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‘Moving Towards’ in Relationships

Karen Horney, a major psychological theorist of the twentieth century, wrote about three general “movements” that people engage in when relating to others.  These are movement towards, movement away, and movement against. How we engage in each of these movements is important, because they can either be healthy or unhealthy. For example, moving against can help a person develop a sense of personal control and identity, but it can also lead to aggression; moving away can help a person develop competency and individuality, but it can also lead to isolation; and moving towards can lead to connection and interdependence, but also neediness and anxiety.

Moving towards is the foundational movement of romantic and family relationships.  It is impossible to have depth of connection without moving towards another person.  One way to increase the chance that moving towards someone will result in healthy connection is an attitude of what I call “vulnerable engagement”.  At it’s most extreme, this attitude mirrors how you might approach an injured wild animal: you become as nonthreatening as possible while still moving towards and you expect that you might elicit a negative response.  In approaching an animal, you become nonthreatening by crouching down, moving slowly, and speaking softly. In a relationship, you speak softly and start by talking about your own experience and emotions. An animal might have a negative response of biting or scratching, but a negative response from a person when you are trying to move toward them is that they move away or move against.  

The movement away or against can be subtle or forceful, but it is negative because it precludes the connection that you are trying to achieve.  This is the vulnerable part of the engagement. It hurts when you try to connect with someone and they turn against you or pull away. If you then react to defend yourself because you are hurt then it justifies the defensive posture the other person took in pushing you away. It is very hard to not respond defensively when someone hurts you and a defensive response can be the right response in many situations but remember that in this instance you have initiated the interaction because you want to connect with the other person.  One thing that helps me in this sort of situation is knowing that moving against and moving away are important. I want the people I love to have their own identity and individuality. When I can accept that sometimes those movements need to be directed towards me, I can let it go and try to connect in another way or at a different time. As that goes on, the other person’s needs for those negative responses diminishes and I find that my movement towards them is more often met by a movement towards me and we are able to meet in the middle. I find that depth of relationship to be worth the vulnerability and pain of the times we fail to connect.

 

Bring BRAVING to Your Relationships

One of the biggest struggles in navigating through relationships is building and sustaining trust.  Being able to fully trust another person involves vulnerability and accountability – two components that can elicit feelings of fear and dread in even the strongest of people.  I was recently re-introduced to one of Brené Brown’s concepts called BRAVING and responded to it as if it were the first time that I’d been exposed to her teachings. I recognized that I had feelings of fear, disappointment, regret, and anxiety in hearing this concept again.  Not that these feelings were rooted in concern that I had done anything wrong or that anyone else had done me wrong, rather I allowed myself to hear her reinforce the importance of trust within a relationship. I don’t know about you, but I find it very easy to allow myself to wear the ‘victim hat’ and focus on how someone else has broken my trust.  If I haven’t clearly established my ‘BRAVING’ components though, how can I hold anyone else accountable for theirs? The answer is that I can’t; I can only hold myself accountable for something that I didn’t take the time to establish at the beginning of the relationship, and take steps to embrace BRAVING in the present.

Brené breaks down BRAVING as such:

BBoundaries - establishing clear boundaries for yourself and for your relationship.  Are your limits respected within the relationship? Are you respecting the other person’s limits?

RReliability - is the other person there for you you when they said they would be?  Are you there for others when you said you would be?

AAccountability - are others accountable for their mistakes and misgivings?  Do you hold yourself accountable for yours?

VVault - are others able to hold things that you’ve shared with them in complete confidence?  Are you able to do the same?

IIntegrity - do the actions of others match their words?  What about for yourself?

NNon-Judgement - is there an air of compassion and non-judgment when engaging with others?  Are you able to listen to others without quickly jumping to judgement?

GGenerosity - does the other person assume the best about your words, actions, and feelings? Are you able to do the same for the other person?

If the answer is ‘yes’ to all of the above, grab a hold of that person tightly and don’t let that relationship go!!  All joking aside, if you genuinely can answer yes to all of those components, the trust between you and the other person is steadfast.  If, though, like most of us, you struggled in saying yes or found yourself confidently saying no, there is a path forward and this is where the work begins. As with any human connection, there is always hope for change. The first step in creating any sort of change is in identifying the problem, so congratulations! You’re halfway there!

