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Self-Compassion In Relationships

Our relationships with our partners, family and friends often take some effort to maintain as neglecting any aspect of one of our relationships can result in miscommunication, misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and resentment.  Many factors go into making a relationship work, including what you do to take care of yourself during high stress moments.  In this article, we are discussing self-compassion and the things that can make a significant difference to you and your partner.

What is self-compassion?

“Compassion is sensitivity to the suffering of self and others and a commitment to do something about it.” – Paul Gilbert

Self-compassion is a state of warm-hearted, connected presence during difficult moments in our lives.  It provides emotional strength and resilience, allowing us to admit our shortcomings, forgive ourselves, motivate ourselves with encouragement, and care for others. Self-compassion is a skill that can be cultivated by anyone.

It is having mindfulness, common humanity and kindness towards oneself.  Mindfulness is holding your own thoughts and feelings rather than suppressing or being carried away by them.  Common humanity is the understanding that your feelings and experiences are not completely unique. No matter how hard we try to avoid or hide them, all of us have our ups and downs, and sometimes the downs include pain, frustration and disappointment.  Being kind to yourself is not only providing comfort in the moment; it is also committing, whenever possible, to reducing future instances of such suffering.

How To Bring Self-Compassion Into Your Relationships  

1. Remind yourself to slow down.  Take notice of when you become irritable or angry when you are with your partner.  Taking notice is the first step to making a change.  Meeting yourself where you are, rather where you think you should be, will help to you to accept the situation, calm yourself, and slow down.

2. Ask yourself how can you and your partner be happy right now.  Enjoy what you want for the fact that you like it or the activity of it.  This will help bring more awareness about yourself and what makes you happy.

3. When you make a mistake, it becomes a great opportunity to express compassion.  Remember that we are all human and we probably will hurt someone, in this case, our partner, or ourselves – it is part of the human experience.  Taking responsibility for the mistake is a great example of using compassion towards yourself along with situation or person that was hurt.

4.  Learn to generate a kind voice in your own head.  Think of something that you do not like about yourself – as if you have a critic.  What is the critic saying and what emotions are rising as you hear them?   Invite and acknowledge all of these feelings and emotions, whatever they are – anger, sadness, fear, resentment, envy.  Try not to judge any of it as they are simply just thoughts and feelings moving through you. It is neither bad nor good, just awareness.  The compassionate self must be built – this is a great awareness exercise for building it up.

As you practice self-compassion, you will likely discover the awareness of being present.  You will feel more freedom to show up as you are and a greater sense of well-being, for yourself and your relationships.  Another wonderful outcome of practicing self-compassion is once you’ve experienced it for yourself, you will have it to share with others and it will flow automatically and effortlessly.

 

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Cultivating Positive Emotions

By now, most of us have heard about surrounding ourselves with as much positive as possible verses negative – but what does that mean when it comes to our relationships?  First we have to look at the quality of our thoughts in general.  Do you tend to think “I can’t do that” or “I can do that”?  Becoming knowledgable on which side you lean towards is the most important step as it creates the awareness of where you presently stand.

The next thing to look at is our emotions.  Are your emotions mostly happy, angry, or a combination of both?  If we look at a wide range of positive emotions—from awe to amusement to interest to inspiration to gratitude—what they all have in common is that they are responses to your current state or experience at that time.  They are usually not a permanent state, only feelings that fluctuate.  This is true for all emotions, however the positive emotions tend to be more temporary, as we do live in a very busy, sometimes overwhelming, world.  Often, we are not aware of the positive emotions due to our tendency to see the negative ones.

Positive emotions are also desired states.  Not only do they feel good, but we desire to feel them, as often as possible.  Some people might say it feels good to be angry, and at times anger can be useful or productive, but generally, people do not desire to feel angry.  Positive emotions can make us healthier and happier if we take time to cultivate them.

When people increase their daily doses of positive emotions, they find more meaning and purpose in life.  They also find that they receive more social support—or perhaps they just notice it more, because they are more attuned to themselves and others.  They begin to show mindful awareness of the present moment and increased positive relations with each other, especially true within your relationship.

