around to see a young lady who was almost in tears slowly walking to where I was sitting. I jumped up, walked up to her and asked, “What’s wrong?” She told me she was deathly afraid of heights, but was worried about my safety and wanted to get over her fear because she needed to make sure I was okay.

“You were sitting so close to the edge, and with a such despondent expression,” she said. “My heart told me I needed to check on you—to make sure you were in a healthy state of mind.” Her name is Kate, and her braveness and kindness truly warmed my heart.

I’ve spent the rest of the day thinking about what an extraordinary person Kate is, and about those amazing college kids who helped my grandpa, and about what it means to be a kind and giving person. As Kate and those kids found out, being kind isn’t always easy. Sometimes you have to go the extra mile, or face your biggest fears, or stand up against your own negative tendencies to make a positive difference in someone else’s life. Let this be your wake-up call today. It’s time to start doing the hard things—the right things—for others…

1. Start being a source of sincere support.

The closest thing to being cared for is to care for others. We are all in this together and we should treat each other as such. The very demons that torment each of us, torment others all over the world. It is our challenges and troubles that connect us at the deepest level.

If you think about the people who have had the greatest positive effect on your life—the ones who truly made a difference—you will likely realize that they aren’t the ones that tried to give you all the answers or solve all your problems. They’re the ones who sat silently with you when you needed a moment to think, who lent you a shoulder when you needed to cry, and who tolerated not having all the answers, but stood beside you anyway. Be this person for those around you every chance you get.

2. Start giving people your undivided attention.

There is greatness and beauty in making time, especially when it’s inconvenient, for the sake of someone nearby.

You don’t have to tell people that you care, just show them. In your relationships and interactions with others, nothing you can give is more appreciated than your sincere, focused attention. Being with someone, listening without a clock and without anticipation of results is the ultimate compliment. It is indeed the most valued gesture you can make to another human being.

When we pay attention to each other we breathe new life into each other. With frequent attention and affection our relationships flourish, and we as individuals grow wiser and stronger. We help heal each other’s wounds and support each other’s growth. So give someone the gift of YOU—your time, undivided attention and kindness. That’s better than any other gift, it won’t break or get lost, and will always be remembered.

3. Start respecting and supporting people who are different than you.

Life’s greatest privilege is to become who you truly are. You have to dare to be yourself, one hundred percent, however anxious or odd that self may prove to be. The people who support you in doing so are extraordinary. Appreciate these people and their kindness, and pay it forward when you’re able.

Never bully someone into silence. Never victimize others for being different. Accept no one’s close-minded definition of another person. Let people define themselves. You have the ability to show people how awesome they are, just the way they are. So act on this ability without hesitation; and don’t forget to show yourself the same courtesy.

4. Start being willing to be wrong.

The mind is like a parachute; it doesn’t work when it’s closed.

It’s okay to disagree with the thoughts or opinions expressed by others. But that doesn’t give you the right to immediately reject any sense they might make. Nor does it give you a right to accuse someone of poorly expressing their beliefs just because you don’t like what they are thinking and saying. Learn to recognize the beauty of different ideas and perspectives, even if it means overcoming your pride and opening your mind beyond what is comfortable.

Healthy relationships and human interactions are not a power struggle. Be willing to be wrong, while simultaneously exploring your truth.

5. Start giving recognition and praise for the little things.

A brave, extraordinary soul recognizes the strength of others. Give genuine praise whenever possible. Doing so is a mighty act of service. Start noticing what you like about others and speak up. Having an appreciation for how amazing the people around you are is extremely rewarding. It’s an investment in them that doesn’t cost you a thing, and the returns can be astounding. Not only will they feel empowered, but also what goes around comes around, and sooner or later the people you’re cheering for will start cheering for you too.

Also, be sure to follow this rule: “Praise in public, penalize in private.” Never publicly ridicule someone when you have the option not to. If you don’t understand someone, ask questions. If you don’t agree with them, tell them. But don’t judge them behind their back to everyone else.