Re-read through the BRAVING components (Boundaries, Reliability, Accountability, Vault, Integrity, Non-Judgement, and Generosity) and parse out the pieces that don’t feel strong.  Ask yourself what may be going on that’s causing some shakiness for you.  Are there ‘yucky’ things from the past that are coming up within your current relationship or is the ‘yuck’ being born out of the relationship itself?  Stop and ask yourself - “what is it that I need?” Your answer will be the doorway into your repair.

How Honeymoons Can Help Strengthen Relationships

Photo by  Justin Follis  on  Unsplash

What is a “Solo-Moon” and How Taking a Honeymoon with Your Spouse Can Strengthen Your Relationship: A Response to the NYT Article “Honeymoon Do We Part”

As I scrolled through the morning headlines last week, I came across an article printed in the New York Times describing several couples who had blissfully parted ways to enjoy a much needed break from reality, after enduring the stresses associated with their weddings. While I have explored the benefits of solo vacations, I had never considered the idea of couples separating from each other, to relax on independent vacations, following the reception of their wedding. To say I was intrigued, is an understatement! With a quick google search, I realized that taking individual honeymoons (also known as, “unimoons or solo-moons”), is more common than I expected!

The NYT article does a great job exploring some of the pros and biological factors of taking trips, as well as the sociological evolution of the meaning of marriage. However, I wish the article distinguished more between honeymoons and general vacations. A honeymoon isn’t just “any” vacation, it’s an opportunity for a person and their spouse to reconnect after weeks/months of stress, and for them to begin to create their identity as a pair. Absent from the article was mention of the need to connect and begin to build shared experiences as a married couple. Travel, whether near or far, offers an opportunity to bond and build a strong foundation of compromise and support, as well as fun, as they embark on this next stage of the relationship.

But what about couples who have been together for years or even decades, before tying the knot? Haven’t they already developed a strong sense of “we/us”? The answer is yes and no. While couples who have lived together and/or spent significant amounts of time in a relationship likely have a strong identity as a couple, the question is, do they have a strong identity as a MARRIED couple. Everyone has reasons for tying the knot, however, regardless to the reasons, when couples decide to walk down the aisle, they are acknowledging that marriage is a new step or stage, and that it is adding something to their union. What better place to explore that new dynamic than in a new environment, or while experiencing something new, with their partner?

Looking at Gottman Therapy, we know that the goal of relationships is shared meaning. To reach shared meaning, couples must build love maps, share feelings of fondness and admiration, turn towards one another, manage conflict, and work to have a positive perspective towards one another. All of those steps are difficult to attain, if the couple consistently pursues individual endeavors over activities as a couple. On the other hand, should couples decide to take their honeymoon as a pair, each level of the Sound Relationship House, can be nurtured and fostered throughout the trip. See the list below, for more details about how taking a honeymoon as a couple can help strengthen your foundation.

It can be hard to put aside personal desires and individual needs to compromise with a spouse, especially with the added stress that can come along with travelling. However, the benefits of taking the honeymoon as a couple, instead of parting ways, can provide stability at a pivotal point in the relationship, and allow the couple to build a strong foundation for which to grow their marriage. Rest assured, there will be TONS of occasions, throughout their lives together, to develop their individuality, but they will only have one chance to relish in the glow of this newest union!

Ways that Honeymoons Enhance Relationships -

  1. Enhance Communication: Without stress and prying eyes, you and your partner are able to talk freely with one another.

  2. Process the wedding together: You spent thousands of dollars on the “big day”, but hardly had a chance to recap the experiences and perspectives from throughout the night. This also gives you and your partner a chance to “relive” the moments from your wedding, and find out what really stood out to each of you.

  3. New Experiences: Vacations, particularly to new places, allow you to experience somewhere/something new. These experiences allow you to gain new perspective, which can be used later in negotiating stressors in your personal life, a greater mental bank for mindfulness, and can help both you and your partner gain empathy for others

  4. New Dreams- As you enter this new phase, you and your partner may feel more secure in expressing dreams and desires or exploring further into the future, especially now that the two of you are bound together in matrimony. There is now an additional layer of security when being vulnerable.

  5. Rituals of Connection- Honeymoons allow you and your partner to build memories together, and encourage you and your partner to create a joint vision for the future. Events/Meals/Destinations experienced during this time can be used for decades to come, to unite and ground you as a couple, and to help reconnect you, when you feel distant in your relationship.

  6. Reduce stress- Let’s face it, weddings are stressful. Taking time away from your everyday life allows you to live in the moment, and re-energize before facing the “real world” again.