SIMPLE STEPS TO CULTIVATING POSITIVE EMOTIONS 

A positive emotional relationship begins with believing in yourself and also in your relationship.  Know that you are both good people who are deserving of each other’s love and kindness.  If this is something you have doubts about, it would be helpful to think about what your needs and wants are along with your partner’s and reaffirm your connection with one another.  If the two of you believe in one another and both of you want a positive lifestyle, you may need to learn how to make the commitment to do your best to maintain a positive demeanor and start with small baby steps.  Being aware of what brings you gratitude, joy and happiness and to notice on a daily basis what actually makes you feel good is the first step of being mindful of positive emotions.

An example would be if you come home from work, exhausted, and take notice that your partner has neglected to do the dishes that have been sitting in the sink all day.  Your partner hands you a cup of tea and suggests you relax.  You have a choice in the moment to either react and get angry at the neglected dishes or take a breath and realize the positive verses the negative.

What is required is the willingness to make a change for the better, being aware of your patterns that are not working, adjusting your thoughts and attitudes toward life and each other.  This process is one that takes time and it will likely take more than a moment for you to see and feel the results.  Much like compassion, positivity is an ongoing process.  As part of that process, you will need to accept that sometimes we experience positive and negative emotions, which is part of life.  We want to be able to understand and accept our negative emotions while not getting caught up in them.  Being aware of the pattern in your relationship gives you the opportunity that your negative thoughts and emotions sometimes serve a purpose on what we can learn from them and what we would like to change to live a happier and healthier life.

Cultivating positive emotions and allowing that feeling to flow through your relationship is a great way to go through life with the one you love.

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Maintaining Happiness Together

You have seen them – those couples who cannot get enough of one another and they have been together for years. What do they know that you do not? One of the biggest relationship advice requests among couples is how to be more like those couples. Believe it or not, it is not actually a secret. In fact, most of the practices of these happy couples you can easily start now by just making the effort – here are some examples.

Keep the Dating Life Alive

Even though your first date may have been years ago, keep dating one another. Plan for nights out for dinner and a movie, or a day date for a picnic in a park. Stay spontaneous, keep up the revealing conversations and share intimate details just like you would when you were dating your partner.

Spend More Time Trying on Each Other’s Shoes

Your partner has their own point of view and so do you. If you expect for you both to agree 100 percent of the time, you’ll be severely disappointed. When you have a disagreement, still be yourself and make your point. But, take the time to reflect back on that moment and relive it in your partner’s shoes. While some couples try this bit of relationship advice and apply it during the fight, you will find better results reflecting back later – not trying to be the other person during your argument.

Treasure the Small Stuff

You do not need a fancy present or big weekend getaway to really appreciate one another. Instead, the happiest couples are those who appreciate and even treasure the small stuff. This can include generosity between one another, making your spouse breakfast in the morning or even just letting her get a little extra sleep and helping out with the children. These small, simple moments are ones that will go a lot further than an expensive tennis bracelet or buying her that dream car.

Live in a Village

There is a popular phrase that it takes a village to raise a child – well it applies to marriages, as well. Couples should surround themselves with people who support their union, honor the sanctity of marriage and appreciate them together as well as individually. Another bit of relationship advice would be to avoid couples or individuals who are negative toward marriage or do not like the idea of you being with your partner. Ultimately, when you and your partner have a disagreement, that negative individual may do more harm than good down the road.

Laugh

Often when couples fall into serious times – marriage, bills, children, etc. – they forget to laugh with one another. In addition, these couples often forget to laugh at the small, stressful stuff. For example, you and your spouse had to barrel through the airport to avoid missing your flight. But once you get on the plane, you do not laugh about the adventure, you stress about what you may have forgotten to pack in the rush. Remembering to laugh and let go not only improves your own mood, but can really improve your marriage.

By trying these small steps out, you are likely to cultivate even more happiness than what is already there.

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Having Holiday Self-Compassion

During the holiday season, we sometimes find ourselves emotionally distraught, distressed or just run down due to the overwhelming amount of events going on.  We likely will turn to others (partners, friends, parents, children) for comfort and guidance, and visa versa as the relationships we have with one another are one of our most important sources of well-being.  A great way to navigate dealing with any holiday stress is to have compassion.  Not only compassion for others and the situation, but compassion for yourself.

Self-compassion is when you are aware and honest, with a willingness to be non-judgemental, towards yourself.  No one in the world knows your feelings as well as you do. Because of this, you are the one most qualified person to bring compassion to yourself, which includes care, sensitivity, warmth, awareness, and kindness.  Having compassion for yourself will help you to bring compassion to others and your relationships with acceptance, unconditional love, and understanding.

