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Friday, January 12, 2018

The Do's and Don'ts of Great Relationships

Most long-term intimate relationships are often challenged by unpredictable events over time. Some are defeated, while others not only make it through, but get stronger from the process. Those partnerships that are most likely to strive are marked by a focus on the blessings of the relationship and a watchful eye on keeping negative interactions at bay.

There is a plethora of published relationship advice to help long-term partners do to stay in love, especially during hard times. Many of my patients come to me in a time of critical decision making. They share how overwhelmed and confused they are, searching for a simple set of workable rules that would be easy for them to practice during, and between, these struggles.
Over the last four decades, I’ve created a simple set of “Do’s” and “Don’ts” that not only work beautifully during times of stress but are good guidelines for committed partners to follow every day.
I call them The Ten “Do’s” and “Don’ts” that great relationship partners practice as a crucial part of way they live their lives together. The two sets of behaviors form the bookends that protect intimacy from its most common enemies. Though each could be an elongated article in itself, the essence of each is what’s important to grasp.
The Ten “Do’s”
1)    Attunement
Accurately “tuning” into another person means that you “get” them. When an intimate partner intuitively resonates with his or her partner’s heart, mind, and soul experiences, he or she understands how any thoughts and behaviors will affect them. That knowledge drives what the “attuner” does and says to help the other partner feel truly seen and heard.
2)    Tracking
All people are continuously affected by their past experiences and unconsciously weave them into their present and future behaviors. Successful partners make it a point to remember those thoughts and experiences and act tract them. They mark, note, and weave everything they know about each other and communicate that understanding to each other on a regular basis.
3)    Transparency
Intimate partners share their internal experiences with each other when they feel safe to share them. Successful partners do not hold back any thoughts, feelings, or intended behaviors that might affect the other partner in the present or in the future. Both partners agree that they would rather know their truth no matter what the outcome would be.
4)    Prime Time
I often ask a couple in the first hour of therapy where each feels they currently are at their best in their lives. Much of the time, sadly, they do not respond with “in my committed relationship.” There is a predictable correlation between how long people have been together and the quality and quantity of time, energy, and fresh love they reserve for each other. Great partners make certain their relationship stays a place to rejuvenate rather than simply regenerate.
5)    Traumas
No one escapes traumatic experiences in life, but some people have been more damaged by them than others. Those emotional, intellectual, and bodily experiences result in exceptional vulnerability when they are triggered by current events. People who love each other always keep in mind where those heartbreaks lie, and take pains to protect each other when they emerge.
6)    Communication
There are two crucial aspects to communication. The first is the verbal content that is being shared. The second is the non-verbal way the communicators feel about each other as they are sharing.  Partners who communicate effectively never forget that the way they are feeling during communication is far more important that what they are talking about. 
7)    Mattering
Every human being needs to know that he or she is significantly important to the person he or she loves. They need to feel they are automatically included, welcome to speak their upsets, and t share their concerns. They feel safe in that space, able to be understood and forgiven, even when they falter. Loving partners give one another that sense that how they feel and what they do are important and worthy of recognition and response.
8)    Focusing on the Positives
Every relationship has its assets and liabilities. It is far too easy for many partners to take the positives of the relationship for granted and focus on what is missing or irritating. When intimate partners feel their relationship is being threatened in any way, they consciously focus on what they love about each other and keep their criticisms of what they don’t limited and resolvable.
9) The Gift of Sanity
Whenever one partner speaks his or truth, the other validates and supports that point of view, even if he or she sees it differently. Successful partners do not undermine or invalidate the other’s reality. They are more interested in what may be driving that experience, how that partner feels about it, and what he or she may be wanting when sharing it.
10)Faith in Each Other and in the Relationship
Great relationships partners believe that they are blessed to have one another, and that their relationship is truly special and unique. They know that their faith is based on continued commitment to do whatever they need to keep it that way.
The Twelve “Don’ts”
1)    The Breaking of Confidentiality
As they spend more time together, intimate partners are more likely to share vulnerable and sacred thoughts, feelings, and memories with each other. Those intimate experiences can run the gamut to telling someone about a painful trauma from childhood to feelings of hostility towards a family member. Some of those shared experiences are never meant to leave the sacred emotional environment between the two partners and permission must be given if that is to happen.