  7. Validation- Couples often say that the wedding went “by in a blink of an eye”. It’s hard to feel like anything has changed, particularly if you have been together for a while, immediately following the wedding ceremony. By introducing yourselves as a married couple, hearing people gush over this exciting time (think hotel staff, restaurant staff, excursion guides, etc), and reading cards of well wishes, helps validate that this event is a positive milestone, and allows the magnitude and joyous sentiment, sink in!

How to Put the 5 Love Languages to Work in Your Relationship Pt. 2

Photo by  Raw Pixel  on  Unsplash

Photo by Raw Pixel on Unsplash

The Season of Love is upon us!! Welcome back for Part II of the five Love Languages! Hopefully by now you have determined which Love Language both you and partner “speak” - if not, refer to Part I of this series, and follow the link to take the Love Language Quiz.

Was your Love Language what you expected? How about your partner? Reflecting on your past attempts to show love and affection: Have you been offering love and showing appreciation in the language that your partner identified as their Love Language? Has your partner been responding in their own Love Language, instead of in yours, or vice versa? Today is a new opportunity to commit to making a conscious effort to present your feelings of love to your partner in their identified Love Language and allowing your actions to capture the full magnitude of your affection.

To start off, how do you put these Love Languages into action? One of the best parts of Dr. Chapman’s Five Love Languages, is how simple each language really is. While grandiose gestures can be flattering, most relationships thrive on the smaller, everyday moments that build an overall sense of “we”, togetherness, and full understanding of one another in your relationship. For a quick refresher, see the basic qualities of each Love Language, below, taking special note of your Love Language, and that of your partner.

Words of Affirmation- Compliments, loving language and notes, verbal (and written) appreciation for partner

Acts of Service- Completing jobs and tasks that reduce the workload and burden on partner

Quality Time- Undivided attention; spending time to fully “be with” partner

Gifts- Whether bought or created, giving items to partner (this includes free items, such as a flower picked from the yard)

Physical Touch- Physical affection, not to be confused with sexual intimacy (which is desired in most romantic relationships), in which hand holding with partner, hugs and kisses, and activities such as a back rub

The basic qualities listed above make it easy to determine what actions you may want to take in order to show your partner love and affection; but what about actions you should avoid, and the best to way to communicate with them in general?

For those who “speak love” through Words of Affirmation, having a partner not appreciate effort or having a partner who is overly critical, can be overwhelming and hurtful. On the other hand, a partner who communicates through encouragement and appreciation, and empathizes while actively listening can be extremely affirming, and create an environment of unconditional love.

For those who seek love in the form of Acts of Service, they may be turned off by actions involving a lack of follow-through or commitment to see the job to the end, as well as being prioritized after other people. Instead, partners who try verbalizing a desire to help “lighten the load,” and offering to assist with chores send a clear message of love and togetherness.  

Quality Time sometimes gets overlooked, as most couples assume that “they spend lots of time together.” But for people whose Love Language is Quality Time, the keys are in the name: Quality - the time should be uninterrupted and free from distractions like cell phones and work; Time - going too long without one-on-one face time can be detrimental to the connection. Planning time to be together, actively communicating or participating in a desirable task, together, and creating an environment where each partner can fully focus on one another, strengthens relationships in which one or both partners’ Love Language is QT.  

Physical Touch is often misunderstood to solely focus on sex, however, the intention of all of the Love Languages is to build your connection with your partner, and as a byproduct, increase intimacy and foster a healthy sexual relationship. When a couple identifies Physical Touch as their Love Language, they are actually referring to the non-sexual physical affection of others. Keep in mind that any trauma history may overtly and covertly impact your, or your partner's, sense of safety and pleasure with physical touch and that consensual, respectful and mutually pleasurable physical affection is what we're talking about here.

Gift Giving, as described by Chapman, is the most simple of the Love Languages. Those whose partner’s preferred Love Language is Gift Giving will want to be sure to set reminders for important dates and think creatively about gifts. While we all occasionally forget birthdays and anniversaries, to someone who “speaks love” through Gift Giving it feels very personal and can drive a wedge in the relationship. Keep in mind, the monetary value of the item is not what is important, but instead, that the individual took the time to consider the person they are giving the gift to, and made the effort to obtain the item (whether that be creating a card or picture, throwing a surprise part, or purchasing a needed tool or accessory).

