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Thoughts From Relationship Land 2

Thoughts From Relationship Land 2

by Joel Christie 

One of the first things I emphasize when working with a couple is that relationships inherently require work. The couple generally nods and indicates that they are well aware of this. So I emphasize it again: No really, relationships require hard work. Not just this one. All of them. There aren't any lasting relationships out there that just sail along without serious interpersonal problems at least sometimes. So the fact that you two are frustrated and genuinely upset with each other does not mean you're doomed. True, you guys could potentially split up, but if that's what you decide to do, you'll eventually find serious areas of frustration with your new partner. At least you two know where many of your areas of frustration are. So now, if you want to, you can start working on these areas together.

Naturally, if the couple decides to stay together, they want practical steps that will lead to positive results, so here is one practice that I think can be useful to almost every couple: Learn to communicate that you really hear what the other person is saying, and that you care about their feelings, opinions, and circumstances.

Imagine Susan says, "I feel like I don't have enough time to get everything done, and when I get home from work I'm so, so tired." Then imagine Brian responds by saying, "So basically I'm just going to have to do everything by myself: cooking dinner, getting the house clean, and never having any help from you ever again. So then we'll both die sad and alone from sheer exhaustion. Great." Then maybe Susan says, "Why do you have to be so sarcastic all the time? You are so selfish."

Her initial statement was: "I feel like I don't have enough time to get everything done, and when I get home from work I'm so, so tired." If you were guessing what Susan was hoping for when she said this, what would you say? That she was trying to provoke a fight? That she doesn't care about Brian and just wants him to have to take care of everything for her? Hopefully not, although unfortunately couples can come to believe these types of things about each other when they repeatedly fail to connect and do not find ways to demonstrate to each other that they really understand where the other person is coming from. I would guess that what Susan was hoping for was understanding. She was probably hoping Brian would say something like, "Yeah, you really have been busy. I totally get why you're tired." The entire conversation might have looked different after that. Instead, Brian struggles to get past his own frustration.

This isn't to say that we should discard Brian's frustrations here. Rather, this is about what's most important for the relationship: connection. Brian and Susan can certainly choose to remain in there separate places of frustration, unwilling to acknowledge the other person's place of hurt. But if they do, they will have to deal with their problems alone, without feeling cared for or aided by their partner, which will almost certainly lead to resentment and erosion of trust. Honestly, this isn't about Brian being a bad guy; it's about what will allow this couple to handle this stressful situation together. Very likely, both Susan and Brian have valid complaints, and indeed, if both Brian and Susan are able to express this to the other person—"Hey, I hear you. You're feeling really overwhelmed with all those extra hours at work," or, "You've been taking on tons of extra stuff around the house lately, and that's really starting to wear you out."— they'll stand a much better chance of figuring out a solution. But again, to be clear, finding solutions is really a distant secondary benefit, because there is no guarantee that just by listening to each other Susan will stop having to work so many hours, or that Brian will no longer feel overwhelmed by housework and other responsibilities. In fact, most problems couples face remain unresolved. And strangely enough, this fact remains true even with happy couples.

Okay, so what about the problem though? Does this mean my issue just get ignored? Temporarily, it might mean that. After all, if both people are trying to shove their own problem to the front of the line as the most important one, it's very unlikely that the couple will end up feeling connected, or that either issue will be satisfactorily discussed anyway. On the other hand, if over time, the couple develops the ability to safely share their issues, believing that it will be received with compassion and understanding, the likelihood that both people's problems and concerns receive the attention they need increases. Patience and trust are cultivated. The connection between the couple grows stronger. And their ability to handle difficult and stressful situations improves as well, not because they can suddenly solve every problem they encounter, but because they both have confidence that they have found someone with whom they can explore these difficult issues with, someone who cares enough to let them finish, and who makes it clear they understand and care.

How does this process start? By one or both people deciding that they will start it. By me repeatedly communicating to the other person that I care about their pain, disappointment, and frustration rather than simply responding with my own list of hardships. And by me believing that forming these connections with my partner is more important than solving a problem anyway, even if we happen to solve plenty of problems along the way.

Author's note: But what if the other person doesn't do it back?! It's a fair question. I'll take a crack at that issue in the next installment of Thoughts from Relationship Land

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The Games We Play

The Games We Play

by Tyson Kuch Ph.D.

You see and hear about it almost everywhere you go – the games people play with one another. Most of us just want to be liked, but whether it's between two people meeting in a club or two partners in an established relationship, a lot of us become entangled in a strange game geared mainly toward winning and maintaining the attention and affection of someone we like. So, while friends gripe about it and online profiles express disdain against people who "play games," why do most of us continue with the charade? Do we believe that playing hard to get will make us more desirable and seem less desperate? Why, when most people see someone attractive in a bar/club would they rather stare them down than walk up and start a conversation? Do we believe that pathetic pick-up lines work better than speaking from the heart?

