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LIFE in Relationships

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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Behaviours in Maintaining a Healthy Relationship

In this article we will go over the behaviors that intensify conflict along with the behaviors that diminish conflict.  There are many areas in which differences may appear in our relationships.  We may find that we disagree about politics or religion, or we may have different styles of communication which could become problematic over time.  Healthy relationships expect and allow for differences – in a healthy relationship, you will find ways to work through them together.

Behaviors That Intensify Conflict

Criticism – Negating or blaming your partner in issuing a complaint.  “You are so inconsiderate when…” is a criticism that could provoke defensiveness in your partner.

Contempt – Scorn, disrespect, or disgracing your partner.  Some forms of contempt underlie verbal abuse.  “You are so dumb…”

Defensiveness – Denying a problem or denying your share of personal responsibility for problems in the relationship.

Stonewalling – When a partner is stonewalling in communication in a relationship, they are usually using delaying or stalling tactics, refusing to answer questions, doing what can be done to hinder or obstruct a discussion, or bluntly refusing to cooperate with their partner.  This behavior usually drives away and rejects their partner.

Flooding – Overwhelming the other person with a bombardment of words or emotional outbursts that do not allow a true dialogue between the two of you.

Behaviors That Diminish Conflict 

Set Boundaries – Boundaries are the limits we set to protect ourselves.  Some examples of boundary-setting for conflict are:  No name calling; no use of obscenities; no yelling; no going to bed angry; and, keep past arguments in the past.

Clearly Communicate Your Needs – If you want or need something from your partner, it should be your responsibility to communicate those needs clearly and directly.

Identify And Own Your Feelings – Using “I” statements helps describe your feelings.  For example – “I feel upset when you forget to call and tell me that you will be late for dinner.”  Describe your emotional reactions to behaviors and events.  Try not to attack the person or personality of your partner.

Learn The Art Of Negotiation – Every relationship we have with each other has a give and a take.  When you have differences, find ways to come to an agreement together that you can both be satisfied with.

Drop Your Assumptions – Step back from judging or assuming that you know what the other is thinking or feeling.  When we assume we know why someone said or did something, and then proceed with that as “fact”, it causes us to react to our assumptions rather than understand the facts of the situation.

Consider The Other Person’s Point Of View – Do not lose sight of the other person’s perspective – learn to value it.  Listen and acknowledge the other person’s concerns, then talk about why you perceive the situation differently.  Encourage your partner to explain their feelings and make assurances that you want to understand their perspective.  Then make an honest attempt to listen and honor their perspective.

Create Win-Win Solutions – Sometimes when dealing with differences or conflict in a relationship, we can get ourselves locked into position of needing to be “right” and make the other person “wrong”.  With your partner, forget “right” and “wrong”; the question should become whether or not what the two of you are doing is working in the relationship.  The disagreement then is transformed into a problem that the two of you can work on together to improve.  Be flexible; be open to new approaches in addressing conflict in the relationship.

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

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Maintaining A Healthy Relationship

Creating and maintaining a healthy relationship is something that can be done throughout the year.  In this article, we will go over the stages of relationships, as defined by Harville Hendrix.  Harville has crafted relationships into five significant stages.  As you read over them, begin to think about where you are currently in your relationship.

Stages of Relationships  

Romantic Love – Couples begin marriage in a state of romantic bliss.  During this euphoric phase, which usually lasts the first to third years or marriage, newlyweds wear the proverbial “rose-colored” glasses –  life and love are perfect.  Differences tend to be discounted and faults are few.  This is the time that spouses seek the intimacy they crave.

Disillusionment or The Power Struggle – This second stage is disappointment time, often with faultfinding.  Partners realize that the other’s behavior is irritating or even hurtful.  This stage can be frightening and it is when many couples see divorce as the only option.  Often, the lack of effective communication skills, problem-solving skills, and the ability to compromise and negotiate leave many couples stuck indefinitely in this stage.  Also, the battle of wills occur, and to successfully leave this stage each individual must find a way to adjust to the ways of his/her partner.

