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How Self-Aware Are You?

 

Self-awareness refers to both awareness of your body – meaning the heartbeat or respiration rate and the feeling of what is on your skin – as well as what you feel emotionally.   Have you ever had someone say to you “you seem angry?” and your response was “no, I’m not angry.”?  Or vice verse? It could very well be true that you or the other person was indeed angry and giving off the energy, yet not aware. Many of us at times have bouts of failure of self-awareness, which comes from the insula.  The insula has what is called a viscerotropic mass – viscero refers to the interior organs and tropic refers to the placement, the representation of those organs.

People with a very active insula seem to be extremely self-aware, both emotionally and physically. When  we discussed positive outlook and the ability to bounce back from a setback (being resilient), it sounds as if only one of the ends of this spectrum is the place to be as who would not want to be happy and ore resilient, right? However, this is not necessarily the case and with self-awareness you tend see where you may need to improve on yourself even more.

Self-awareness starts with just that – awareness.   When you begin to analyze and pay attention to your mind (thoughts) and body (heartbeat, touch, etc.) you become more self-aware. Once one becomes even slightly self-aware, especially when analyzing where they currently are in their lives, they will likely try to change if they feel that it would improve their life. This is a great step towards a better life and better relationships.

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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!

How is your Resilience to Adversity?

The brain is the source of all our emotions and behavior. Although humans have known for many years that all our behavior, feelings, and thoughts come from the brain, there has not been much progress in learning exactly how it works until recently. Researchers have been looking at many aspects of our emotional life and tracing them to specific patterns in particular regions of the brain. In this research, they have found that one size does not fit all. In other words, you have to take into account the individuality of the patient which can often be determined by DNA and also previous circumstances that may have happened during the patient’s lifetime.

The first emotional style 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 (but if this happens at the beginning of your day, it could trigger negative emotions starting off your day) to the more significant setbacks such as the passing of a loved one. Under certain difficult periods of people’s lives, they may behave and/or react differently during these times.

When you have a setback, and we all do at some point, how do you bounce back from it? Is it pretty quickly or do you wallow in anger, unhappiness or jealousy, or any other negative emotion? Everyone will vary in how well and how quickly they are able to recover from such adversity, and also depending on how significant the setback may be. On one hand, people are resilient – look at how we as humans have survived on this planet for thousands of years. Yet with the more significant setbacks, your resilience could be thwarted (which is completely acceptable), so the resilience relies on the circumstance. Researchers are now seeing particular patterns of brain activity in particular regions that actually show the ability to quickly and easily bounce back or the difficulty to bounce back.

The second emotional style is outlook – meaning whether you have a positive or negative view on life. Do you tend to think that things will work out for the better regardless of the situation? Or are you more of an Eeyore with a gloomy cloud over your head with no hope for better days? There are also particular brain patterns and brain activity at play here that underline whether you have a positive or negative outlook in life.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles and FreeDigitalPhotos.net

What Makes Relationships Work?

To achieve optimum physical and emotional health, we must have rewarding and enjoyable relationships in all locales of our lives. Humans function best when they have an understanding and accommodating relationship environment. Single people search for the ideal mate, and those who have a partner seek ways to make the relationship work. This relationship advice allows you to nurture your relationship and find a balance in your life so you and your mate will be better satisfied.

Rules, Roles, and Rituals
Many of society’s social and cultural rules and taboos have already been broken down. Some of these guidelines are not even feasible for a multi-cultural society, much less a modern relationship. However, to have emotional security and safety in our relationship, we must have boundaries and rules. For many couples, relationship needs go unstated, leaving one or the other partner guessing. An principal rule to have is that each person expresses what is needed from the other. Another rule that is a crucial part of this relationship advice is that you respect what your partner requires, compromising when necessary and negotiating when possible.

Roles must be well-defined and distinct in a successful relationship. Each person is essential to the other and should have an individual role in the liaison. While age and sex determine some tribal roles, ability and inclination determine today’s modern ones. Once past the initial part of dating, gender roles become more evident. Some men and women grow up in ‘traditional’ homes, while others are reared in gender-bender environments. Make sure that you understand what your partner expects your role to be and express what you feel comfortable doing. Many times, a person’s sexuality depends on his or her role within a relationship.

Another vital piece of relationship advice is realizing the rituals that bind you together as a couple. These rituals are a glue that bonds two people together. In trying times, rituals tend to be forgotten. So, make an effort to consciously keep these personal practices going. Also, every now and then, make up a new one and stick with it. Incorporate sexuality and erotica into these personal rituals.

Commit to Love
Once you have committed to love the other person, be sure to actively express this love frequently. While infatuation is the spark that begins a lasting relationship, deciding to love the other person allows your devotion to maintain. If you refrain from expressions of love, the devotion could dissipate. Also, be mindful of your partner’s sexuality. Choose times for love-making when your partner is ready.

