Self Awareness

Becoming A We: 4 Ways To Shift Your Thinking To Thrive In Your Relationship

One of the challenges adults experience early on in an intimate partnership is establishing the ‘we’ in their relationship. When two single individuals have spent a great deal of time living and working independently, otherwise operating as a ‘me’, the path to discovering the ‘we’ can feel complicated. Even mundane decisions like household cleaning or figuring out whose family to visit for holidays require compromise. Especially if you’re someone who identifies as self-reliant or self-sufficient, it can sometimes feel like a major shift to depend on someone in an intimate way. Whether it be grieving a loss or sharing your fears, we know that the degree to which partners are able to be vulnerable with one another and hold a space for one another significantly influences the depth of intimacy they feel in their relationship. Keep these tips in mind as you reflect on developing the ‘we’ in your own relationship.

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Opening up is hard to do…but so worth it.

What opportunities do you have to let your partner in? Take the chance to let your partner care for you when you aren’t feeling your best either physically or emotionally. Yes, you could probably take care of yourself (that’s the ‘me’ talking) and self care is important. However, letting your partner in by allowing them to care for you will help you deepen the intimacy you already have.

Discuss your visions for your future.

How do you envision your life moving forward with your significant other? What goals do you have as a couple? Developing shared dreams together can be a really intimate experience and is also a way for you each to stay connected to your passions.

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Strive for balance.

When it comes to a daily-routine and your social life, which activities will you stay involved independently and in which ones will you include your partner? Maintaining friendships and hobbies that are important to you outside of your relationship is healthy, as is making time to spend together and grow as a couple. Exploring your expectations for how each of you want to spend your free time is one of the best ways to stay on target.

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Create positive vibes at home.

Merging homes within a relationship can be a big step for many couples. Each of you likely have preferences about the way in which you keep your home, so creating space for each of your needs and hearing new ideas is an important process. When thinking about your home, consider, what do each of you need to feel relaxed and at peace?

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Becoming a ‘we’ is an adjustment, especially if you’ve been a ‘me’ for quite some time. It’s also something that more than likely no one has ever taught you how to do before. Be patient with yourself and remember, therapy is always an option if you find yourself feeling stuck.

The Beginner's Guide to Energetic Love

Energetic Love has the capability to transform our relationships. This stems from understanding that love is not simply a noun - a product of something we create, but also a verb. Love is an ongoing and evolving process. Energetic love is the act of loving (with energy).

We energize our love by increasing our awareness of ourselves and our partners and through this insight, we are able to love more intentionally and authentically. Energetic love also implies that loving itself requires energy, which is true. Love is an active process and one that does require our body, mind and spirit. If we love without energy, it may not be as sustainable or meaningful.

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So, how does one practice Energetic Love?

Balancing individual and interpersonal awareness with proactivity. Examine what is going on internally and externally in your relationship:

  • Consider your own understandings of love; think about this as your love template. How do you feel loved? If you have a partner, how do they make you feel loved? How do you express love to others or a partner? What ways does your partner feel love and express love? Gary Chapman's book, Love Languages is an excellent resource for understanding how we "love" one another and receive love ourselves.

  • Fill in the blank. When we understand that our partner feels loved by _____ we can use this information as an opportunity to speak their language in the way that we act (using energy).

  • Embrace imperfection. We are human and cannot possibly do everything right all of the time, no matter how nice that would be. When we make mistakes such as forgetting an important date or to unload the dishwasher, it is important to acknowledge these moments and use them as learning opportunities. Consider saying to yourself or your partner, "I am not perfect, but I will try to ________ in the future".

  • Forgiveness. We do not always show up in our relationship the way that we hope to and our partners do not always show up for us the way we hope they will. When these moments occur, embrace the disappointment, sadness or uncertainty that follows and direct your energy into a conversation on how to be more on target next time.

There is great wisdom that can come from our interpersonal awareness of how we love and experience love. When we are not getting something from our partners that we need in order to feel loved, we ought to communicate that in a benevolent way. When we are not loving our partner in the way that they need, we can use this information to channel our energy into more productive and meaningful loving.