Cooperation: Knowledge and Awareness – Stage two can leave the couple feeling stung and hurt by the damage rendered by the turbulent times.  If the couple perseveres and is willing to learn the communication and negotiation skills to navigate the power struggle, a new sense of acceptance and willingness to change enters the relationship.  Learning new relationship skills, and cultivating creativity within the relationship often accompany this shift in thought.  Partners take responsibility for their own problems and shed the illusion that their partner is the key to their happiness.

Acceptance – Stage four is often called acceptance, commitment or mutuality.  You and your partner realize that regardless of whom you are with, there will be problems, so you might as well stay in the relationship and work them out.  Togetherness just feels secure, and there exists a heightened sense of belonging.  The unhealthy patterns that dogged their relationship seem like ancient history.  This acceptance is the bridge to ultimate transformation and a love that can be enjoyed for a lifetime.

Transformation – Couples who put in the time and effort reap this final reward.  Intimacy is second nature.  The attitude is “we grow together.”  This is also called “co-creativity.”  Stage five couples develop a web of meaningful relationships that support the marriage and deepen the joy.  In this final stage, couples know what the fairy tales neglected to mention: Love is hard work.

Were you able to identify where you currently are?  In another article we will go over the behaviors that intensify conflict (and behaviors that diminish conflict) along with how to deal with differences.

 

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Commitment Stages

Real life relationships are not like those in fairy tales or romance novels. If that happens to be your expectation, you could be 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.  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.

The 6 Stages of Commitment

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 cou0ples, 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.
  5. Reconciliation – If the relationship survives re-examination, the next stage is a recognition of interest and love. Couples want to be closer and to work on reigniting that fame 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.
  6. 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.

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Positive Emotions in your Relationships

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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How Our Brain Patterns Persist or Change

 

With brain patterns, these questions may come to mind: How long have they been there? It is a brain pattern that existed (or that was established) during childhood as the brain develops? Was it present at birth? Can it be changed?

When Dr. Davidson did research on day-old infants, in the experiments he found that even at birth, there were clear individual differences and left/right asymmetry in terms of activation. Everyone’s genetic makeup is different, but the big question is do these differences persist? Dr. Davidson helped discover that what you are born with is not necessarily what you are dealt with as the brain and behavior can change.

Neuroplasticity is the idea that the brain can change – either for better or worse. The brain has the ability to change in both structure and function. Consider learning and memory – these are constant examples of how our brains are able to change form. When you learn something new and also when a new experience enters your memory, this is the brain changing – expanding and retaining.

Brain structure and function can change in response to two forces:

  1. The life you lead
  2. Thinking yourself into a different brain

The life you lead, meaning the experiences you have – physical as well as emotional or mental – are signals from the outside world. This is similar to your brain collecting memories and learning new information. The other way the brain can change structure and function is in response to purely mental activity. This is similar to the brain emotional style of outlook. Higher left activity is associated with a more positive outlook; higher right activity is associated with more negative outlook.  To change the brain grooves, you can think yourself into a different brain by working on a more positive outlook (or negative, as the door does swing both ways).

 

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Changing Negative Beliefs or Patterns

The first emotional styles we have is resilience to adversity. The adversity can be a wide range of so-called setbacks – from the most trivial things such as someone cutting you off in traffic to the more significant setbacks such as the passing of a loved one. The second emotional styles is outlook – meaning whether you have a positive or negative view on life.  The emotional styles of I’m discussing here is how our patterns persist or change.

With brain patterns, these questions may come to mind: How long have they been there? It is a brain pattern that existed (or that was established) during childhood as the brain develops? Was it present at birth? Can it be changed?

When Dr. Davidson did research on day-old infants, in the experiments he found that even at birth, there were clear individual differences and left/right asymmetry in terms of activation. Everyone’s genetic makeup is different, but the big question is do these differences persist? Dr. Davidson helped discover that what you are born with is not necessarily what you are dealt with as the brain and behavior can change.

