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How to Rewire Your Brain and Build Greater Connection

Think you and your partner are destined to emotionally react to the same old triggers, until “death do you part?” Thanks to research in the field of neuroplasticity by Dan Siegel, Richard Davidson, and Jon Kabat-Zinn to name a few, we now know it’s possible to change our mental patterns to achieve a different outcome. Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections. Reorganization can be done in a number of ways; however, two extremely effective means are through meditation and mindfulness.

Becoming mindful and aware can help you to identify and observe the patterns in your relationship that may be contributing to feelings of anxiety, disconnection, frustration, and loneliness: your partner perpetually connected to their cell phone instead of you; days-on-end where one or both of you come home from work, too exhausted to connect over the events of the day; your partner coming across as disinterested or apparently too tired to truly listen to what you have to say and share with them. Perhaps your own critical thoughts and defensiveness are taking a toll? These scenarios and more can lead to escalated misunderstandings, stonewalling, and ultimately, the death of your relationship.

In times like these, pause for a moment and ask yourself, “What is coming between me and my partner? Why are we having trouble connecting? What are the patterns that are preventing us from being intimate? What are some practices that can help us, individually and as a couple, to both wake up and open our hearts to one another with compassion and loving kindness?”

Paying close attention to what is going on within you, and within your heart, will give you the ability to be mindful and present to what you are experiencing in the moment. It’s also important to regularly unplug from technology, so that you can be fully present and listen to one another. In this space, you can then come from a place of responding to your partner with calmness and ease, rather than reacting and emotionally “shooting from the hip” without giving forethought to what you say and the actions you take.

Time to Rewire Your Brain

Here’s a short, yet powerful practice to help you figure out what’s necessary to feel connected with yourself and with your partner, so that you can rewire your brain.

  • Gently close your eyes and let your attention focus inward for a moment.
  • Feel your breath, your heart, and the life-energy within your body. Feel yourself – fully here in this moment – in a loving and caring way.
  • Let yourself become open and aware of what is going on inside of you. Observe this with acceptance, kindness, and compassion, and a deep understanding of wanting to know what is going on within you.
  • For the next few moments, as you pay attention to what is going on inside you, take time to ask yourself, “What is going on? What do I need in order to ‘wake up’? What does it mean to be intimate and really connect with my partner and myself?”
  • Relax and let yourself imagine what would help you. Pay close attention and be mindful to what comes up, tuning into those inner whispers that are trying to tell you something. Allow yourself to feel and embody these emotions, thoughts and actions.
  • Most importantly, really focus on channeling love toward your partner and yourself.
  • After you have sat with what has arisen for a few minutes, take a few full breaths and come back to the present moment.

Practicing mindfulness meditation like this will make you aware of the destructive patterns in your relationship and even your life in general. It will help you to cultivate new healthy habits and patterns of communication, and ultimately serve to reorganize and redirect your neural pathways.

Healthy habits, affection, and bonding are essential for your physical, mental, and spiritual well being. When you and your partner feel mutually nurtured and cared for, your neural pathways in your brain fire, leading to feelings of love and greater connection.

Remember, you are in control of your relationship’s emotional and physical destiny! It just takes time, practice, and compassion – for yourself and your partner.

Resource: Gottman Blog
Photo: Courtesy of  digitalart on Freedigitalphotos.net

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Reality and Relationships: The 6 Stages Of Relationships Every Couple Must Endure

Relationships are not like those in fairy tales or romance novels. And if that is your expectation, you are setting yourself up for some serious disappointment. Stages of relationships can be both good and bad, depending on the couple and the dynamic under which their relationship operates. One of the most important aspects of building a strong stages of relationships is in facing reality and the manner in which you approach that reality. If you have your head in the clouds and do not (or cannot) accept that relationships change and face this reality, then you are in for some major shock and your ability to adapt and maintain a healthy relationship could be inhibited.