Remember - One of the biggest complaints that marriage therapists hear from couples who try Love Languages, is that one of the partners is “more committed” to following the Love Languages, than the other. Keep in mind that love is a choice. After the initial infatuation that goes along with a new relationship has faded, you are actively waking up each day and choosing to love and show love to your partner. How you do that is up to you, but if you have chosen this individual as someone you want to spend at least the foreseeable future with then it only makes sense that you would want to do what is best by them. In this case, that is presenting them your love in the way that they understand and feel most deeply. In most cases, the less enthusiastic partner feels more motivated to attempt Love Languages, once they feel the effect.

Since posting the first blog about this topic in January, I have noticed Love Languages popping up everywhere (kind of like getting a new car and then noticing everyone on the road is driving some version of that make/model)! In fact, I have had a hard time NOT seeing Love Languages all around me- ABC even dedicated an entire episode of Fresh Off the Boat to the idea of Love Languages! Board game makers are now including this premise in their toys, geared for kids and families. For example, while playing "Table Talks" with friends, it was hard not to see the connections between each of the "would you rather" style questions, and Dr. Chapman's Love Languages built into each of the options.

All that to say that Love Languages can be integrated into several aspects of your life, not only your romantic relationships! Dr. Chapman has expanded this idea of ways we show and feel love and appreciation to include teens, friends, and as a part of goal setting and dream building. By having a more clear understanding of your own Love Language, and those around you, you are able to show and receive love in a way that is more consistent, more impactful and more meaningful than ever before!


How to Put the 5 Love Languages to Work in Your Relationship

Photo by  Evan Kirby  on  Unsplash

Photo by Evan Kirby on Unsplash

January is a month of reflection. Let’s take a moment and consider your relationships… Are you feeling fulfilled and satisfied by your partner? What about your closest friendships? Do people around you swear that they are trying to please you, or show you love, but they are consistently missing the mark? What feedback have you been given? Have you found that you are consistently being asked to “do more” in your relationships, but are feeling unsure how to “give” anymore of yourself? As we move out of the holiday season and into the “season of love” (aka February), it is normal to begin to re-evaluate some of your relationships. For some, the holiday season is an opportunity for people in their life to “make up” for past wrongs and lackluster celebrations, often in the form of some grandiose gift or gesture. For many, that gift or gesture doesn’t meet the expectation, and then they are left with disappointment.

Enter Valentine’s Day: another opportunity for those close to us to show us love. But if they/we follow the same recipe from the holiday season, we are bound to fall short. Why are the efforts of those around us, as well as our own, not communicating the love and commitment that we are intending? In today’s blog (part 1 of 2), we are going to explore Dr. Chapman’s Five Love Languages, and how, even with your best effort, if you and your partner (or friend) are not speaking each other’s love language your (and their) communication of love is going to be seen as “not enough.”

So what is a “Love Language”? Essentially, Dr. Chapman, the author of The Five Love Languages, describes the way we show others love (and expect love to be shown in return), as our love language. Often times, people assume that the only way to display your love is to give a physical gift, but if everyone only utilizes gifts for love, there will be a lot of exhausted and unfulfilled couples. Understanding love languages gives couples, and relationships in general, an opportunity to thrive when the specific language of each individual is being “spoken” or met.

Imagine this: You come through the door at the end of a long day. What action from your partner would have the most impact on you?:

  1. They immediately tell you that you look great, and how important you are to the family unit (Words of Affirmation)

  2. They approach you, place your coat on the rack, and hand you a snack or meal (Acts of Service)

  3. They stop the task they are working on, sit with you, and engage in a full conversation about your day (Quality Time)

  4. They present you a card they have made with designs and funny sketches (Gifts)

  5. They approach you, give you a kiss and quick shoulder rub (Physical Touch)

While all of these options sound like a nice way to come home at the end of the day, not all of them are going to provide you with the same level of satisfaction and fulfillment. This is the idea behind The Five Love Languages. It is not that you or your partner are completely void of the need for any of the five languages, but instead, one or two love languages will have more value to you and to your partner. As you read the possible options, did any of them stick out to you as a way that you or your partner consistently attempt to show love? Consider all of the ways that you have reached out to increase closeness and intimacy with your partner, as well as some of the actions that they use to reciprocate that love. The best part of Love Languages is that they allow you to work smarter, not harder. If you knew how to make fewer, more personalized attempts at affection that would make a bigger impact and satisfy your partner more, would you?