Having Self-Compassion During The Holidays

Remind yourself to slow down.  
Take notice of when you become irritable or angry, maybe at a large line in the toy story or in rush hour mall traffic.  Especially take notice if you are angry towards yourself.  Meeting yourself where you are in the moment will help to you to accept the situation, calm yourself, and slow down.  Also remember to breathe!

Ask yourself how can you be happy right now.  
Enjoy what you want for the fact that you like it or the activity of it.  This brings in self-compassion by helping bring more awareness about yourself and what makes you happy.  Counting the things that you are grateful for is also another wonderful way to stay present.

Keep a sense of humor.  
Remember that all of the holiday stress you are under now will likely lighten up as soon as the holidays are over, and back to your more regular schedule.  If things go a little awry, try to laugh with it and keep it light.

Learn to generate a kind voice in your own head.  
Think of something that you do not like about yourself – as if you have a critic.  What is the critic saying and what emotions are rising as you hear them?   Invite and acknowledge all of these feelings and emotions, whatever they are – anger, sadness, fear, resentment, envy.  Try not to judge any of it as they are simply just thoughts and feelings moving through you. It is neither bad nor good, just awareness.  The compassionate self must be built – this is a great awareness exercise for building it up.

During this holiday season as you practice self-compassion, you will likely discover the awareness of being present.  You will feel more freedom to show up as you are and a greater sense of well-being, for yourself, your work, and  your relationships – which will benefit everyone involved.

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Communicating With Family During The Holidays

Happy Holidays!  This week’s post is about family communication, which tends to be more prevalent during the holidays.  Building healthy families is about learning to communicate openly, honestly, and sensitively to maintain relationships that can withstand the challenges that families often face.

All families experience problems at one time or another, especially during the holidays when people tend to be under more stress due to extra events and added expectations (click here for how to manage stress during the holidays).  Differences of opinion and disagreements are a normal part of having relationships with people, especially with the ones you live with and call family.  It is likely that you are not exactly the same – you probably come from different backgrounds and have had different experiences.  Keeping that in mind will help to keep the situation calm when differences arise.

Setting The Stage For Great Family Communication

Share Your Feelings
When you communicate how you feel, you create an atmosphere that encourages and allows others to respond in a kind way.  Often times, if you do not speak up about whatever it is that you feel, it will not get addressed and could possibly build up into something more stressful down the line.

Listening and Understanding
Paying attention to one another is of essence to understanding one another.  Having non-verbal cues in communication is important; how what you do not say with words can be more vital than the words you do say.  Take notice to what your partner or child (or other family member or friend) is communicating through their facial cues and posture.  Also ask questions to receive the best clarity.

Be Flexible
As with any changing and or forming relationship, flexibility is important to keeping the relationship on track and satisfactory to all parties.  Once you have said what you needed to say and have heard what your partner needed to say, begin to practice changing for the situation to get better.

Show Your Appreciation
Tell the other person how grateful you are for them and all the wonderful things and feelings that you get to experience because of them.  Having gratitude is often the key to a more successful relationship, especially when it is acknowledged by both parties.

Above all, the holidays are meant to be a special time with friends and family.  May your holidays be blessed with joy, laughter, love and successful communications!

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6 Steps to Mindfully Deal With Difficult Emotions

Let’s get real here. For most of us – myself included – life is fast-paced and chock full of family, relationship, and work stressors. This reality, along with the ever-increasing pressures of technology and society at large, can really take a toll on your marriage. As a result, difficult emotions like anger, confusion, fear, loneliness, and sadness, just to name a few, can arise. Emotions like these are often the most present and powerful forces in your life.

The key to overcoming these difficult emotions is mindfulness! Practicing mindfulness enables you to calm down and soothe yourself. In this state, you have space to reflect and thoughtfully respond, rather than react.

Following these six steps will help you to understand and deal with your difficult emotions in a mindful way:

1. Turn toward your emotions with acceptance
Once you become aware of the emotion you are feeling, notice where it is in your body. You may feel it as a stomachache, a tightening of your throat, the pounding of your heart, or tension somewhere. Sit with this anger, anxiety, depression, grief, guilt, sadness, shame, or whatever emotion you are experiencing. Become aware of it and don’t ignore it. If this is difficult, get up and walk around or get a cup of tea.