2)    Withholding
Partners who treasure honesty, authenticity, and each other’s resilience do not hold back on thoughts or feelings that can unexpectedly explode at some future time with unintended painful consequences.
A routinely-withholding partner may be having thoughts, feelings, or intended behaviors that could eventually hurt the other, without ever giving the other partner the opportunity to vote. That policy will eventually destroy trust.
3)    Hitting Below the Belt
Over time, most partners know enough about the other to know which behaviors they could say or do that could be crucially hurtful to the other. Expressing any of those, especially during an argument, can leave deep scars and erode trust. Successful partners know exactly what they must never bring up, especially during times of animosity or stress.
4)    Loading the Emotional Bases
When either partner feels powerless during a conflict, he or she may try to strengthen the platform by citing other sources. “Everyone agrees with me that….,” “I read in this article that…,” “My whole family thinks that you….,” “Even out therapist agrees with me about…,” are some of the many varieties.
Successful partners make it a point to simply tell one another when they feel cornered or powerless during an argument, hoping for the other to listen and respond supportively. Very rarely is the content of an argument worth the loss of intimacy that a citing of external validation causes.
5)    Blame
Volumes have been written about the negative effect that blame can have on an intimate relationship. One of the most confusing and destructive varieties of blame is when either partner attacks the other for something that he or she is also doing. Whether conscious or unconscious, projecting one’s own faults onto the other is especially destructive.
Another poor blame behavior is blaming the other for not doing what the blamer wants. Gaps between what any partner can or cannot give exists in all relationships. It is neither partner’s fault when either cannot give what the other needs, and blame only makes the situation worse.  
6)    Chronic Nagging
Unsolicited advice is rarely welcome, especially if it is negative. Nagging is the continuous repetition of preaching, instructions, or directions that the other partner has not asked for nor usually wants.
The partner being given constant “cattle-prods” to live his or her life as the nagger wants will eventually rebel, disconnect, or sink into a passive/aggressive reaction.
7)    Broken Promises
When either partner expresses the desire for something important, it is crucial that the other be honest in his or her ability or willingness to grant it.
If one partner believes that the desired behavior will occur, but it never does, he or she may eventually stop asking. The pain of waiting while a promise becomes an excuse, and then no longer believable, will stop that partner from asking in the future.
8)    Character Assassinations
All intimate partners fight at times. They become frustrated with the other’s behaviors, feel disappointed when they can’t get what they want, or are upset by the way their partner is behaving.
Successful partners fight fair. If they don’t, disappointment, disillusionment, and frustration increase with each conflict and attacks become more ruthless.
Character assassinations are heart-breaking examples. The partners angry expressions eventually go from challenges to unwanted behaviors to mean attacks on the core of character, often expressed in wipe-out statements. “You always go for the gut, don’t you?” “Let’s just face it; you’re an a***hole, and always have been one.” “You hate men; why don’t you just admit it?” “You’re a really insensitive lover.”
9)    Exploitation
Caring partners know of each other’s vulnerable personality characteristics and are careful not to take advantage of them.
Some of those characteristics are common. For instance, some people are just natural givers. Others feel immediately guilty if they disappoint their partners in any way. People who have social anxiety can’t handle groups of people or social surprises. Absent-minded people sometimes lose themselves in private thoughts without meaning to exclude others.
People who care for each other accept that these behaviors are part of their partner’s personalities and do not take advantage of them.
10) Boundary Violations
Boundary violations include any physical or emotional behavior towards another that makes the other partner feel uncomfortable or threatened. Many would think this “don’t” would be so obvious as to be unnecessary to mention, but many unsuccessful relationship partners do not remember, or do not care, to respect and honor their partner’s physical or emotional boundaries.
When intimate partners feel on the other end of a boundary violation, they are likely to feel like symbolic “prey” to seeming “hunters.” Their natural responses will be to fight, to flee, or become immobilized. All three of those responses are counter to trust and will eventually destroy intimacy.
* * * * *
Intimate partners who value and respect each other willingly and continuously embrace these “Do’s” and avoid these “Don’ts.” They know that they cannot achieve absolute perfection in following them nor do they expect to, but they realize how important it is to commit to these behaviors as part of the sacred commitment they have made to each other.           