Here is a breakdown of the Five Love Languages. As you read the descriptions, try to identify which one or two resonates most with you. Now consider which love language most closely matches the way you show your love and affection to your partner. Are they the same? Different? Take a moment to sit down with your partner, and go over the five languages in detail. Which Love Language do they most identify with? Have they been attempting to express themselves to you in a language other than your preferred Love Language?

Words of Affirmation - Compliments, loving language and notes, verbal (and written) appreciation for partner

Acts of Service - Completing jobs and tasks that reduce the workload and burden on partner

Quality Time - Undivided attention; spending time to fully be present with your partner

Gifts - Whether bought or created, giving items to your partner (this includes free items, such as a flower picked from the yard)

Physical Touch - Physical affection such as hand holding with your partner, giving them hugs, kisses, and back rubs (not to be confused with sexual intimacy, which is desired in most romantic relationships)

If you and/or your partner are struggling to narrow down a specific love language, I invite you to consider the most recent times you or your spouse “nagged” at one another. What was the topic of contention? Is one person feeling neglected, as if they are not getting enough “face time”? Or is someone looking for more help with tasks around the house? Whoever was doing the “nagging” is likely feeling as though their love language is not being spoken in the relationship, and the complaints that they have expressed in the past are great insight into what needs are not being met for that individual. If you find that you and your partner are still struggling to decide which love language best suits each of you, or you have several that seem like they may be good fits, I encourage you to take the Love Languages Quiz on Dr. Chapman’s website. As you answer the questions, remember that you want to choose the one that you MOST prefer, although both options may feel like acceptable choices. When finished with the quiz, calculate the results (instructions are at the bottom of the quiz), and determine which language best suits both you and your partner!

**Note: You and your partner may have different Love Languages, and that is okay! Keep in mind that Love Languages is not a matter of compatibility. Every relationship has the option to evolve and adapt with the identification and implementation of the Love Languages Principles

Now that you have identified your Love Language, join me for Part 2 of the Love Languages series to find out how to apply that information into meaningful actions!

LoveTip: How Starting New Holiday Traditions Can Add Shared Meaning to Your Relationship

Photo by  Ian Schneider  on  Unsplash

Since I was a small child, my favorite time of year has always been the time in between the week after Halloween and the week after New Years. My family has countless traditions, ranging from Thanksgiving Day meals to Advent Calendars, tree decorating, donating to those in need, and we even have step by step rituals for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. These traditions have led me and my brothers to always feel connected to family, even when we live hundreds of miles apart. Each of us, in our own unique ways, have continued these rituals with our own families and have begun building even deeper connections with our spouses around this time of year.

Outside of my family, depending on who you ask, the holidays can be described with a smile, as “amazing,” or with a shudder, as “stressful.” Those in the first group will likely tell you all about the music, distant family, shopping, and ambience that contributes to their positive outlook on the season. Those in the latter will often cite expenses, traffic, repetitive tunes, and family drama as contributing factors to their “bah humbug” attitude. While traffic patterns and the music selections blaring at every department store, likely won’t change in the near future, I want to invite you to view the holidays as an opportunity. In this case, an opportunity to build shared meaning and intimacy with your significant other. The best part is, this opportunity does not have to cost a fortune, and most of these tips can be done in very little time with an impact that lasts long after the holiday season.

Before we identify ways to increase intimacy and shared meaning, let’s further discuss the idea of “shared meaning.” Drs. John and Julie Gottman have created an entire theoretical approach to couples and marriage counseling, with one of the ultimate goals being that couples have shared meaning in life. This shared meaning is the deeper connection that binds you and your spouse, and is created through rituals, traditions, goals, dreams, and appreciation for one another. Couples who have shared meaning tend to be “masters of their relationship”, and feel stable and loved by their partner.

So how do you achieve shared meaning? The Gottmans designed the Sound Relationship House, complete with 7 levels that culminate in Shared Meaning. Along with the levels, there are skills and understandings gained at each step that help propel your relationship towards greater satisfaction and shared meaning. Today, I want to focus on “creating rituals of connection,” which is one way to increase your shared meaning. The holidays provide a unique environment to incorporate and create new traditions and rituals that will fuel and connect your relationship for years to come.  