Depending on the research you uncover and who is being asked, there are varying opinions as to the number of stages of relationships, as well as what those stages are and what they consist of.   There are six recognizable stages, much like the experts whose work we believe in and promote. The exception to the rule is that our recognition is of the evolution of stages in committed relationships, not merely those who are dating or simply have a physical arrangement.

6 Stages of Commitment

Infatuation – This stages of relationships is about romantic love, fantasies, and hope. The relationship is fairly new, you’re head-over-heels in love, and you either do not notice your partner’s faults or choose to justify or ignore them because of your deep emotional attachment and vision of the future.

Adjustment – Those fantasies begin to subside and you begin to see the reality – real life, you partner’s faults, things that annoy you, etc. At this point, you begin to consider these things, adjusting to them as facts of life, learning to cope or voice your opinion on the matters.

Conflict – As reality sets in, conflicts emerge. All couples inevitably have disagreements. It is how you handle these disagreements, how you react to one another, and how you learn to live in harmony despite your differences that matters most. This makes a huge difference in the future success of the relationship and the level of fighting a couple will experience.

Re-Examination – During this relationship stage, reality and conflicts have come to a head, and it is time to decide which differences you can live with, if you see a future with your partner, and to decide whether to stay with your partner or cut your losses and move on. During this stage, some emotional and physical withdrawal is normal. However, it is also the stage where the risk of separation, divorce, and even an affair is at its highest. A separation can be good for some couples, helping them to consider things very carefully and to develop both individually and as a couple. This is really not the time to run to divorce court or into an affair, even if these things commonly occur at this stage. If the relationship has any chance of recovery, it is important to work on development and to honor your commitment.

Reconciliation – If the relationship survives re-examination, the next stage is a re ignition of interest and love. Couples want to be closer and to work on reigniting that flame they had in the beginning of their relationship. At this point, they learn to live with one another’s differences and have learned how to gauge reactions, deal with conflict, and to compromise. This is the beginning of acceptance and a point where the relationship may be stronger than ever before.

Acceptance – Few couples ever actually reach this stage. Full acceptance means you have successfully navigated through the other stages of relationships, are still together, have created some balance between couplehood and individuality, and while conflict still occurs, have learned how to handle conflict and to choose your battles wisely. You are not only lovers; you are a partnership, and a strong one at that.

All couples experience these stages of relationships in some form, though some to a lesser degree than others. There is no specific chronological order; however, it is difficult to justify how these relationship stages could evolve in any other order. Additionally, while some experts claim there is a specific period for each stage, this too is a questionable claim. Some couples remain infatuated for many years until certain changes occur. Couples who experienced little conflict may find themselves fighting more down the road. The bottom line is that relationships evolve, and this evolution, if handled properly, can create a stronger bond and a lasting love.

 

Photo Courtesy of nenetus from FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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What Makes Relationships Work? Good Problems Couples Should Have

A relationship is not pleasant all of the time, but certainly you’ll have more happier than sad times. It is natural to have those moments where you question if this is the right situation for you – your partner will do the same. There are, however, those situations that never make it work, like cheating or deal-breaking behaviors. But, believe it or not there are relationship problems that are considered “good” problems that won’t mess up your relationship and should never be considered deal breakers.

Fantasizing about Others
A lot of couples who are looking for answers to what makes relationships work are concerned about their fantasies or their partner’s fantasies for someone other than their significant other. Believe it or not, these fantasies are nothing to worry about – in fact, they’re healthy. Having an imagination allows you and your partner to open up more emotionally and physically with one another. Of course, you cannot act on these fantasies.

Going Out with the Guys
Many women get defensive or feel they’re husband is leaving them out when they go out for guy time. Interests and maintaining friend relationships outside of your partnership are key in finding what makes relationships work. This break from the relationship allows each partner to miss one another, engage in activities and release any steam that could create tension down the road.

Arguing
You may have fights, but fights don’t mean your relationship is over or even close to over. Fighting is a way for partners to share how they feel with one another – meaning you both trust one another enough to get it all out in the open. As long as you both don’t attack one another, arguing can strengthen your marriage. Also, avoid recycling old arguments – meaning don’t bring up an argument that happened last week. Once it’s over and resolved, it’s done.