Friday, December 29, 2017

Relationship Triangles – Conspiracies that Threaten Intimate Partnerships

Healthy, long-lasting relationships have many things in common. One of the most crucial is the couple’s ability to be authentic and open with each other both in thought and deed. Committed couples base their trust on these agreements and are rarely willing to risk damaging the relationship by violating them.

An intimate partner will threaten that sacred agreement if he or she chooses to create an important but separate relationship with another person without the other partner’s knowledge.
Some intimate partners would argue that these undisclosed relationships can actually be good for the primary relationship. Unfortunately, the decision to create these hidden triangles, whether conveniently rationalized or unconsciously chosen, most often backfires.
Secret liaisons, more often than not, offer the conspiratorial partner the comfort and support that he or she may not be currently receiving from the primary partner. The excluded partner is at the disadvantage of not being able to influence the outcome.  
The word, “conspire,” literally is a Latin word that simply means breathing together. Though often used to describe a nefarious tryst, conspiracies are not automatically harmful to an intimate relationship. It is only when they are covertly formed outside of the committed partnership and unknown to the excluded partner that they are highly likely to end up sabotaging that union.
A good way to define these potentially harmful situations is to image them as an actual triangle. One leg of the triangle connects the outwardly-seeking partner to a complicit confidante external to the committed relationship. The second leg emanating from that same partner connects him or her with the primary partner. Because of the lack of a connected base between the outside confidante and the primary partner, the triangle is inherently unstable and likely to eventually disintegrate.  
Some Common Examples of Conspiratorial Triangles
Sexual Infidelities
Most people automatically think of all secret liaisons as sexual infidelities. Because those kinds of betrayals are the reason why many couples come into counseling, I have become intimately familiar with them in my forty-plus years of therapeutic work. Because of that significant exposure, I believe I can offer a more expanded prospective than has been traditionally offered.
To begin with, it is important to note that there is a clear difference between committed partners who regularly indulge in serial infidelity and those who enter into a covert sexual relationship that they would not have considered in the past.
People who have participated regularly in sexual relationships outside of their primary relationships are typically well-practiced in the art of deception. They routinely pick partners with whom they can easily manage simultaneous dual relationships. They want the benefits of a primary relationship but believe that they cannot be sexually satisfied with only one person. Their typical reasoning is that, as long as their partners never become aware of the situation, that it “can’t hurt them.” They are generally very careful to keep their dual lives separate and have ready excuses if caught.
The second type of person who enters a covert sexual relationship outside of his or her primary relationships most often does so in a previously unexpected and atypical situation. These situational infidelities span a very complex and multivariate continuum and are often harder to evaluate.
For example, one end of that continuum might include a committed partner in a relationship with someone who is no longer able to, or willing to, wholly participate in the partnership. Perhaps that person is suffering from a mental illness or more devoted to a career than the relationship. In these types of situations, the primary relationship connection may have already significantly diminished and the partners have not chosen or been able to intervene.
On the opposite end of the same continuum, it is not unusual to find someone who is still totally committed to his or her monogamous relationship, and then unexpectedly falls in love with someone else. He or she may still feel wholly connected to his or her primary partner and deeply morally conflicted, yet unable to end the relationship.
Situational betrayers often do not want their primary partners to feel hurt or betrayed, and rarely want to end that partnership. The secret liaison either eventually dies out on its own without the other partner’s ever discovering that it has happened, or is brought to light with expected upheaval and distress.  
Most people have developed connections with a number of people with whom they have created trusted and emotionally intimate relationships. Some of those confidante liaisons have spanned many years and have a history of the sharing of vulnerable situations, but new confidante relationships can also be compelling and seductive.
When people are having difficulty with their primary relationships, they are most likely to turn to those they have learned to trust from the past. In these outside interactions, they trust the understanding, support, advice, and caring in a different way than they do with their primary partners. Sometimes, they do not want to burden the committed partner during a personal crisis or don’t feel they can get what they need there.
If that confidante is a champion and supporter of the primary relationship, he or she will not say or do anything that might encourage that person to keep the other partner excluded, even if the relationship is conspiratorial.
Unfortunately, that is not always the case. If that external person supports the partner’s reasons to no longer trust the primary partner or is perhaps personally interested in maintaining the exclusivity, he or she will influence the committed partner to pull further away from the established relationship.
 Prior or Potential Lovers
Whether innocent flirtation, unconscious planning, or the intent to keep other options open, those potentially inflammatory relationships are more likely to flare if they have the cloak of secrecy as their protector. Some people are enticed by mischief and the concept of naughtiness, and may not be able to recognize when they are going over the line.