Begin by sitting down with your partner and talking about any current rituals you may already have in place (ie: birthday celebrations, daily greeting/departing affection, weekly dinners, etc.). Now examine the rituals and traditions that you have surrounding the holiday season. Which rituals have ties back to one or both of your childhoods? What were your favorite childhood traditions? Least favorite? What memories do these traditions evoke? How would you change these rituals to fit your current lifestyle? What meaning/symbolization do both past and current rituals have for you? How can you and your spouse continue to expand the traditions and rituals that you share? Consider the list below, as well as brainstorming together, to come up with new and exciting ways to celebrate the holidays, year after year, and to feel closer and more connected to your spouse, throughout the year!

Example Rituals:

  1. Plan a holiday meal or party together - Even if you spend the actual holidays away from home, plan a special dinner to enjoy at your house, with both you and your significant other contributing to the menu and preparation.

  2. Decorate your home in fall and/or winter/holiday décor together - Bonus points if you make the decorations, adding to your collection each year!

  3. Take Holiday Pictures- This one serves a few different purposes. Not only is this a great opportunity to create a ritual of getting dressed up or dressing in a theme with your spouse, but it will also give you the chance to look back at these photos in future years! With selfie-sticks, camera stands, filters and timed/remote photo apps, taking pictures at home has never been easier. And now there is no excuse not to include yourself in the pictures!

  4. Pull out your photo albums and reminisce on past holidays.

  5. Kiss under the mistletoe when you leave and return from work - This adds a holiday twist to a ritual you may already be doing (sending off and greeting your partner, when you leave and return home each day).

  6. Watch holiday movies together, or make a list of movies you haven’t had an opportunity to see this year, and use the extra time off from work to catch up together.

  7. Make cookies or gingerbread houses. Hate baking? Grocery stores now have pre-made ginger bread houses and sugar cookies with icing and candies included so you can save time on baking and focus more on decorating!

  8. Shop for extended family gift(s) together. Shopping often becomes a solo job, but when looking for gifts for hard-to-shop-for extended family, two heads can be better than one. Plus standing in long lines doesn’t seem so bad if you have company!

  9. Visit a Christmas tree farm - If a live tree that sheds in your living room doesn’t have you jumping with holiday spirit, lots of tree farms have other activities to enjoy (such as photo ops, petting zoos, corns mazes, festive gift shops, and delicious treats)!

  10. Sing Holiday Karaoke. Afterwards, every time you hear “Santa Baby” you will be inclined to laugh at the thought of your significant other belting it out in your living room or at the bar around the corner!

  11. Take a drive and listen to holiday music. Maybe singing isn’t your thing, but a scenic drive with spirited music can engrain the feeling of togetherness and bring back those feelings each time you hear those songs.

  12. Take a walk around your neighborhood after dark to look at the lights.

  13. Call family and friends together - Instead of you and your spouse calling or talking individually, facetime/skype/speaker phone friends and family to have group chat!

  14. Play in the snow or in the grass, depending on your local weather (snow: ski, snowboard, sled, snow ball fight; grass: bocci ball, horseshoes, washers, toss a ball or frisbee, etc.) ** The Gottmans describe play as, “dreaming while you are awake” and believe it to be a vital part of healthy relationships.

  15. Volunteer together. Whether you assist at a food bank, homeless shelter, or donate gifts to “Toys for Tots”/Angel Tree/Blue or Brown Santa, helping in your community is often easiest during the holidays because there are so many active organizations. This is a ritual that can also translate to your life after January 1st, with many organizations desperate for additional help after the holiday rush!

Keep in mind, when you are choosing rituals, you want to find activities that both you and your spouse can enjoy. If your ideas of holiday traditions are drastically different, try to find a balance between rituals geared towards you and your significant other’s interests - being aware that none of these new traditions should be “painful” for you or your partner, because that will likely only cause you to abandon them before you have an opportunity to recreate them year after year. As your repertoire of traditions and rituals grow each year, take time to discuss the ones you enjoy the most, the ones you enjoy the least, and discard unfavorable traditions, so you have time to introduce new rituals and spice up your holiday season!


LifeTip: Learning to Trust and Be Trusted

Photo by  Perry Grone  on  Unsplash

Photo by Perry Grone on Unsplash

“Trust me” is a phrase we hear in all types of relationship dyads. From intimate partners, to parents and their children, friends, and even work colleagues and acquaintances, we all want to feel trusted and know if we can trust the other person. If we look closely, we might even wonder if we can trust ourselves. It begs the questions - “Why is trust so important?” and “How do we know if we have trust?” The challenge is that like most things in life (dare I say ALL), it isn’t black or white. It’s not as simple as “Yes, I trust you” or “No, I don’t” in most situations...