6. Start giving people the space to save face.

What others say and do is often based entirely on their own self-reflection. When someone who is angry and upset speaks to you, and you nevertheless remain very present and continue to treat them with kindness and respect, you place yourself in a position of great power. You become a means for the situation to be graciously diffused and healed.

A spiritual teacher once told me, “When somebody backs themselves into a corner, look the other way until they get themselves out; and then act as though it never happened.” Allowing people to save face in this way, and not reminding them of what they already know is not their most intelligent behavior, is an act of great kindness. This is possible when we realize that people behave in such ways because they are in a place of great suffering. People react to their own thoughts and feelings and their behavior often has nothing directly to do with you.

7. Start being a bit more gentle.

Be gentle and compassionate with those around you. Mother Nature opens millions of flowers every day without forcing the buds. Let this be a reminder not to be forceful with those around you, but to simply give them enough light and love, and an opportunity to grow naturally.

Ultimately, how far you go in life depends on your willingness to be helpful to the young, respectful to the aged, tender with the hurt, supportive of the striving, and tolerant of those who are weaker or stronger than the majority. Because we wear many hats throughout the course of our lives, and at some point in your life you will realize you have been all of these people.

Now, it’s your turn…

The bottom line is that it’s time to be less impressed by your own money, titles, degrees, and looks. And it’s time to be more impressed by your own generosity, integrity, humility, and kindness towards others.

Don’t you agree?

Please leave us a comment and share your thoughts.

What part of this post resonated with you the most?

After a Miscarriage, Grief, Anger, Envy, Relief and Guilt

AFTER A MISCARRIAGE, GRIEF, ANGER, ENVY, RELIEF AND GUILT

Jessica Grose

October is pregnancy and infant loss awareness month, and if your family has experienced any kind of loss, we are here for you. Miscarriage is common — as many as 15 percent of known pregnancies end in a first-trimester loss. We have guides on miscarriagestillbirth (far less common and incredibly heartbreaking), ectopic pregnancy (when a fertilized egg lands somewhere other than the uterus, also rare),and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

***

I had a miscarriage in between my two girls. I went in for an ultrasound at around seven weeks, and there was no heartbeat. My period is so irregular that I had to wait two additional weeks to confirm that the pregnancy was not progressing properly. My obstetrician couldn’t definitively date the pregnancy because he couldn’t definitively date the ovulation, so I trudged to multiple radiologists for multiple disappointing ultrasounds over 14 days.

I expected to feel sad during this painful two-week wait, and after — and I absolutely did. A guttural sadness that would take months to lift.

What I didn’t anticipate was that I would feel a lot of other things, and that the emotional ground would continue to shift under my feet. I felt relief when I was able to take a new job right around when I would have been due to give birth; I knew I wouldn’t have been able to take it had I carried that pregnancy to term. Then I felt guilty about feeling relieved. I felt anger — spiky and random, popping up unexpectedly and without apparent trigger. And most appalling to me was the envy I felt toward women who were pregnant, successfully. An acquaintance of mine was due around when I would have been, and I could not stand to be around her during her pregnancy. When she tried to make plans, I made excuses.

There’s a myriad of responses to loss, said Julia Bueno, a psychotherapist and the author of “The Brink of Being: Talking About Miscarriage.” “There may well not be any grief,” Bueno said, and the grief some women feel is “exquisitely nuanced, powerful and profound.” If the miscarriage is in the first trimester, it may also be hidden, Bueno said, because you don’t always look pregnant to the outside world, and it’s not customary to reveal a pregnancy until you’re past 12 weeks.

Partners of pregnant women may also feel a range of emotions. As technology allows us to know we’re pregnant just after a missed period, it allows partners to become bonded to babies far earlier than they might have been in previous generations. There’s a case study in Bueno’s book about a woman who miscarried twice, whose husband was grieving deeply. “He bought the pregnancy test. He saw that test emerge — he was drawn into it,” Bueno said. He was already forging a relationship with the baby that he had to mourn, too.