When those third parties have embraced the primary relationship, and are committed to knowing and valuing the new partner, they can possibly stabilize the triangle by their contributions.
Unfortunately, the situation is suspiciously unstable if there are any left-over feelings for the past relationship, even if they are not acted upon. The willingness to accept past lovers as current friends should only occur if agreed upon by both partners.
Family Attachments
Established family members can exert significant influence over their members, even well after they have created new families of their own. In moments of conspiracy, they can sometimes make or break these newer relationships by consistent undermining of one or the other’s the other partner’s value, or even by intentional sabotage.
Sometimes these sabotaging family members do not even attempt to hide their dislike of the partner they would like to disappear. If the person in the middle is in a loyalty conflict between the two participants, he or she may either allow that family member to continue berating the other partner or risk deflating that person. Whichever the decision is, it will send a clear message of who has the most importance.  
A common example would be the competition between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, now legion in the literature. But there are other family members, perhaps competitive or concerned in other ways, who have the need to upend the partnership of their sibling, parent, or other relative.
There are literally thousands of obvious and non-obvious triggers that can influence that partner in every relationship outside of the family of origin. To be able to create a successful, separate relationship, people must be aware of these potentially sabotaging influences, and make intentional choices to not let them harm their primary adult relationship.
Unfortunately, some partners will intentionally or unwittingly use family members to justify their own feelings towards their partners. Those other partner may not even know that may be happening or that those covert relationships may be crucial factors in their partnerships. If they do not know they are influencing outcomes, they are unable to vote for any other.
When they are “using,” addicts most often choose short-term escapes over long-term consequences. Those compulsive choices may take the addict out of temporary distress but costs him or her in the long run. There are only so many resources available to any relationship, and addictive involvements redirect those resources away from the primary relationship.
The relationships that addicts have with their fantasy seducers repeatedly keep that partner separated from the addict’s thoughts, feeling, and behaviors that need to be part of their personal intimacy if the relationship is going to thrive.
All addictions are inherently self-serving and ultimately will be destructive to the primary relationship, even when they are known. They are essentially relationships with intimate pseudo-lovers who promise immediate comfort. When they are hidden, another layer of potential destruction too often emerges.
Some addictive behaviors are in plain sight but still defy the other partner’s influence or control. Drugs and alcohol, over-work, need for constant social connection, excessive working out, or gambling are some common examples.
Most addicts, helplessly caught up in the need to maintain their escape rituals without losing their primary relationship attachments, live in two competing relationships, desperately trying to hold onto both. Those dual commitments vie for the same resources and goals, and are especially difficult to manage when they are unknown to the primary partner.
Withheld Thoughts and Feelings
This last example may be the hardest to describe but it is crucial that it be explored and understood.
Authenticity and courageous openness are core to successful communications. To be productive, both partners must maintain the willingness to listen to any expression without judgment. In quality, long-lasting relationships, both partners readily accept that they may not see things the same, or always want to be or support what the other wants. Those conflicts are part of every relationship, and loving partners do all they can to resolve them fairly.
When either partner cannot be open with their thoughts or feelings for fear of threatening the relationship, they are prone to withhold them and attempt to resolve them within their own minds and hearts. Now the partner who is withholding that internal world from his or her mate, is in danger of creating an unknown internal process that could turn those internal experiences into actual behaviors. The excluded partner is not able to weigh in early enough to influence the outcome. 
Secret thoughts and desires can run the gamut from believing in another religious, social, or political ideology to lusting for another person or considering an alternative way of living. Whether they are temporary fantasies or building in intensity, they remain unknown to the other partner and may turn into decisions that can threaten the primary relationship.
* * * * *
Relationship triangles that are connected by all three legs are stable. They can often be helpful to the primary partnership when all parties are supportive of them. A partner who chooses to enter personal therapy, as an example, may ultimately be a better mate if the therapist supports the committed relationship.
Many people have trusted and helpful outside relationships with good friends or spiritual confidantes who can help both partners in times of crises. There are other opportunities for people to find solace or support outside the relationship that both partners agree are needed and helpful. Addicts, as an example, derive significant help from groups like AA and Alanon. Those liaisons are often significantly supportive to the committed relationship especially when both partners participate.
Because the deceptions and betrayals required to maintain potentially threatening triangles will ultimately sabotage even the best of intimate relationships, successful intimate partners know they need to remain open about any outside relationships. When they share and face their issues together, their situations can be challenged and corrected before they gain the traction to irrevocably harm the partnership.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