As I reflect on my 10+ years of experience as a therapist, I can safely say that every one of my clients have struggled with the question: How can I know if I trust him/her/them? I can easily recall the pain in the eyes of a 16 year old client who had worked for months to mend their relationship with their parents after a period of greatly deceptive behavior, as they asked, “Can’t you trust me now? What more can I possibly do?” And the simultaneous confusion, grief, doubt, hope, and uncertainty in the eyes of the parent who responds, “I don’t know; part of me says ‘yes’ while another part says ‘no way!’”  There’s also the employee who can’t quite pinpoint why he feels so uneasy in interactions with his boss. Or the woman who sits in my office wondering out loud if her boyfriend can truly be trusted, despite her deep love for him. Most of the time, it’s painful to examine trust in our relationships and yet, it’s completely necessary.

If we want to be seen and valued in our relationships, trust is essential. Trust is the foundation upon which we can engage in and build authentic relationships with one another. It determines if we feel safe enough to be vulnerable or if we feel the need to put on our armor and self-protect with another person. Trust is not something that we can expect to have with other people instantly. Rather, it is much like a flower - it requires patience, attention, nurturance, and flexibility in order to thrive. When we see warning signs that things aren’t going well, we must take a look at the components of trust to know what is getting in the way and whether it can be salvaged. So what are the components of trust?


Researcher, author, and storyteller, Brené Brown has identified 7 elements of trust which are incredibly helpful when evaluating and examining where there are challenges and strengths in a relationship. Quoting from her book Rising Strong: The Reckoning, The Rumble, The Revolution (pgs 199-200), she defines these elements with the acronym BRAVING:

B - Boundaries: You respect my boundaries, and when you’re not clear about what’s

okay and not okay, you ask. You’re willing to say no.

R - Reliability: You do what you say you’ll do. At work, this means staying aware of your

competencies and limitations so you don’t over-promise and are able to deliver on

commitments andbalance competing priorities.

A - Accountability: You own your mistakes, apologize, and make amends.

V - Vault: You don’t share information or experiences that are not yours to share. I need

to know that my confidences are kept, and that you’re not sharing with me any

information about other people that should be confidential.

I - Integrity: You choose courage over comfort. You choose what is right over what is fun,

fast, or easy. And you choose to practice your values rather than simply professing them.

N - Nonjudgment: I can ask for what I need, and you can ask for what you need. We can

talk about how we feel without judgment.

G - Generosity: You extend the most generous interpretation possible to the intentions,

words, and actions of others.

This is one of the most useful measuring sticks for trust that I’ve found. It takes something that is very murky and hard to define, and makes it just a little clearer. The reason the parent may struggle to say whether she trusts her teen is because their child may be incredibly reliable but struggles greatly with accountability. The employee may feel uneasy around their boss because the same boss they are supposed to have rapport and safety with is the same person who revealed deeply personal information to him about another colleague. The newly formed romantic relationship may be strong in generosity but weak in boundaries.

This stuff is complex. The good news is that if we take a look at each of these components we will likely find strengths to acknowledge and praise, as well as new language to explain the reasons we’re struggling with trust in our relationships. Similarly, it can help us to identify our own areas of weakness that may cause others to mistrust us or to mistrust ourselves.


So, the next time you feel uneasy or uncertain about your level of trust in an important relationship, take some time to get quiet, take a deep breath, and evaluate your strengths/weaknesses according to the BRAVING model and the strengths/weaknesses of your counterpart. Keep in mind, the point is not to blame the other, but to make this murky concept of trust a little clearer, which means looking within as well. As the saying goes, “it takes two to tango.” We have to be willing to look at our part in building and maintaining trust, as well as the other’s part.

LifeTip: How Setting Boundaries Promotes Intimacy

Recently, I’ve felt inspired by both my personal and professional life when it comes to interpersonal boundaries. Setting boundaries in our relationships can be challenging because it requires a bit of finessing, but in the long run it can actually help promote intimacy with others.

Often when we talk about setting boundaries in relationships, we refer to creating metaphorical lines that are not to be crossed or tampered with in order to protect ourselves. This idea may appear to create distance in a relationship, perhaps in one that requires nurturing and closeness, but in most cases, the opposite is true.