The key here is to not push the emotion away. Bottling it up inside will only cause it to bubble up and explode later, resulting in more difficult emotions or even a complete emotional shutdown. Listen to your difficult emotions. They are trying to help you wake up to what is going on before a major crisis occurs.

2. Identify and label the emotion
Instead of saying, “I am angry”, say, “This is anger” or, “This is anxiety.” In this way, you’re acknowledging its presence, while simultaneously empowering you to remain detached from it.

When my husband was in the hospital before he passed, I felt a deep sense of uncertainty, anxiety, and fear. I needed to acknowledge and identify the emotions and say to myself, “I know that I am experiencing anxiety and fear right now and I don’t know what will happen, but I am going to just ‘be’ with it.” Although it remained an extremely painful experience to the end, identifying and labeling my emotions in this way allowed me to take some of the pain out of what I was feeling. This, in turn, allowed me to stay in the present, versus catapulting me into the future, or trapping me in the past. Being thrust in either direction would have only caused me to blame myself. I can just imagine how that critical voice would have rung out, “If only you would have done something different, maybe there would have been a different outcome.”

3. Accept your emotions
When you are feeling a certain emotion, don’t deny it. Acknowledge and accept that the emotion is present, whether it is anxiety, grief, sadness, or whatever you are experiencing in that moment. Through mindful acceptance you can embrace difficult feelings with compassion, awareness, and understanding towards yourself and your partner.

Think of a friend or a loved one who might be having a hard time. What would you say to them? Bring the scenario of what you would say to them into your mind’s eye. Now, say the same thing to yourself: “I am ok. I am not to blame. I did the best I could.” Hold these images and phrases within yourself with loving kindness and compassion. Extend this act of kindness toward yourself and become aware of what is going on within you. In this way you will gain the power to not only calm and soothe yourself, but also your partner.

You will soon come to realize that you are not your anger, fear, grief, or any other difficult emotion you are feeling. Instead you will begin to experience these emotions in a more fleeting manner, like clouds that pass by in the sky. Opening yourself up to your emotions allows you to create a space of awareness, curiosity, and expansiveness that you can then apply to your relationship, as well as any other aspect of your life.

4. Realize the impermanence of your emotions
Every one of your emotions is impermanent. They arise and reside within you for a time, and then disappear. It’s easy to forget this when you’re in the midst of dealing with difficult emotions.

Allow yourself to witness and observe your emotions with kind attention and patience, giving them the latitude to morph, and in many cases, completely evaporate. To embrace this process, ask yourself: “What and where is this feeling? What do I need now? How can I nurture it? What can I do for my partner? What can my partner do for me? How can we, as a couple, turn toward one another with acts of loving-kindness?” Asking these focused questions and responding in turn will go a long way to promote empathy, compassion, and connection within your relationship.

5. Inquire and investigate
After you have calmed and soothed yourself from the impact of your emotions, take a moment to delve deeply and explore what happened.

Ask yourself: “What triggered me? What is causing me to feel this way? What is the discomfort I’m experiencing and where is it arising? Was it as result of my critical mind, or was it in reaction to something my partner said or did?”

Perhaps you had a hard day at work or difficulty dealing with your family. Maybe you feel unappreciated, lonely, or disconnected as a result of your interactions with someone. Whatever the cause or trigger, look at it closely and ask yourself, “What is happening here?”

Consider what was said or done and compare it to your values. What were your expectations surrounding the situation? What reactions or judgments caused you to become angry or anxious? Is this a pattern that keeps arising?

Asking yourself these critical questions and investigating the root of your difficult emotions will help you gain empathy and insight into what you are experiencing.

Taking yourself off autopilot and trusting your deepest, authentic self to answer these questions about your situation will create a space to see things with a different perspective. This will ultimately allow both you and your partner to be more present and connected with each other.

6. Let go of the need to control your emotions
The key to mindfully dealing with your difficult emotions is to let go of your need to control them. Instead, be open to the outcome and what unfolds. Step outside of yourself and really listen to what your partner is feeling and what he or she has to say. Only then will you truly gain an in-depth understanding of your emotions and the interactions surrounding them within your relationship.

Mindfully dealing with emotions is hard and it takes time. Be kind, compassionate, and patient with yourself and your partner. You’re in this together! As Dr. John Gottman has said, “In a good relationship people get angry, but in a very different way. The Marriage Masters see a problem a bit like a soccer ball. They kick it around. It’s ‘our’ problem.”