How Repeated Conflicts Destroy Love

Many intimate partners erroneously believe that their love will always triumph no matter how many negative interactions they may have in the moment. They assume that, whatever harmful damage they may do while battling, they will always be able to find their way back to the love they knew.  

Sadly, for most lovers, that is not the way it happens. If their angry interactions increase in intensity, frequency, and duration, they may be unknowingly risking their relationship’s capability to regenerate.  

All intimate partners, no matter how deeply they are committed to harmony, are capable of saying mean-spirited, harmful things to each other when threatened or frustrated. Also, many negative interactions recur because they are not adequately resolved. Those, in particular, leave emotional entrails behind that combine with current upset. The succeeding arguments often emerge with renewed vigor and more damage. Even if a couple is superb at reconciliation, too many of these painful conflicts can ultimately destroy even the most devoted of lovers. 

In my forty plus years of working with the partners in committed relationships, I have witnessed literally thousands of disruptive and damaging arguments. Even those who still care deeply for one another can lash out in astonishingly hateful ways, seemingly absolutely unaware of the potentially un-healable damage they may be doing to their relationship.  

Because I am also with them when they are not arguing, I know that their love is still intact underneath their anger. Yet, I know that affection will disappear when the next disagreement emerges. Their current bond of loving attachment will be sadly replaced by animosity and adversity. 

Love that still exists underneath enemy fire can only hold for some period of time. The more time any couple spends in embattlement, the harder it will be for them to find their way back to the love they once knew and still take for granted. 