Boundaries are not only a way to protect ourselves in relationships, they also create healthy structure, promote predictability and safety, and are a form of self-care. A boundary can be as simple as setting guidelines with your child about phone usage at the dinner table. Other boundaries can be more complex, such as telling a parent or family member that certain topics are off-limits because they personally result in unhelpful consequences and emotional discomfort. In either case, we set boundaries with the people we care about in order to increase the safety, intimacy, and long-term sustainability of each relationship. Setting boundaries can be appropriate in any relationship: your child, parent, sibling, partner, friend, coworker, the list goes on. If it’s a relationship you care about, it can certainly benefit from setting healthy boundaries.

It’s important to note that setting boundaries can be really challenging, especially if this is something new you’re trying. It might feel awkward, it might also create some short-term confusion/anger/resentment, and it might even take a handful of tries before it feels authentic. Be patient with yourself and this relationship. If you care enough about this person and yourself, allow the time and space to work out the kinks.

Here are some helpful tips when setting interpersonal boundaries:

  • Practice saying no/yes when it comes to your needs/desires and reflect on how you manage hearing “no” from others. Practice tolerating any uncomfortable emotions that come up.

  • Reflect on your sense of identity. Practice accepting and respecting yourself.

  • Practice speaking up when you feel you have been abused or disrespected by others.

  • Take time to identify your wants, needs, and feelings. Practice using direct communication to share these wants, needs, and feelings with others.

  • Identify your limits and allow others to define their limits.


Finally, remember that we set boundaries out of love and not punishment!

Practice compassion for yourself and within your relationships 😊


LoveTip: The Relationship Tango

Photo by  Tim Gouw  on  Unsplash

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

No matter how you look at them, relationships can be tough.  Bringing two or more people together into an emotional dance can cause confusion, insecurity, and feelings of instability.  It is within these feelings of "yuck" that resentment can set in and defenses begin to build.


The million-dollar question that I'm often asked is, "should I really stay in this relationship?"  As easy as it may be to give a simple 'yes' or 'no' answer, the solution is rarely that cut and dried.  At the risk of sounding too therapist-like, I'll state that the answer is not always as important as the journey to find that answer.  This is your chance to start looking within and exploring what's working well and what's not working so well.

Check out my latest blog post and read more about turning that disjointed square dance back into a graceful tango.

LoveTip: Embracing Self-Compassion

Photo by  Robert Baker  on  Unsplash

While I try to incorporate many forms of mindfulness into my sessions, I’ve found that recently I’ve been drawn to this one, specific guided meditation. In nearly every session that I’ve played this meditation, clients not only report feeling more calm and stillness, but also that they’re seeing it physically in their body.  When something like this works for the majority of my clients, I find it important to check in and see if the tool itself is especially helpful or if the issue being addressed might be more common than I thought. So, I began asking my clients what it was about this one 5-minute meditation that was so beneficial, compared to the thousands of other meditations you can find on the internet. Nearly all of them answered that it came down to this phrase - “May I be kind to myself in this moment, and may I give myself the compassion that I need.”

Wow.  

Growing up, many of us are taught the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” In other words, treat people the way you’d like to be treated. Manners are enforced, and we’re constantly told to have compassion for our fellow humans. All of these things are clearly very positive, because teaching children to have compassion for others is a very important thing. However, I’ve noticed that there isn’t much being taught about self-compassion and the importance it plays in our overall happiness and well-being, especially during the teen years. Really the only time I’ve seen this out in the real world is when a flight attendant tells a caregiver to put their air mask on first before assisting others. Makes sense, right? You need to be able to breathe to help others, so of course you would need to put your mask on first. Similarly, it’s also true that for us to have compassion for others, we need to have it for ourselves. Except sometimes that’s much harder to do.

In my last blog post, I explored negative self-talk using a cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) technique of connecting your thoughts, feelings and behaviors using a triangle visual.  From this exercise it became clear to me that my procrastination and “stuckness” came down to saying things to myself that I wouldn’t dare say to another person because they wouldn’t be kind. Why is it that it feels okay to say hurtful things to ourselves when we would be appalled to see someone else being spoken to that way? Why is self-compassion so hard?

These are questions that I still don’t have the answer to, but I am exploring, specifically through a book called Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach and through this meditation that has been so helpful to my clients. For some reason, having someone give you permission to be kind to yourself makes it much easier. It’s amazing what just 5 minutes of treating yourself kindly can do for your entire day! So as school starts, schedules fill, and the stress levels inevitably rise, I invite you to take a few moments to be kind to yourself and give yourself the compassion that you need.

App: Insight Timer (FREE meditation app!) 5 Minutes of Self Compassion by Lisa Abramson