Being Too Tired for Sex
Intimacy is important in any relationship, but there are times one or the other may be too tired to engage in sex or other intimate activities. Today’s couple is often over-scheduled and it isn’t uncommon to have limited time for intimacy or anything else. However, the less a couple is intimate, the lower their testosterone is, which means they will have less desire for intimacy in the first place. Therefore, try scheduling a time for intimacy rather than waiting for that magical “spark” so that you have fun, it’s something to look forward to and you get that testosterone moving again.

A healthy relationship can be full of “good” problems. Often couples assume these good problems are detrimental to the success of their relationship and they begin to pull away. As long as you are open, honest and willing to work through your issues, you and your partner will understand what makes relationships work faster than any other couple in the neighborhood.

 

Photo Courtesy of: David Castillo Dominici from FreeDigitalPhotos.Net

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Tips for Breathing Life Back into Your Relationship

When a couple first gets together everything is new. There’s an excitement that can make the relationship feel like it will never end, like things will never change. However, as time goes on and life gets in the way, the dynamics of the relationship changes and we have to look at the sudden distance that has surfaced.

The closeness that was once there seems to have withered away. The gentle hand-holding or even the casual public displays of affection are becoming a memory. Where has the time gone and why is the relationship fading? You ask yourself, is the end approaching, do I need to get relationship tips from someone specialized? You know you love your partner and you know that each and every day wouldn’t be the same without them in it. So if that’s the case, then why do you seem further apart?

Maybe it’s time to take a step back and look at the relationship for what is it. In most cases the relationship is not over even though it may seem that way. Instead, you simply need to breathe a little life back into your relationship. The foundation has always been there, but over time so many things have gotten in the way and the two of you have forgotten about the basics that brought you together in the first place. That love and ultimately that connection need to be remembered because it’s those things that make you the couple that you are.

Remember these great little tips to breathe life back into your relationship:

L – Laugh

Laughter is one of the best remedies when it comes to rebuilding a connection with the one you love. Take time to be silly. It doesn’t matter if you’re young or old, laughter makes you feel good.

I – Instill

Instill confidence in one another by remembering the best qualities that you bring to the table. Why do you love the one you’re with? What was it that made you fall for them? If it was his/her sparkling personality then remind them of how special that is. Instill confidence in them that they still make your clock tick.

F – Forgive

Forgiveness is hard to do but if you’re holding onto any anger, hostility or resentment then in order to truly make a fresh start you need to forgive them. It’s the only way you can truly wipe the slate clean. Without it, you never will truly reconnect.

E – Embrace

Don’t ever forget that there is power in a single touch. When you’re hurting or sad, a simple embrace can feel so good and make everything seem ok. It also reminds you of how good it feels to be so close to the one you love. Take time to hold one another and remember that connection and how good it feels. Sometimes the best remedies don’t involve words but more of a touch.

Breathing life into your relationship doesn’t mean years of counseling and therapy. Sometimes you just have to remove all the obstacles and get to the heart of what used to be and what can be again.

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What Makes Relationships Work? The Keys to a Healthy Relationship

When you have found that special person, you find yourself psyched. Each day is an adventure and you just feel yourself falling further and further into love with that person. As the relationship progresses, those flutters can fade, but not in a bad way. However, some people fall into looking at their relationship with blinders on, which makes them ignore what makes relationships work in the first place. To make sure your relationship is healthy, consider these keys to a healthy, happy relationship.

Respect on a Mutual Level
You should know who your partner is and your partner should know you. You both should respect one another mutually. That means understanding and respecting one another’s boundaries and morals. Neither of you should challenge one another or force the other to do something they wouldn’t want to do. Respecting boundaries is the key to a healthy relationship.

Trust
Trust is important when looking for what makes relationships work. You both should trust one another fully. While you can show that occasional jealousness toward one another – especially when you see your partner talking to the other sex – if it turns into mistrust, you may need to reevaluate why it is you cannot trust your partner to speak to someone of the opposite sex without worrying so much about it.

