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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.

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

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

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

What is my Heart Saying?

I awoke yesterday morning with an all-encompassing sense of overwhelm. My mind was racing over all of the things I had to accomplish. As a marriage and family therapist, I love what I do and, as a result, I was thinking about who and how I was going to help that day. Everything I had to get done before going into the office snuck up on me, like answering a phone call from my accountant, responding to emails, and taking my daughter’s dog for a walk. The stacking of all of these small things made for a largely hectic and stressful morning!

If you’ve had experiences like this then you know that the smallest daily tasks or larger scale challenges – like an argument with your partner, being yelled at by your boss for something going wrong at work, or even coping with the loss of a loved one – can become completely overwhelming. It’s not uncommon to feel isolated, forgetting that others are dealing with challenges in their own lives.

It’s during situations like these that it’s important to stop the mental clamoring, get out of your head, and ask, “What is my heart saying?”

All too often we rely upon our brains to rationalize and solve all of our problems when in fact our hearts offer a more effective solution! Decades of research have shown that our hearts are powerful communicators. Studies conducted by the HeartMath Institute reveal that the heart communicates to the brain in four major ways: neurologically through the transmission of nerve impulses, biochemically through hormones and neurotransmitters, biophysically through pressure waves, and energetically through electromagnetic field interactions. What’s more, science has also revealed that our hearts have their own “heart-brain,” equipped with 40,000 neurons that can sense and feel more effectively than your actual brain.

Dr. John Gottman references this power in his book Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child, explaining that the most important trait of highly effective, empathetic parents is that they “use their hearts to feel what their children are feeling.” If using your heart can help you more effectively connect with your children and others, why not try using it to express a little self-compassion?

Compassionate Heart Breathing

Here is a simple and powerful exercise that I like to share with clients to get them out of their heads and back into their hearts. It’s called compassionate heart breathing and it combines the practices of self-compassion and mindfulness while tapping into the power of your heart. It effectively opens and softens your heart, oxygenates your blood, and activates the calming and restorative powers of your parasympathetic nervous system – the one that is responsible for calming you down.

Start by placing one or both of your hands on your heart. Take two to three deep, satisfying breaths, slowly tapping into your “heart-brain.” Applying gentle pressure, make small circles with your hand over your heart, feeling the natural rising and falling as you breathe in and out. Stay with that feeling as long as you like. If this makes you feel uneasy, explore where on your body a gentle touch is soothing. This could be on your abdomen, cheek, or stroking your arms. You can even cup one hand in another while resting them both on your lap.

Now, as you continue to breathe and soothe yourself, acknowledge what is happening and how you are feeling. Follow up with a supportive statement such as, “What I am experiencing is tough and I am suffering. May I be kind and loving to myself as I gain clarity and strength.” Find a statement that works for you, like one that you would say to a dear friend. Feel the words roll gently through your heart, eventually making their way to your brain.

Practice compassionate heart breathing any time you feel angry, frustrated, overwhelmed, or are experiencing any kind of emotional or physical discomfort. Remaining open to your heart’s voice will help you wake up to your true self, while simultaneously influencing your brain and body in beneficial ways.

Resources:  Gottman Blog
Photo:  by Stuart Miles

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.