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How do you practice Energetic Love? Feel free to share your ideas below!

Dare To Be Direct.

Are you and your partner swimming in circles when it comes to making decisions? No need to let indecisiveness ruin your relationship. Consider trying direct communication.

Sharing what you want directly will likely help your partner understand exactly what you are looking for and how they can play a role in making that happen. Here are some pro-tips for delivering a direct request:

1. Identify what you are seeking from your partner/lover. Is it quality time, problem solving, listening, some perspective, a fun adventure, etc.?

Figuring out what it is that you want first is key. If you are clear on what you want, this will boost your confidence when it comes to the next step.

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2. Spell it out for them (with words). After all, we are human, not telepathic. We will be more successful if we let our partners know exactly what we are looking for from them as opposed to expecting them to guess what it is that we want.

This is the difference between saying:

"Hey babe, I'd really love to take a walk and get some mint-chocolate chip ice cream after dinner"

& "Hey babe, what would you like to do after dinner?" (while secretly hoping our partner suggests ice cream).

When we wait for our partner to catch up with us (a.k.a. read our minds), it can take awhile or worse, we become upset that they don't understand. Stating exactly what you want will keep them in the know and prevent misunderstandings.

3. If you catch what you're seeking, what will that bring you? Sometimes it can be helpful to share with your lover the significance behind your request.

Consider these examples:

"I'd really like if we could spend the afternoon just the two of us because quality time would make me feel appreciated and relaxed"

"I'd prefer if we could go to the grocery store and run errands in the morning so that I am not worrying about it later on when we are at the show"

Sharing the why behind your request may actually help your partner attune to it better, especially if they know that the impact will lift you into a brighter mood.

4. Practice.

The best way to become skillful at these requests is to deliver them often and check in to see how they are working. When you share your request, what feedback are you noticing from your partner?

Paying attention to how your partner responds when you are communicating directly will be essential to your future success. Are they understanding you? Do they have your undivided attention or distracted with other things?

What tone of voice works best? Maybe  your partner hears you better when you speak with them in a calmer voice or maybe it is when you use a more vibrant tone. These are clues to pay attention to and practice.

Dare to be direct (in communicating). You'll be thankful you did!

If you're still feeling stuck, consider consulting a couples therapist for some relational skill building on the topic of interpersonal communication.

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Conquering Conflict @ Your Boiling Point

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We all have limits, metaphorical boiling points if you will. You surely remember, those moments when in any relationship your friend or partner is continually toying with lighting a match and turning on the burner underneath you. Maybe it shows up as your friend will not back off from challenging your political ideas or your availability to attend their bachelor party the same weekend as an important event scheduled at work. Perhaps it shows up as your partner reminds you to put the dishes away, pick up your laundry from the floor or pay bills after you have had a trying day at the office.

Such moments are often described as frustrating or intense and can contribute to overall stress. Let's say your base layer of stress is already at a 7 out of 10, it doesn't take much for someone to turn up the heat another notch. What happens next?

In my experience clinically, the most common reactions I see are a combination of something in between these scenarios:

  • The feeling many people describe as "I just cannot take it anymore!" comes over and then you explode at your partner, yelling at them and perhaps saying things you do not mean that are hurtful. This fighting continues and creates tension which then becomes distance between you both.

  • The presence of negative self-talk "I can't do anything right" emerges as we draw away from the relationship and blame ourselves, internally sulking and de-sensationalizing. This type of conflict might appear as one or both people become reclusive or initiate the silent treatment.

So maybe you identify your own pattern of dealing with conflict, however similar or different from these examples. Now return to your boiling point, remember what that felt like. What's happening within you right now?

Neurologically, here's what is actually happening in your brain and why it might be hard to communicate clearly...