Establish and Maintain Trust
Trust should be established on all levels. This mutual trust should allow you to understand and respect one another and should be founded in loyalty and respect. Be sure to keep your word and fulfill your promises. This will allow your partner to feel the much needed security for which he or she longs.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
The best piece of relationship advice available involves communication. Communicate about everything and anything. Have conversations that allow you two to share your wishes, needs, hopes, and dreams. Be sure to encourage your partner’s ambitions and goals, celebrate each other’s accomplishments, and discuss values and beliefs regularly.

Sex and Relationship Advice at Midlife
When you have been with the same individual for a while, it is critical that you get to know your partner once again. Sex and relationship advice at midlife may sound silly to some, but middle-aged couples often find their relationships dull and unfulfilling. An essential thing to do is to check in with your partner on a daily basis. Make sure he or she is aware that you are truly interested in hearing what they have to say.  Also, keeping sex exciting allows for the two of you to maintain a healthy relationship. Try new sex positions, watch erotica videos together, and explore toys and alternative devices.

What Makes Relationships Work? 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.

How to Bring Heartfulness Into Your Marriage

We often hear the words “mindfulness” and “compassion” as interchangeable, positive attributes to embody and integrate into our lives. Although complimentary, mindfulness and compassion are not the same.

Mindfulness is about maintaining a moment-to-moment awareness and acceptance of your thoughts, feelings, physiology, and surrounding environment. When we talk about mindfulness, we also hear the term “loving kindness.”

So, what do these words really mean, how are they interwoven, and why is practicing them within marriage so important?

As Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D. explains, “In Asian languages, the word for ‘mind’ and the word for ‘heart’ are the same. So, if you’re not hearing mindfulness in some deep way as heartfulness, you’re not really understanding it. Compassion and kindness towards oneself are intrinsically woven into it. You could think of mindfulness as wise and affectionate attention.”

Simply put, by practicing mindfulness and compassion, you powerfully bring your heart and mind together as one.

Mindfulness in marriage is about being receptive to your relationship experience and being present without judgment, while loving kindness and compassion are about embracing the fact you want to be free of pain and suffering and that your true wish is to alleviate yourself, as well as others, from this suffering.

Why Do You Need Heartfulness?
So, why do you need heartfulness – that melding of mindfulness and compassion – in your relationship? Because relationships are hard! Applying heartfulness in your marriage can help you, as Dr. John Gottman explains, to soften your startup. You are more able to be present, aware, and attentive of what you communicate and how it impacts your partner when you are talking to them. Practicing this on a daily basis helps you to see things clearer, view interactions through a lens of kindness rather than judgment, and act with calm wisdom instead of reacting. Softening the startup of your communications with your partner in this way will lead to a more stable and happy relationship.

The Benefits of Heartfulness
Approaching your marriage with heartfulness will produce numerous long-term benefits. Here are a few of the positive effects it can have on you and your spouse:

• The ability to handle difficult emotions with greater ease
• New perspectives on stressful situations
• More fluid communications
• Improved emotional well-being
• Transformation of your potentially difficult relationship

Integrating Heartfulness Into Your Marriage
The key to being heartful is to actively listen to your partner with an open heart and without judgment. Instead of thinking of the next thing that you’re going to say, be present and compassionate to what your partner is going through and what they are trying to communicate. The only way to do this is to step out of your own story so that you can fully take in and acknowledge what your partner is experiencing.

Now, I’m not saying that stepping out of your story is easy. By human nature, we’re all susceptible to falling prey to our own self-defeating narratives. Getting unstuck from this place takes yet another level of heartfulness – one that is focused inward.

I’ve certainly experienced the challenge of focusing heartfulness inward. There were times in my marriage where I became frustrated and critical with my late husband, Steve, saying things to him that could have been delivered more mindfully. Luckily, he dabbled in eastern practices and psychology himself, so when he saw I was triggered he had the wisdom to gently guide me towards having more self-compassion. In these instances, Steve would remind me to get in touch with my feelings and say, “Why don’t you take a moment and give yourself some compassion and then we can revisit and talk about what’s bothering you a bit later?”

Stepping back and changing my attitude towards myself first allowed me to calm down. I could then, in turn, be more trusting toward my husband and move forward communicating more openly.

The next time your buttons get pushed, or you start to blame your partner for something, take the opportunity to give yourself some compassion first. Then, after you are calmly refocused, make the space and effort to re-focus some of that compassion and kindness on your partner.

Heartful Affirmations
Practicing heartfulness can be as simple as expressing loving kindness and compassion through short and thoughtful affirmations. The next time you are upset, try saying the following out loud:

To yourself:
• “I am filled with loving kindness.”
• “I am safe and protected.”
• “I will get through this.”
• “I accept myself just the way I am.”