We are fortunate that we live in a world where you and your partner can take the time to explore, discuss, and learn about mindfulness and your emotions. Take nothing for granted, for life is fragile and fleeting!

Resource: Gottman Blog
Photo: Courtesy of  David Castillo Dominici on Freedigitalphotos.net

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When the Simple Things Matter Most

No one enters into a new relationship thinking about how it might end. Most new relationships are filled with excitement, anticipation, and hope. Even years down the road, unless love and compatibility is lost, or serious issues creep into the relationship, few people actually want to see things end. In fact, many couples who believe the end is near have allowed certain vital aspects of a strong relationship to fall to the wayside, and they are desperate to figure out where they have gone wrong and to rekindle that fire that will save them from the end.

Relationships take some effort to maintain. This is not to say that love itself is “work,” but neglecting any aspect of your partnership can result in miscommunication, misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and resentment. And often, even the most communicative of couples will suffer in silence, avoiding talking about their concerns simply because they blame themselves or do not want to start a fight or hurt their spouses feelings. It’s only when those held back feelings are compounded that the bomb explodes and simple issues become major problems. Many factors go into making a relationship work; however, in this article, we are discussing the subtle and simple things that can make a significant difference to you and your partner.

Mind Your Manners
Few of us made it out of childhood without knowing the value of saying please and thank you.  We also learned early on that duties are better shared than left to one person. These values do not fly out the window when we reach adulthood. Never take your partner for granted or let them even think this is the case. If you have a request, say please and talk it over. Don’t just make the decision on your own, leaving your partner out in the cold without any input or choice. If your spouse does something for you, around the house, etc., thank them. Gratitude shows your appreciation, making each task or special effort much more worthwhile. To further show your undying appreciation, share the duties of your life together. Don’t embrace gender roles and leave certain tasks up to one or the other. If something needs doing, get in there and do it, offer to help, or join forces and complete tasks as a team.

Ask and Listen
If you work outside the home, you know that your days can become hectic, stressful, and nerve wracking. The same goes for your spouse. And if one of you happens to be a stay-at-home parent, a homemaker (even without children), or self-employed/working from home, your days are no different from a partner working a conventional job. Each partner should be genuinely interested in the others thoughts, feelings, and activities. Take the time each day to ask your partner about his or her day, and spend some time listening and even talking about concerns, stress, etc. Communication is key to any relationship, and this type of open communication conveys genuine care, concern, compassion, love, and appreciation. By sharing your daily but often separate lives with one another, you build a strong bond of friendship and can rely on one another as confidantes. Even if you have the type of job that requires confidentiality, you can still discuss your concerns and activities in a general way that allows your partner to be a part of this aspect of your life.

These two simple acts make a huge difference in your relationship. Communication and relationships go hand in hand. You must communicate your sincere appreciation, love, and concern on a regular basis. Neglecting to do so can leave your spouse feeling unloved and uncared for. Don’t let such misunderstandings lead to destructive resentment when it is so easy to just take the time to think about your partner and to show them the simple things that matter most.

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Embracing Positivity in Relationships

Life is wrought with challenges and stress, and it can be tempting to give in, give up, and commence to complain in sex and relationships… to the point that negativity begins to rule your life. However, once negativity takes over, it begins to rule your thought processes, causing long-term effects that are often difficult to recover from. It can take many years and much effort to reverse a negative thought pattern. Moreover, negativity affects your physical health and it can affect your partner’s thoughts as well as sex and relationships. Even when life is throwing you one lemon after another, it is important to embrace a positive outlook. Doing so will substantially improve your ability to cope with your situation and will prevent adverse effects on your sex life and relationship.

Embracing Positivity

Even in the most difficult situations, you have to keep telling yourself that things will get better, and learn to be content despite negative circumstances. Complaining affects your brain, and it affects your partner’s brain, as mentioned on this blog in prior posts.

Difficult circumstances are bad enough without exacerbating and complicating them with a constant flow of mental and verbal negativity. Not only are you not helping yourself to effectively cope with and overcome your situation, you are not helping your partner to do so either. Negativity can result in mental exhaustion, irritability, disagreements, and a change in perspective that can interfere with sexual desire and can further harm or destroy relationships. In negative circumstances, you not only need to be able to build yourself up, but you also need to be uplifting to your partner, encouraging them to focus on the brighter side of things as well.