Honesty with One Another
Honesty is very important in a relationship. Couples should never lie to one another and instead should have a full disclosure between both parties. If you feel compelled to hide things from your partner, you may want to investigate why you cannot be honest with him or her.

Support
A partner shouldn’t just support you during the rough times – you should feel supported at all times. There are times when people shine while others are falling apart, but they tend to neglect offering support when things are good. A healthy relationship is one where both partners can lean on one another regardless of how severe the problem is.

Keeping a Separate Identity
When people start to date or even get married, they start to morph their identities into a couple, rather than working on their individuality. While it is important to work together and act as a couple, each person still needs to remain true to themselves. Couples should still keep in touch with their friends, take up hobbies they enjoy and maintain their separate interests – along with things they do as a couple.

Communication
If you’re curious about what makes relationships work, the biggest factor is communication. Couples should be able to speak to one another, keep things open and say what is on their minds. It is important to never bottle feelings or concerns up – these can explode later on. Even if you are worried about how your partner will react, keeping the lines of communication open at all times is important. Even if you need to take some time to think about what you’re going to say before sitting your partner down, that’s fine, just as long as you both communicate with one another.

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Bringing Vulnerability Into Relationships

One of the most intimate qualities we can bring to our relationships is vulnerability.  By definition, we are putting ourselves out on the line in a weak or susceptible position.  With that being said, many people are afraid of vulnerability and tend to push it away as they are afraid of rejection.  However, what if being vulnerable is what brings in more joy and even more love to our relationships?

Intimacy comes in different forms and definitions for both men and women, one of the most important links to fulfilling intimacy is to be vulnerable.  If intimacy is about building up the relationship and establishing a connection with one another, vulnerability is ingredient that really makes you be seen and understood by your partner.

In order to experience vulnerability to the fullest, one should feel worthy of love.  Being whole-hearted and present in our connections and relationships will help to increase the worthiness feeling.  Often times this is difficult as there is no guarantee that when you open up to being whole-hearted that you won’t get hurt.  To feel vulnerable is to be present, as in those moments, we are raw with the available space open for intimacy.

The connection to our own vulnerability is the authenticity of not being perfect and accepting that.  Not being true to ourselves has it’s physicality’s as well.  As body language changes and blood pressure rises, the person you are not being authentic in front of will likely notice.  But that’s what vulnerability is – and if your partner is also worthy of love themselves, then you are more likely to be on the same page and accept one another which leads to open up more intimacy between the two of you.

We tend to numb vulnerability as it is the core of fear, shame and struggle for worthiness.  Think of the ways that we, as a collective whole, numb out not only in relationships but also other situations around us.   Did you know that America has the most in-debt, addicted, medicated, obese, cohort adults in our history?  Part of the reason why this could be is because we do not want to feel these emotions, so we numb them out with other substances (i.e., food, alcohol, medications).  When we numb out parts of of life, we also numb joy, gratitude, and happiness.

One way to practice vulnerability, and to un-numb ourselves, is to believe that we ourselves are enough.  That what we have to offer and what we are open to receive is enough. When we believe this, we are kinder to ourselves and those around us.  Connect into your own vulnerability by being honest with yourself.  This will help to bring in the joy and happiness, not only to your relationship, but to your whole life.

When connecting and concentrating on being vulnerable with your partner, remember to create a safe space for communication.  You want to feel safe and trusted, as well as offer a safe haven and trust for your partner.  Be open and honest with one another, while keeping an open mind for your partners opinions and beliefs.  Remember in those moments that vulnerability is the core of fear, shame & struggle for worthiness, but it is also the birth place of joy, creativity, belonging, and love.

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Relationship Connection

Connected relationships lead to a greater stability in all of your relationships – including family, friends and coworkers. To create shared meanings and values in your relationships, identify the shared meanings you already have and decide what new meanings you may want to add. Shared meanings help people, whether family or friend, settle conflicts and collectively pursue the goals that really matter to them and the relationship.