There are two areas in our brain that are centrally activated during our interactions of conflict - the limbic area or emotional brain, which includes the amygdala, and the prefrontal cortex (PFC). Within the limbic system, our amygdala appears petite, yet it can have a powerful impact as it is responsible for responding to fear and rage. The prefrontal cortex (PFC) orchestrates thoughtful decision-making abilities and is our source of reasoning and good judgement.

When we are in the midst of an argument with a partner or friend, perhaps fearful of what may come of the interaction or we become angered by the threat of feeling attacked, our amygdala reacts and takes charge. Simply put, our emotional brain takes over making it very difficult for us to communicate clearly to our partners and friends. This makes sense because thoughtfulness in this moment would require sufficient PFC functioning. Mona Fishbane, PhD., clinical psychologist and family therapist, describes this limbic area activation as "the low road" of reactivity and the PFC activation as "the high road" of thoughtfulness in her application of neuroscience to her psychotherapy work and in her book, Loving With The Brain in Mind, which is an excellent resource for couples.

So, in order for us to decrease reactivity and increase thoughtfulness during moments of conflict, the PFC must communicate with the amygdala to calm it down (the brain is wired for this process to occur). We can activate this process in our PFC by engaging in calming behaviors - think diaphragmatic/deep breathing, meditation, a short walk, time to recollect, reflection, releasing tears, calming thoughts.

When we engage in calming behaviors during intense moments where our emotional brain has taken over and our PFC has gone off-line, we can actually open the pathway of communication between our PFC and amygdala, bringing our PFC back online. While these processes take time to learn and integrate into our daily lives, they are effective with the right amount of coaching and support. Perhaps you may find psychotherapy to be a useful outlet.

The Power of Choice

Now, return to that boiling point one last time. Your blood is feeling as if it is boiling, you're annoyed and you can feel the heat. Maybe you're on the edge of conflict and it's uncomfortable for you or maybe you are cycling your way through it, but here is some good news. You have the opportunity to choose what you want to do in this moment and how you want to react. What route will you take?

Be Your Own Valentine.

Not feeling the love this Valentine's Day? That's okay. You're not alone.

February's frigid temperatures and scant sunshine have had a history of dampening spirits, requiring us to really dig deep if we want to stay motivated and connect to our loving intentions. Throw in the task of trying to figure out a special way to celebrate Valentine's Day and too often we are left with a pile of stress.  It's a shame that a day focused on love can create such chaos. As you shop for a great gift, plan the perfect evening, or indulge in your favorite chocolates, consider these reflections...

Open your heart and your mind.

If your date doesn't go according to plan, just know that some of the greatest love connections blossom in the moment, spontaneous or random moments that would not be nearly as meaningful if they had been planned. Trade in your blueprint of the perfect evening for possibility. The possibility of what happens in between perfection and paranoia. You might be surprised, perhaps even relieved.

Love isn't in the air, unless we surround ourselves with it.

It's highly unlikely that we will suddenly feel a ton of love unless we choose to create love in our lives. We might have to be extra mindful or bundle up a little tighter to make those opportunities happen in the winter season, but ultimately, love requires our energy and attention.  When we make conscious efforts to treat others in a loving way, we open our hearts to receiving love.

Celebrate efforts and love often.

If you ask people in happy relationships they will likely tell you that love does not just happen on one day of the year- it happens every day if we want it to last. Love requires us to be thoughtful, respectful and kind to our partners all the time as well as having patience and a sense of self-awareness, which cannot be cultivated overnight. Expressing gratitude for the time and energy we've invested into our relationships reminds us of what it truly means to love and embrace love.

Self love = the greatest gift of all.

Cupid may want everyone to feel the romance on February 14th, but if that's not where you're at, that's totally okay. Take this opportunity to treat yourself with extra love and do things that promote love in your life. Maybe it's a bubble bath or a sauna session, seeing a movie, rock climbing, or reading a good book and a homemade meal is just what you need.

However you decide to spend Valentine's Day, choose something that feels completely right to you. Treat yourself if you want, and relax if you don't. Everyday you have the chance to be your own valentine, so what will it include this year?