Case Example

A young woman in her early thirties was married for eight years. The relationship seemed happy at first, but as time went on, and things got tough, her spouse’s negativity drove a wedge between them. An intelligent woman, well educated in psychology, she appealed to him to embrace a more positive outlook, for both their sake. The stress and depression began affecting her physical health and she did not hesitate to inform her spouse about the effects his negativity was having on her. This only resulted in more negativity, and eventually, the marriage ended, mostly because she k new she could not continue living in such a negative environment. She felt helpless and hopeless, and no longer felt any love or sexual desire for the man. In her eyes, he was no longer a man; he was merely the personification of his negativity.

Today, this young woman is in a happy, loving relationship. Her health is better, and she has found this has much to do with her positive environment. It is not that the situation is the best. She works full-time, and her partner is unemployed. They have dealt with several difficult situations, but the difference is that her partner tries to maintain a positive outlook and encourages her to do so as well. And when she does get down and out, he makes every effort to be uplifting and encouraging.

This case example illustrates the importance of positivity in relationships. Love, intimacy, and sexual desire can be hindered or destroyed by negativity. Negativity is a selfish frame of mind. It not only affects you, but those who are around you all the time, especially your spouse or partner. The desire to remain with a partner is contingent on brain science. We all know that the heart is not where love and desire truly reside. Therefore, strong and lasting relationships are built on positivity, even in the most negative of situations.

 

Photo: Courtesy of photostock from 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

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How to Foster a Great Relationship with your Partner

Maintaining a healthy relationship takes time, energy, and work.  With these guidelines to lead as an example, relationships can not only maintain, but also blossom.

Have A Solid Friendship – Ask yourself what kind of friend you are being to your partner.  Apply the same openness that you have in your other friendships to the partnership.  Think about the “get what you give” philosophy – if you want a good friend in your partner, then be a good friend to them.   Provide encouragement and support to your mate to make them feel special and show them that they make a difference in your world.

Know Your Partner – Your partner possesses qualities that make them special to you, as well as a unique person in their own right.  Your partner likely has areas of sensitivities and vulnerability, in addition to their preferences, interests, and values.  Being aware of what makes them “tick” and engaging in behaviors that nurture and support those special qualities can enhance the intimacy and vibrancy of the relationship.  Remember what you honor and respect about your partner.

Strive For Emotional Intimacy – Emotional intimacy has been described as “unbridled mutual self-disclosure” – which implies a willingness to share from the heart.  It means getting in touch with and letting the other person know our feelings.  It is also being authentic; it is through emotional intimacy that relationships grow.

Make Time To Be Together – Cultivate passion and intimacy.  Make time for dates and romance while treating that time together as special and sacred.  Find strategies to create time together that work best for you as a couple.  Some couples devote the first 15 minutes of their morning or last 15 minutes of their evening “their time”; others have a standing date night.  A daily ritual that you both can look forward to being together, while being uninterrupted, will help intimacy and attachment grow.

Let Your Partner Influence You – Many issues in relationships have nothing to do with the “facts” and everything to do with the feelings about the issue.  We are emotional beings, emotions are bound to rise up, especially in our relationships.  It is important that you both understand each others positions.  Some issues have no solutions and oftentimes understanding and mutual respect are all that you really need.  Couples learn to simply contain the issues and not let them escalate through positive communication and empathy.

Solve The Solvable Issue – All couples will likely have a few issues that will never be resolved fully, due to difference of opinion and background.  What is important is to develop a dialog with your partner about this set of irreconcilable differences.  Treat them as you would if you were coping with a chronic bad back or trick knee – you don’t like them, you wish they were not there, but you learn to work around them by talking and learning how to live with them.  Having patience will be helpful in these situations, as well.

Create Shared Meaning – As a couple, having some concept of what you both think a relationship and a partnership are supposed to be would be useful.  Perhaps write down your definitions of a successful relationship and do your best to live up to those definitions.  Focus on the fundamental things that are going to make a difference in the long run.  Create specific goals as a couple, and also individually, on how you want to improve your relationship, and then follow through with them.

Maintaining a healthy relationship requires, well, maintenance.  Using these tips and tools will help keep your relationship in balance and maintained.