Some examples of shared meaning goals are raising a healthy child, building a successful business, or helping an elderly relative pass peacefully – all depending on what is being presented by each specific relationship. When two people find a shared meaning, they are willing to support each other’s dreams, even when there is little to gain personally from doing so, which is important for satisfied relationships.

Attaining A Shared Meaning In Your Relationships

Recognize The Conflict – Conflict often stems from inner dreams and ideals. If you uncover the ideals hidden behind another person’s position during a conflict, you can often find some common meaning. However, this strategy does not come easily for most people. Practice self-compassion and mindfulness to really take notice of what conflicts you may need to resolve within yourself. Looking inward is a great first step to solving anything. Once you are able to broaden your discussion to include dreams and hopes, you can see where your visions merge and find room for compromise.

Talk About Your Dreams – Encourage one another’s support for these aspirations. Keep in mind that talking about life dreams and what they mean to you requires some degree of trust between you and your partner (or friend/coworker). Such discussions can bring up issues so important and deeply felt that you may feel vulnerable. Just as with many high-risk propositions, there is also potential for high gain. Talking about your dreams and aspirations can lead to stronger emotional connections with the people in your life who matter most.

Meaningful Activities – Regularly engage in planned meaningful activities that draw people together emotionally. Most of us were raised in families in which some rituals were considered important (religions holidays for example). Create your own rituals – whatever you wish for them to be – it could be as simple as the ritual of a shared family dinner once a week. Rituals with family and friends will give those relationships more shared meanings.

Shared meanings are a big reason why we connect in our relationships in the first place. Harvesting these meanings will only create better connection.

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How to Mindfully Meditate in Marriage

Do you find yourself feeling anxious, depressed, or even lonely in your relationship?

All of us experience challenges and conflicts in our marriage at one time or another. As Dr. John Gottman explains, continuously mishandling ongoing problems can result in uncomfortable gridlock and a sense that you are “spinning your wheels” and getting nowhere. The key to avoiding gridlock is to gain a better understanding of what your partner is thinking and feeling – but how?

Life is ever-changing and, whether you realize it or not, you make choices daily about how to respond to your partner. It takes disengaging from autopilot to become more aware of your own thoughts and actions. This is where mindfulness meditation comes in. Mindfulness meditation stems from Vipassana or insight meditation, which translates into “clear seeing or insight.”Although rooted in Buddhist meditation, we are going to be exploring the secular practice of mindfulness in this new series titled The Mindful Marriage.

Mindfulness meditation is not just about relaxation – it’s about maintaining a moment-to-moment awareness and acceptance of your thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.

It’s important to approach meditation with a “beginner’s mind.” With this mindset, you’re able to see your partner with fresh eyes.

Mindfulness meditation is not about giving up all of your concerns or thoughts about a situation. Instead, it allows you to take in new information and look at in a different way. This empowers you to become more present to everything in your life and ultimately brings back a sense of wonder, curiosity, and awe.

Exercise: Putting Mindfulness Meditation into Practice

Here is a simple meditation exercise that I like to practice daily. I recommend doing this 20 minutes a day. However, if your life doesn’t allow for this at the moment, start with five or ten minutes. The most important part is to get started meditating on a regular basis. It will enable you to tune into the present moment and become mindful of the different sensations in your body.

Begin by sitting comfortably, with both feet on the ground. Gently close your eyes or lower your gaze, as you start to observe your breath. Bring your attention to how your feet come into contact with the floor. Become aware of any or all of the sensations you are feeling. Notice the firmness of the ground under your feet and the points of contact where your shoes touch your feet. Pause, take a breath.

Moving your attention higher, notice where your thighs and buttocks come in contact with the chair. Allow the chair to support you and hold your body without your needing to do anything.

Now, move your attention to your back. Where does your back come in contact with the chair?  Can you feel the difference between where there is contact and where isn’t? (Pause, take a breath.)

Bring your attention to your hands. Notice what are they touching—perhaps the chair, your thighs, or maybe your other hand. Are they tingling, cool or warm? Just notice any sensations.