Constant negative interactions take their toll on all relationships. A loving partnership that was once heavily weighted in the direction of harmony will eventually become one that is easier to wound and harder to heal. 

I can tell how far a couple has ventured into this potentially irreversible heartbreak by stopping them in the process of an argument and then asking them, in that moment, to assess the level of love they feel towards each other.
At first, many cannot even get in touch with those underlying attachments. They cannot calm down enough to even think or feel anything else.  I tell them that their relationship depends on their knowing that love is still there, even in the midst of their current animosity.   

The amount of difficulty the couple has in letting go of their adversarial interaction when I give them that task, provides the information I need to assess how much trouble they are in and what they have to do to heal.  

Lasting and meaningful love is like a symbolic child between romantic partners. It is a representation of the innocence and resilience that exists in every new love relationship. When intimate partners continuously and irresponsibly hurt one another, it is the same as sacrificing that “emotional child” in order to preserve self over the other. Enough unconscious battering will ultimately destroy the chances of that initial, seemingly guaranteed healing to remain viable.  

Because of this looming danger, it is crucially important that both partners realize that they are risking that resiliency with every harsh word and gesture expressed. They must understand that any love, no matter how beautiful, will be unable to survive the consistent and continuous undermining that embattlement creates.  

To help couples accurately assess how close they are to losing their capacity to regenerate, I have developed the following test. I ask both partners to take the test and then to compare answers. That helps them to see if they are on the same page.  

Scoring Your Love/Conflict Resiliency 

Take the following test to measure how resilient your love is during conflict. There are ten questions. Score your responses from one to five using the formula below: 

1 - Right away

2 – Soon

3 – In a short time

4 – Much later

5 – Never 

1.    When you realize that your conflict is harming your partner, how soon do you stop? ___ 

2.    If your partner tells you he or she needs to stop fighting, when do you let go of your need to win? ___ 

3.    When a conflict is over, how soon do you attempt to resolve what happened? ___

4.    How long does it take you to be accountable for your own part in the fight? ___ 

5.    If you feel that your love for him or her is under fire, when do you tell your partner to stop hurting you? ___
6.    If you are fearful that you are fighting too much, when do you talk to your partner about your thoughts and feelings? ___ 

7.    When do you feel able to tell your partner that the fights are destroying your ability to reconnect the way you used to? ___

8.    If you know that your emotions are getting out of hand and may be causing irreparable harm to your partner, when do you get them under control? ___ 

9.    During or after a conflict, when can you tell you’re partner that you still love him or her? ___ 

10. During or after a conflict, when can your partner tell you that he or she still loves you? ___

Add up your scores. 

1 – 10 Your love is still intact and your partner cares more about you than needing to win.

11 – 20 You are starting to waver in remembering that there is someone on the other end of you who is suffering your anger.

12 – 30 Your conflicts are beginning to get the best of your relationship and are starting to cause more harm than the relationship may ultimately be able to bear.

31 – 40 You’re dangerously close to erasing what devotion you have to each other and it is getting more difficult to find the love you once counted upon.

41 – 50 If you don’t do something about your negative interactions, you will no longer be able to ever love each other the same way again. 

All couples disagree at times but conflicts can be productive or destructive. Learning how to find a common truth through debate and differences can make any relationship more interesting and exciting. But, that is only true if love is strong enough to remain sacred during embattlement. If intimate partners fail to remember how much they care while they are fighting, they may be unwittingly putting their love resilience in danger. Once they know where they stand, they can renew their commitment to a more harmonious connection.
















Friday, November 17, 2017

What Do You Bring to the Dating Table? – A Crucial Prelude to Successful Relationships

Dating can be stressful even under the best of circumstances. Despite the glut of available advice that now exists for relationship seekers, it is still as hard as ever to find a long-lasting and compatible intimate partner.