Nearly five years after my loss, I don’t think about the miscarriage much anymore. I was lucky to have a second child, which is what I desperately wanted, and that helped me. But lots of families still feel complicated grief even after having additional children. Bueno lost twin girls, Florence and Matilda, at 22 weeks, and she had three miscarriages as well. She went on to have two boys, and for her, “the nourishment and joy runs alongside the grief.” Bueno told me about an oral history she had read from a woman with nine children. That woman had a miscarriage, too, and though she was in her 80s at the time of the oral history, she still felt the loss acutely despite her sizable brood.

If you know someone who has experienced a loss, Bueno said, “err on the side of compassionate curiosity.” This could mean saying you’re sorry for a loss, and then asking something open-ended, like, “Tell me what it meant to you,” as it allows for the many kinds of emotion someone might feel. Be prepared for any response — a woman may not want to talk about it at all, or she may want to talk about the gory viscera. I recall making extremely dark jokes about what came out of me in the aftermath. Those physical side effects, “that stuff needs to be talked about,” Bueno said. Otherwise we run the risk of women feeling “icky and shameful and abnormal” about what they’ve experienced.

We need to make cultural space for every single kind of reaction to loss — there will always be a gamut of responses. And sharing these stories is a good place to start.

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.

How to accept each other (without killing each other)

HOW TO ACCEPT EACH OTHER (WITHOUT KILLING EACH OTHER)

Bruce Muzik

This is the final installment in our mini-series on how to accept your wife (and have her accept you) warts and all.

So far, all we’ve learned is that I’m a recovering messy person who spent a night in jail for a crime he didn’t commit.

Only, kidding!

I’m not recovering.

Anyhow, I’ve tried my best to keep learning about appreciation entertaining, and we’ve actually come pretty far together.

We’ve learned that acceptance is cultivated by:

  1. Assuming a Positive Intention
  2. Appreciating How Your Differences Benefit You
  3. Awareness of Each Other’s Broken Toes

The forth and final skill that cultivates acceptance is this:

Acceptance Skill #4:
Understand the Meaning of Your Partner’s Past

One of the many lessons I have had to learn is that my wife’s reactions only make sense in the context of her past experiences.

For example, when I learned that her mother gave her away (at 3 years of age) to her grandparents, it began to make sense why she needs to feel that I want her and am not going to reject her.

Knowing this, I can take extra care to reassure her that she’s my #1 whenever I suspect that she might be feeling insecure.

It’s not rocket science.

When I can see how her past shapes her present experience, I don’t take her reactions as personally.

I can support her when she snaps at me in times of distress. In the past, I’d have defended myself.

Your ability to resolve conflict quickly and lovingly is directly proportionate to your ability to understand how your partner’s past experiences have shaped their present emotional landscape.

Empathy is the natural result of making this connection.

So, how do you get to the point where your wife’s past makes sense to you?

Well, first you have to understand her past.

A good place to start is to ask your wife about her childhood.

Then ask her to talk about her relationship with her parents.

Obviously, you don’t want to come across like the Spanish Inquisition, so set up the conversation by telling her that you want to learn more about her past so that you can better understand her.

Most people love talking about themselves, so as long as you’re curious, attentive and supportive, she will likely open up.

Now, see if you can connect the dots from what she shared about her past to how she behave now.

In Week 5 of my online coaching program, I’ll assign you some questions to ask each other that will help get this conversation flowing.

So, to sum this series up… We’ve learned about 4 skills that cultivate acceptance. They are:

  1. Assuming a Positive Intention
  2. Appreciating How Your Differences Benefit You
  3. Awareness of Each Other’s Broken Toes
  4. Understanding the Meaning of Your Partner’s Past

Believe it or not, acceptance doesn’t take long time to cultivate. It happens in a split second once we see our partner in a new way.

Consider this:

How different would every interaction with your partner be if you both knew that you were loved just the way you are?

Instead of an argument exploding into a fight, you’d soothe and comfort each other.

Instead of walking on eggshells around each other, you could talk honestly about how you’re feeling and your partner could listen without taking it personally.

Instead of being defensive, you’d be curious as to what was upsetting your partner and offer comfort and support.

I could go on and on, but you get the idea.

I hope that you’ve found this mini-series helpful.
 

Till next time, be kind to each other.

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.

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.