To your partner:
• “May you be happy, may you be healthy, may you find peace.”
• “May you accept yourself just as you are.”
• “May you be filled with loving kindness.”
• “May you live with ease and peace.”

The key is to find affirmations that resonate with you. Say these phrases softly, with a spirit of kindness towards yourself and your partner. Adopting a spirit of caring and kindness will make you feel more connected and most likely trigger a significant shift in your relationship. This shift will cause new pathways of understanding to open up, making you feel cared for, connected, safe, and protected.

Whatever your experience, commit to moving forward with mindful acceptance. Practice non-judgment and remember to extend equal amounts of compassion to your partner and yourself. Even though you may not always agree with or even understand what your partner is saying, integrating heartfulness into your marriage will enable you to be compassionate with each other in times of struggle and embrace the imperfections of your relationship with loving-kindness. Collectively, this is a powerful force for overcoming the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse – criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.

As you can see, injecting your marriage with heartfulness – that powerful blend of mindfulness and compassion, towards your partner and yourself – doesn’t have to be complicated.  As Dr. Gottman says, “It’s the small things done often that make the difference!”

 

Resource: Gottman Blog

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

How to Switch Off Relationship Autopilot

It’s 6:30 am and your alarm goes off. Although you’d love to stay wrapped up in the warm coziness of your blankets, everything that you have to do today floods your body, causing you to jump out of bed.

Autopilot has kicked in.

You begin moving through your day like you are speeding down a highway, driving along as if hypnotized, going from one thing to the next. You drop the kids off at school, go to work, attend meetings, navigate conflict with a coworker, pick the kids up from school, run to soccer practice, get home to make dinner, help the kids with homework, feed the dog, clean the kitchen, half-listen to what your spouse is telling you about their day, and put the kids to bed.

You pause for a brief moment and collapse back into your bed, only to start it all over again at 6:30 am the next morning. You can feel anger and resentment bubbling to the surface.

“Is this really my life?”

This is your life on autopilot: half-awake, frustrated, disconnected from yourself and those around you. Of course you need and want to “be there” for your children, your spouse, and your co-workers, but your inner voice can’t help but cry out, “There has to be a better way!”

How do you get yourself off autopilot so you can really live? It all starts by shifting your focus. The key is to become aware of your feelings, habits, patterns, and general “busyness” so that you can learn to mindfully step outside yourself the moment you notice you’re engaging in your usual autopilot behavior.

Below are three strategies to disengage autopilot and live an awakened life:

Tune in to your body.
The first step to an awakened life is to tune in to what you are feeling. Take in and become aware of everything your body is sensing. For example, as you take a shower, focus on how the water feels as it runs down your back. As you drink your morning coffee, tea, or juice, take a moment to enjoy each sip instead of gulping it down. Pause throughout your day, really focusing on how you feel as you interact with your friends, coworkers, and those you love. Be aware of bids for emotional connection and turn towards them. The point here is to become mindful of what you feel, hear, see, and smell. Become aware of each and every sensation, paying close attention to any faint whispers from your “gut instinct.”

As you begin to get in tune with your body, you will begin to identify when autopilot is taking over. From this space, you can choose what you want to focus on, for yourself and within your relationships.

Identify and set your intention.
Focusing on your relationship with your partner, take a moment to tune in to what you want. What is your intention when you are with them? Your intention might be to listen more deeply, let go of blame and criticism, or simply to be more honest, vulnerable, or present. Whatever your intention, set aside a few minutes at the beginning of each day to reflect on your desired outcome.

With kindness and self-compassion, take responsibility for and release what is preventing you from fully engaging. Without judgment, be mindful of what is happening. For example, if your intention is to deepen your sense of connection with your spouse, start by sensing the situation between the two of you.

Have a daily ritual of connection with your partner.
With this newfound focus on your feelings and intentions, identify one daily activity or routine with your partner where you would like to be more awake, mindful, and engaged. For example, have a stress-reducing conversation where you only talk about stress outside of your relationship. Actively listen and pay close attention to what your partner has to say. Whatever your chosen routine or daily activity, commit to giving it your full attention and focus. Ask yourself, “What really matters here?”

Getting stuck on autopilot happens to the fittest of relationships, so be patient and stay focused on your desired outcome. In addition to these these three steps, disengaging from autopilot and leading an awakened life also involves mindfully having compassion for yourself and others, practicing forgiveness, and living with an open heart.

Switching off autopilot allows you to see life from a fresh perspective and frees you to make different and more mindful decisions. As you begin making choices in this awakened state, you’ll notice your actions naturally begin to align and become more consistent with your desired outcomes – in your relationship and in your life. Learning to connect from a place of deep presence will enable you to hear what your heart is saying, ultimately empowering you to respond rather than react.

 

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

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.

How to Rewire Your Brain and Build Greater Connection

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

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

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

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

Time to Rewire Your Brain

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

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

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

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

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

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