Now, being fully present, feel your entire body sitting on the chair in this moment. Bring your attention to your breath, making the next couple of breaths a little bit deeper so you can really feel the breath. (Pause, take a breath.)

What sensations are the most pleasant? Where do you feel everything the most? At your nostrils where the air comes in? At the back of your throat? During your in-breath or the out-breath? In your chest or in your belly? Be aware and accepting of whatever you sense in these body parts, without controlling or changing those feelings.

Use this place – where you feel it the most – as an anchor to come back to whenever your mind wanders off. Breathing normally, remember to be kind to yourself as you work this practice into your daily life.

Rest assured, you will have days where you sit down and are laser-focused on the present. There will also be days where you sit down and can hardly remain still, as your mind races. Yes, it can and will be challenging. When this happens, and your mind is wandering, just gently bring yourself back to the breath. This is all part of the practice—the key is to accept what is happening without judgment.

Quieting the excess chatter in your mind will help to steady your emotions and lower your mental and physical levels of stress, making you less reactive to your partner’s words or actions. You can also use this practice to tune in daily and focus on the small, everyday moments with your loved one. Start by paying attention and intently listening to what they have to say or being really present when you hug or kiss them. Actually feel the situation and get in touch with your physical sensations.

Time to take this newfound practice and sense of awareness forward into your marriage!

 

Resource: Gottman Blog
Photo: Courtesy of  Photostock on Freedigitalphotos.net

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Gratitude Filled Relationships

Would you describe your life as joyous?  Do you actively practice gratitude or count your blessings?   Joyful people are typically grateful people – the act of practicing gratitude invites joy into our lives, as well as our relationships.

relationship-adviceGratitude is an attitude of thankfulness.  This state of mind can apply to gratitude for tangible or intangible things – such as a home, a job, a new car, physical health, and the relationships in our lives.  People who have high levels of gratitude and practice gratitude in their lives tend to have more peaceful and harmonious expereinces than those who do not.

The experience of gratitude is always here-and-now. We can give thanks, and feel blessed in the present moment.  Settling into the present moment, we reveal our authentic being and are able to connect with what we are truly grateful for.  When we choose to practice being present and grateful often, we will see and feel a shift into a joyous state in our present situations.

Many relationships suffer from neglect.  In our busy lives we create time for email, phone calls, paying bills, errands, cooking, and our children’s busy schedules.  Often times our attention to our partner – personal, exclusive, caring, loving attention – gets pushed aside as we go along with our hectic schedules.

Gratitude plays a significant role in the elevation of our relationships.  Expressing our appreciation for one another is perhaps more important than anything else we do together.  When we do so on a regular basis, our relationships are strengthened and empowered. Relationships improve when there is purposeful recognition of the various contributions each person makes – the preparation of a meal or the upkeep of the household.  To thank one another for simply being in our lives is also enough to make a difference.  When the practice of gratitude fills a relationship, both individuals and the relationship are continually renewed.

Simple And Fun Ways To Practice Gratitude

– Keep a gratitude journal.  Get into the habit of writing down what you are thankful for either in the morning soon after you wake up or at night before you go to sleep.  Or both times – the more practicing of gratitude, the more joy!

– Say something out loud each day that you are grateful for.  Many families say a prayer at dinner, following it up by saying something you are grateful for is a fun way to practice gratitude – also you would be saying it aloud for your loved ones to hear and give them the chance to appreciate your gratitude.

– Tell your partner how you appreciate what they do, day in and day out, along with the small specifics.

– Put extra thought into showing your gratitude towards your partner.  Perhaps pick up a bouquet of flowers or plan to make them one of their favorite meals.

Small thoughtful gestures and a little everyday gratitude towards your partner can yield a great deal of happiness and help strengthen relationships.  Practicing gratitude is a joyful window into seeing what is going on in your spouse’s and children’s lives.

Photo: by Stuart Miles on Freedigitalphotos.net

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How S&M Can Strengthen Your Relationship

No, I am not referring to Fifty Shades of Grey sadism and masochism. I am talking about a seriously powerful, connection-building combo: self-compassion and mindfulness.