As I listen to the heart-rending stories of sequential failed relationships, it is clear to me that many well-intended daters continue to make four significant mistakes: they choose the wrong people, yearn for improbable outcomes, don’t learn from past mistakes, or are not able to recognize the cues early on that signal that they’re on the wrong path.
Most often, people continue to make these mistakes because they do not have a deep enough understanding of what compels them to act the way they do. They have not known how to access the knowledge of self they need to change.
If you are one of those determined and well-intentioned souls who is willing to delve more deeply into your relationship psyche, you can gain the information you need by answering the five following questions before you embark on your next relationship.  If you commit to fully and courageously answer them, you will deeply recognize what drives your behavior in intimate relationships. You will also more easily understand why your prior presentations have not worked.  
Sometimes, in the course of digging deeply and heroically into these areas, you may find yourself negatively judging or blaming yourself. In order to gain self-compassion and the desire to continue searching, please refrain from doing that. Guilt and shame are the twin enemies of transformation.
The Five Questions
As you answer the questions, do not be surprised if you begin thinking of others that may be more unique to your own relationships. Take your time to answer in detail and perhaps even to return later to add more thoughts and feelings to your original notes. Many of my patients have found that just the process of answering these five questions evokes a desire for more self-exploration. It often becomes a fascinating maze of self-revelation.
Question Number One:
Who are the people who have affected you the most deeply throughout your life, both positively and negatively, and how has that affected your choice of partners?
From the beginning of your awareness, those upon whom you were dependent for survival and approval will have had the most impact in the way you have learned to give and receive love. But, anyone who has touched you deeply, even for a short time, can have affected those same capabilities.
Those impacting interactions, whether short or long-lived, directly or indirectly, will change the way you see every succeeding relationship. Those relationships from your past can leave you either traumatized and fearful, or strong and resilient. Sometimes their impact can strongly affect the way you respond to people who are similar in your present life.
Make a list of the most significant people who have deeply influenced what you believe about intimate relationships. Then write down next to each person selected: how old were you at the time of the encounter, what the nature of the relationship was, and how it has affected your ability to love and be loved in the present.
Then, ask yourself if you consciously or unconsciously avoid those kinds of people in your life, seek them out, or allow them to get away with things you would not tolerate in others. Explore in your mind how you might have been changed by knowing them and how those impressions affect the way you seek and interact in your current relationships?
Question Number Two:
If you could magically put anyone with whom you’ve had an adult, close, intimate relationship in the same room, and they were 100% honest, in what ways would they agree with who you were to them, both positively and negatively?
These descriptions might be expressed in several ways:
How did they experience you sexually?
How did they experience you intellectually?
How did they experience you emotionally?
How did they experience you spiritually?
What did they enjoy most about being with you?
How did they wish you’d been different?
Looking at yourself through the subjective lenses of others is not easy, but most of us already have that information somewhere in our hearts and minds were we to be courageous enough to access it.
In which ways do you agree with this imagined consensus and in which ways do you see yourself differently? The answers to that question will help you understand if you are realistically appraising how you are seen by others.  
Question Number Three:
What Are the Things You Fear Most in Getting Close to Another Person?
Most people believe they know what kind of a partner they want and actively seek those qualities in prospective possibilities. Sadly, when most relationships do end, those initial positive qualities are often still intact. What more often causes relationships to die are the fears that arise in each partner as closeness evolves.
Many people are limited by their anticipatory thoughts like:
Most relationships won’t work.
Human beings are basically untrustworthy.
Everyone is out to get as much as he or she can and give as little back as possible.
Once people get to really know you, they won’t find you as lovable.
Thoughts like these can stop a potentially good relationship before it gets off the ground. Write down what your fears are and how they have played out in past relationships. Recall if you saw those fears realized early in the relationship but were too attracted to the good things that you didn’t pay attention.
Many people are attracted to combinations of good and potentially destructive traits. Often those diabolically different qualities attract us from our memories of childhood nurturers who treated us similarly, yet you were dependent on them for survival and saw it as the way things are supposed to be.
Question Number Four:
What Keeps You From Breaking the Bonds of Your Past Limitations?
The natural way that people learn about the world begins with the experiences and explorations they had as children. Those adventures are often limited and curtailed by people who impose their own biases and prejudices on what you are allowed to do and feel.
Children take in those limitations without questioning or even understanding what they are. Fearful of challenging them, most children blindly accept those limited views of reality and do not believe they are changeable. As adults, those now grown children unconsciously limit what they see or feel when they are exposed to similar experiences in their adult relationships.
Everyone must judge whether or not a new relationship partner will be someone worth pursuing. But if that person is seen through a warped and subjective lens of stereotype, bias, prejudice, or condemnation, he or she is not likely even be considered.
Write down what you’ve been taught to judge as impossible, unlikely, undesirable, or unworthy in another person. Those are your inbred deal breakers. Then, consciously challenge those biases and ask yourself if you still believe as you were taught. If you allow those internal impressions to hold, no matter what the actual truth is, you will be unable to break out of your own limited love prison.
Question Number Five:
Are Your Expectations of Yourself and Potential Partners Realistic?
There is a sometimes startling fact in the dating world that many would-be relationship seekers cannot come to both understand and accept. You can only be as valuable as the current dating market estimates you to be. It takes courage for anyone to realistically evaluate that formula. 
Current and realistic social marketability may be a painful phrase but it is a truism that cannot be denied. These “markets” do change over time, in different places, and with different social groups. Certain traits can go in and out of style, and availability of matched-quality partners often shifts unpredictably. If, for instance, a middle-aged quality woman is up against many younger, attractive available women competing for the same gene pool of interested men, her age may be a detriment. Yet, put that same woman in a town with a plethora of unattached men, she will be immediately more valuable without any need to change  in any way.
An insecure young man, striving to find his career path, may be unable to compete if the women around him are currently looking for someone with a more stable future. Five years later, the women he encounters may be searching for someone who feels passionate about what he does, regardless of the money he earns.
Also, many people are unable to see their own or other’s values clearly in whatever market they are currently competing. Your own level of confidence and self-esteem often affects the way you see a potential partner. As a result, if you see yourself as lower in value than you are, you may reach out or less than you deserve. Or, if you have an unrealistically inflated value, you may reach for someone that will not respond.  
Those fortunate souls, who are realistic about their marketability, are much more likely to succeed in their relationship search. They also know that being authentic about those qualities early on in any relationship is more likely to result in a clearer picture of where a relationship is headed.
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I sincerely hope that you will take the time to honestly and seriously answer these questions. Doing so will start you on the path to finding the right partner with whom you can create a strong and successful relationship. What may be even more important is that you will be able to accurately represent yourself with courage, authenticity, and self-respect. Those traits are consistently the hallmarks of successful relationship partners.








Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Essential Missing Piece in Intimate Communication

The most common barrier to authentic relationship intimacy is ineffective communication. Despite all the information on this subject, many couples still struggle to truly understand what each partner is trying to express.

I see these frustrations every day in my work with couples. When they come into therapy, they have often tried many tried and true communication techniques. They have mastered how to speak honestly, to make “I” statements, to use active listening techniques, and to clarify through examples. They have also practiced taking turns sharing without interruption, and to stay open to whatever their partners are saying even when it may be hard to hear. Yet, in many ways, they continue to misunderstand each other, especially when they are distressed.
In my more than four decades practicing relationship therapy, I have spent many hours observing these interactions, and have come to understand that there is a crucial missing piece that stops intimate partners from truly connecting. When I’ve helped them add it to their current capabilities, their communication improves dramatically.
Here is the missing piece:
While trying to express their needs to each other, most relationship partners alternate the roles of speaker and listener. One shares feelings and thoughts as the other pays attention and tries to understand what the other is saying. Then they reverse roles.
That accepted pattern of communicating may seem effective enough, but it leaves out what is crucially necessary for a couple to truly connect. To make that happen, there must be an added dimension that produces a simultaneously interconnected experience. In other words, while one partner is speaking to the other, he or she must intuit and internalize what the other partner might be experiencing at the same time. In other words, the typical alternating between “performer” and “audience” is replaced with two performers and two audiences, both in the hearts and minds of each other while they are interacting.
Most of my couples are a bit overwhelmed when I first introduce this concept to them. They have assumed that quality communications simply means that the partners talk “at” the other and then listen “to” the other in alternate exchanges. The idea that they must fully experience themselves and the other simultaneously seems daunting.
Yet, when my couples master this capability and learn how to employ it, they come to a level of understanding and connection that simply did not exist before. Their new ability to more deeply understand their mutual responses in real time, results very rapidly in a significantly more authentic and quality relationship.
To master this task, my couples learn and embrace the following seven concepts:
1)    Communication is more than words.
Words and phrases are approximately ten percent of the communication between intimate partners. The other ninety percent consists of body language, facial expression, voice intonation, rhythm, and physical connection. As partners talk to each other, they must be in touch with all of those parts of the puzzle in themselves, while simultaneously experiencing them in the other.
Both partners must understand and accept that while their interaction is happening, both concurrently experience feelings, hopes, fears, anticipations, needs, and counter-arguments or defenses, without necessarily expressing them out loud. Otherwise, both the speaker and the listener may take in the words without understanding them in the context of these variables.
2)    How the History of the Relationship Matters
Most intimate partners have had multiple intimate interactions prior to the one they are currently experiencing, along with all of the memories that result. Those past interactions, both negative and positive, emotionally “bleed” into any current ones. Subsequently, as each partner talks or listens, he or she will automatically experience the leftover thoughts and feelings from past interactions at the same time as they currently interact.
Those internalized memories can dramatically influence each partner’s interpretation of what they are experiencing internally and towards their partners, both verbally and non-verbally. Given the rich history most intimate partners have together, it is remarkable to me how many partners do not seem conscious of how their independent memories continually effect any current interaction.
3)    Mastery of Non-Verbal Cues
To help couples see and hear more of what is happening in their sessions, I have often video-taped couples without sound, and then let them afterwards observe the recording with me. More often than not, they are totally surprised at how much they have missed because of being so engrossed in expressing their own “stories.”
From this new, more objective advantage point, they can rapidly see subtle behaviors like eye rolling, body positions that show defensiveness, looking away, or rapid changes in facial expression. They can also observe how much they can overlook these non-verbal cues from the other side, and how that experience might have changed had they seen them.
4)    The Blindness of Re-Hashing
Paying attention to self and other’s concurrent verbal and non-verbal cues is difficult enough in and of itself. If couples try to do that during the rehashing of negative, repetitive, never-resolved interactions from the past, they will find it virtually impossible to separate them out from the present. It is just simply too hard to undo entrenched, unproductive experiences while trying to openly listen in a new way.
Using the same phrases as they always have, eliciting the same emotions, and challenging the other’s validity can immediately set off their emotional blindness that makes truly listening to the other partner almost impossible. Old, never-resolved feelings will literally obliterate any hope of the current interactions becoming more effective.
Sadly, I can often quickly memorize and recant a couple’s repeated entire repetitive sequence with just a few observations, while the couple in front of me seems totally unaware that they are repeating them. Many of my patients, after I point this out to them, see what they could not have before and want to stop doing it.
It sometimes is very helpful for the partners to each write down words, phrases, reactions, and defenses that they have repeatedly used in the past, and then try to create new ways of expressing themselves in the present using the new techniques we are studying together.
5)    Simultaneous attention to short and long-term goals
In the heat of emotional exchange, many partners often cannot keep the past, present, and future in perspective. Emotions can run high in the midst of a current hard exchange, obliterating the memories of the past and blinding future consequences.
When partners have not mastered paying attention to their simultaneous experiences, they can too easily sacrifice the future while trying desperately to gain advantage in the present.
When intimate partners become aware of the positive potential of this kind of synchronous communication, they are more likely to enrich and deepen the current moment. The past and the future become less able to contaminate the present.
As they pay exquisite attention to each other’s simultaneous and multiple modes of communication, they can keep their future desires in mind no matter what is going on in the present. They do not ever forget that the person who is presently in front of them is the partner they want to continue to be with in the future, and they act accordingly.
6)    Paying Continuous Attention to Shifting Goals
When couples are involved in emotional interchanges, they often don’t realize that their thoughts, feelings, and goals might change markedly as their interaction progresses. What one or both partners may be searching for as the goal of their current exchange typically will change as they continue interacting.
This is where both partner’s capabilities to observe and understand what is happening between them in each moment is crucial. As they simultaneously experience each other’s full emotional experience, they are ever-ready to recognize if either suddenly needs to change course.
It is important to note that each partner’s potentially changing desire for a specific outcome will not always be what the other wants at the same time. As changes occur, both partners are available to help each other shift to a new course when needed.
7)    Separating the Present Partner from Past Others
It is all too easy, especially if an interaction is difficult and emotionally-charged, for couples to forget how much they mean to each other. If people are not simultaneously staying in the present and continuously tuning into each other, they may respond to the other partner as if he or she were someone from the past.
People often commit to new partners who, consciously or unconsciously, remind them of previous relationship partners or childhood caretakers, both positively and negatively. Yet, every new relationship has unique characteristics of its own. In the heat of battle, it is too easy to only pay attention to cues that bring back those memories.
I have often seen this in my practice. One partner will talk to the other as though he or she was a person from the past. The other partners will often remark that they don’t feel seen or heard and begin to fight for their own presence.
That is more likely to happen when the partners are not in the same physical  space. If they get nearer to one another, touch in some way, and look into each other’s eyes, it is rapidly apparent that they’ve lost touch with who they are actually with. That physical proximity allows them to quickly refocus on their current partners and pick up the more realistic cues they have lost.
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When my couples master these new skills, something totally unprecedented often happens. It occurs when they realize that they already knew themselves and their partners in these ways at another time in their relationship.
It was when they were first in love.
When I point that out, most all of my couples are in wonder that they could have forgotten how they were with each other at the beginning of their relationship. Of course they experienced each other’s uniqueness, paid attention to the future while they were in the present, watched for non-verbal behaviors, and opened their hearts to each other’s changing moods and desires. And they did all of that automatically, because that’s what new love requires if it is to continue flourishing.
The fact that long-term relationship partners so often leave those crucial skills behind is an all-too-common tragedy. Perhaps committed partners may just take the other for granted or just don’t feel the need to maintain that level of involvement. Maybe they erroneously believe that unresolved conflicts from the past can no longer defeat them, or they become preoccupied with other interests that take precedence, or just get lazy.
As my patients realize that they somehow knew inside what they are now just learning again, they not only become newly committed to those promises to each other, but don’t want to ever forget to love each other that way again. That awareness sets off a positive, upward spiral of revitalization, excitement, curiosity, and devotion that many of them have not felt in a long time.
So often, people do know what creates a wonderful, long-lasting relationship, but allow life’s pressures and demands to support emotional amnesia. Many couples, given the opportunity to remember who they are at their best, readily re-embrace what they have unknowingly or unwittingly put aside.