Neuroplasticity is the idea that the brain can change – either for better or worse. The brain has the ability to change in both structure and function. Consider learning and memory – these are constant examples of how our brains are able to change form. When you learn something new and also when a new experience enters your memory, this is the brain changing – expanding and retaining.

Brain structure and function can change in response to two forces:

  1. The life you lead
  2. Thinking yourself into a different brain.

The life you lead, meaning the experiences you have – physical as well as emotional or mental – are signals from the outside world. This is similar to your brain collecting memories and learning new information. The other way the brain can change structure and function is in response to purely mental activity. This is similar to the second brain emotional style of outlook. Higher left activity is associated with a more positive outlook; higher right activity is associated with more negative outlook.  To change the brain grooves, you can think yourself into a different brain by working on a more positive outlook (or negative, as the door does swing both ways).

 

Photo courtesy of sattva and www.freedigitalphotos.net

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Is Your Outlook on Life Positive or Negative?

Your outlook on situations and experiences can be broken down to be defined as either a positive outlook or a negative outlook. The left prefrontal cortex in a resilient person can be 30 times that of someone who is not as resilient – this means that there is a a pretty big difference in brain activity within people who are clinically depressed and those who are not clinically depressed. For people who suffer from depression, activity in the right prefrontal is much higher. For people who are healthier and have an overall positive outlook on life, activity is the left prefrontal is greater. In other words, left side activity equals positive and right side equals negative.

The thing to remember about these specific findings is that everyone has ups and downs in their lives, so the left and/or right asymmetry can change. This relates back to the first style – adversity – under certain difficult periods of people’s lives, they may behave and/or react differently during these times. This is simply just part of the ebb and flow of life as a human.

Dr. Richard Davidson has been doing research on the emotional styles of the brain for over twenty years. Dr. Davidson’s research has been on all kinds of walks of life, including everyday hard-working Americans, undergraduate volunteers, children and infants, and also a Tibetan monk community. These monks lent their time and brains to science by having Dr. Davidson run MRI’s and EEG’s on them. In his findings, Dr. Davidson has found that these monk’s left prefrontals were off the chart compared to his other findings making this evidence for the stark difference in the brain activity that underlie emotional and personality differences. The monks are constantly smiling, people of good will and constantly help one another. And their brains can prove it.

Photo courtesy of Ambro and www.freedigitalphotos.net

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What Make Us More Resilient?

It would be nearly impossible for any of us to get through our human lives without some sort of setback. What really distinguishes people in terms of their success is whether or not they are knocked back on their heels by these setbacks. Resilience is a product of two specific regions of the brain: one is the prefrontal cortex (the thinking part of the brain) and it sends signals to the amygdala, (the fear center of the brain).

The thinking part of the brain is front and center in our emotions. Prior to our technologically advanced society, say ten to twenty years ago, neuroscience thought that the emotional brain and the cognitive brain hardly ever met. However, research has found that not only do they meet, they are great friends and collaborators. With resilience, it turns out that the ability to send signals from the prefrontal cortex, which is the region just behind your forehead, to the amygdala, which is more in the center of your brain, means that the strength of those signals and the frequency of those connections determine how resilient you are.

The amygdala is the region that sends out signals that you may interpret as be afraid, be depressed, or be aware of potential danger. When these kinds of signals are going full blast, it is very hard to be resilient. The prefrontal cortex basically says to the amygdala “shhh!” When it is able to be quiet, people are able to be resilient. The prefrontal cortex is basically modulating the amygadala and vice versa.

The amygdala also sends signals to the prefrontal cortex (which has been known for many years). It perceives the information, sends the information to the prefrontal cortex – which again is the more thinking, planning, executive function part of the brain – and the prefrontal cortex then takes the right evasive action or figures out the situation to keep you out of danger. What is new here within the last ten to twenty years is the idea of the prefrontal cortex (the thinking part of the brain) communicating with the amygdala (the emotional part of the brain).

 

Photo courtesy of Sira Anamwong and FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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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!