What does this look like? Self-compassion enables you to love yourself as you would love others. It also helps to ease your emotional and physical suffering. Mindfulness, on the other hand, relates to paying attention to the present moment – emotionally and physically – without judging yourself or others. It really is as simple as that!

Take for instance the current situation of Stacy and Peter (names changed for anonymity), a married couple from my private practice. They are parents to Lily, their beautiful, spirited, one-year-old girl. Although Stacy and Peter love each other and Lily very much, they both work long hours, which puts a strain on their relationship.

Exhausted from working all day, Stacy walks through the front door and has to start taking care of Lily. Peter, on the other hand, is out of town for work most days, making him unable to share in the bulk of Lily’s caretaking. As a result, Stacy feels frustrated and angry over Peter’s perceived lack of support. Every time she tries to talk to him about it, Peter gets angry. Unable to express her feelings, this triggers Stacy to tiptoe around him, making her feel disconnected and withdrawn.

From Peter’s point of view, Stacy doesn’t notice or appreciate what he does for the family. Instead of discussing it, all Peter wants is for Stacy to acknowledge what he does do right and for her to apologize so that they can move forward.

Stacy and Peter each have valid feelings and concerns; however, they are so caught up in their own stories, they can no longer see the other’s perspective. As a result, they’re unable to take a step back and have compassion and understanding for one another. As Dr. Gottman explains through his concept of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, feeling criticized can lead to defensiveness, contempt, stonewalling, and ultimately the death of the relationship.

So, what can you do if you find yourself in a similar situation to Stacy and Peter? It all comes back to practicing a little S&M in your relationship. Let’s explore three steps you can take to cultivate self-compassion and mindfulness.

Step 1: Take a break and “self-soothe”

As Dr. Gottman recommends, taking time to calm down and self-soothe is the first step to getting your communications and relationship back on track. Some effective ways to self-soothe include meditation and deep breathing.

Deep breathing indirectly stimulates your vagus nerve – the nerve that originates in your brain stem and runs all the way down through your heart, lungs, and internal organs. Stimulating the vagus nerve releases the anti-stress hormone oxytocin into your system, while simultaneously inhibiting the stress hormone cortisol. It also activates your parasympathetic nervous system, the one responsible for calming you down.

However, if your emotions are completely overwhelming you, do something more physical like taking a walk or a run, working vigorously in your garden, or getting your body moving in another way.

Step 2:  Label your emotions

Once you are calm, take a few minutes to become aware of and identify the emotions you are feeling. Take note of where you physically sense them in your body. If you want, you can take a pen and paper and write them down. Labeling each and every one of your emotions and noting their location will allow you to recognize what you are feeling, making it easier to accept them. Acknowledging your emotions while in a calm state gives difficult emotions the space to change and transform.

Step 3: Cultivate compassion for yourself and others

We’ve all heard the old adage, “You can’t love another unless you can first love yourself.” Moreover, studies indicate that self-compassionate individuals display more positive relationship behavior than those who lack self-compassion. The benefits to self-compassion don’t end there. Instead of feeling disconnected from others when things go wrong, studies have also shown self-compassion actually facilitates feelings of connection to others in difficult times.

So how can you cultivate compassion for yourself and others? Start by imagining what you would say to your best friend after he or she has been hurt or rejected. What would you say? How would you treat him or her? Chances are that you would be kind, understanding, and supportive.

Begin applying this mindset and language to yourself, no matter how uncomfortable it feels. Become aware of your language and mindful of your inner dialogue. If you wouldn’t say the same statements of criticism to someone you cared deeply about, then don’t say them to yourself!

Integrating self-compassion and mindfulness in your everyday life gives you the ability to observe and act – not react – and to be mindful of how you respond to others. Listening and speaking from your compassionate heart will empower you to reconnect with yourself, others, and the world around you.

Resources:  Gottman Blog
Photo:  Courtesy of patrisyu at FreeDigitalPhotos.net