And yet, it seems as though we have both a desire for – but fear of – being noticed. So, when it's attention and affection we so desperately want, why do we hide ourselves behind the games we play? Perhaps we're just afraid of being authentic – as if we have something to be embarrassed about or ashamed of. It is a curious irony that as badly as we want to be liked, we feel compelled to play the role of someone other than who we are. We play games with ourselves and we play games with each other. When we compare ourselves to others and hold ourselves to standards that we constantly rewrite in our own heads...we will do the same things with others.

That said, I believe there are two factors which interact to fuel many people's behavior (1) Greed and (2) Fear. We become greedy for things we want, but feel we cannot have. We fear uncertainty, and go to great lengths to both avoid it and convince ourselves that we understand our lives and the people in them, rather than accept the fact that ambiguity is a natural element of life and we may not always have as much control as we would like. Faced with confusion and uncertainty, our pulse quickens and uneasiness sets in. We make up stories and excuses to write off the things we can't explain rather than deal with the fact that life doesn't always make sense. We complain about not understanding why people act the way they do instead of just accepting it as fact. We blame ourselves when our partners don't act the way we think they should and sometimes we try to change the people we love rather than just accept them for who they are – blemishes and all. We lust after pleasures we feel will make us complete and give us lasting fulfillment. We believe that guy/girl we've seen at the club will give us the happiness that's been missing for so long. We believe that a higher paying job would help us to feel more fulfilled and successful. We fear alienation and go to great lengths to avoid abandonment – real or imagined. And we believe that being single suggests some flaw in our own character.

The problem for most of us is that once we get what we think we need, we begin longing for something else, once we realize that our void has not truly been filled... that we are not truly satisfied. We lose interest in what we've accumulated and for some people, we lose interest in the relationships we've cultivated. And so the game continues. We wake up in the morning with a new list of desires and a new list of things we feel compelled to accomplish...and yet no matter how hard we work, we are often left feeling deeply unsatisfied.

The way out is simple – stop fighting the current. Relinquish the idea that you have total control over your life and that it will unfold the way you imagine. Things are never as good or bad as you might imagine. People will always surprise or disappoint you. The world is entirely too consumed in itself to really care about how you're dressed. You are your own lifetime companion so don't abandon your own company through fruitless pursuits like drinking, drugging, or mind-numbing television watching. Get over your own insecurities and push your boundaries by talking to that someone you've been watching. Risk rejection rather than pretend to be someone you're not. Get over the fact that you don't have control over everything that happens to you, but know that you do have control over how you react to it.

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Conscious Coupledom: Things that happy couples do, that you may not be...

Conscious Coupledom: Things that happy couples do, that you may not be...

By Alexis Honeycutt

Here are five of my favorites:

1. Bungee Jump
OK, so maybe not bungee jumping specifically. Any activity that is new or exhilarating would qualify for this category. Studies have shown that couples who participate in novel and arousing activities with one another, are happier. There are a number of factors that contribute to this, but the most prominent is that novel activities aren't boring, and boredom is the mortal enemy of romance and a relationship killer.

It's easy to fall into familiar patterns of dating. I had some friends who lived their entire life within a three mile radius of their house, and who dated like planets in orbit around the same seafood restaurant. While they probably saved a fortune in gas, they probably didn't do their romantic life any favors.

2. Fight constructively
Conflict, miscommunication, and even arguments can (and do) happen within healthy relationships. However, without a clear set of rules, arguments can lead absolutely nowhere or worse, they can do long term damage to the relationship. Here are two ways to avoid the most common argument fouls.

A. Ask for clarification
During an argument it's easy to assume what the other person is thinking, and then to react to what you think they actually meant (we call this mindreading). In the heat of an argument it is very easy to assign, often mistakenly, malicious intent to something a partner is saying. Instead, practice listening to your partner and paraphrasing what he or she actually said instead of what you think they meant. Again, if you aren't sure, ask for clarification.

B. Specify the offense
Your partner forgot to take out the garbage (again). You yell "The garbage from Tuesday is still in the kitchen because you never take it out. You don't care! You're so selfish!"

Instead, pinpoint a specific behavior (taking out the garbage), and the way it made you feel using an "I" statement. Say "When you forgot to take the garbage out on Tuesday, I felt uncared for." Now instead of insults, the partner is presented with the way in which their actions caused distress, along with the specific action that caused the distress. It is much easier to work with a concrete concept such as "remember to take out the garbage" than it is to change an abstract notion like "so selfish" or "don't care".
By using these two rules couples can drastically improve the outcome of what could otherwise turn out to be a nasty (unproductive) fight.

3. Share their dreams with one another
Couples who share their wishes, hopes, and dreams, extend a symbolic invitation to their partner to support them in their endeavors. Couples who know each other's life dreams, who support one another in their realization, and who have mutual life dreams, stay together more often than those who do not.

Try this exercise developed by family therapist Virginia Satir: Sit across from one another, knee to knee. Hold hands and take turns sharing 1 statement on each of these topics:

A) Appreciations –

Name something you appreciate about your partner. Do you love the way his eyes sparkle when he is telling a joke? Is she a good Mother? Say so!

B) New news –

What's new in your life? This can be as simple as "I bought a new dress for the company party".

C) Puzzles –

What are you wondering about that is connected to someone significant in your life?

D) Complaints with request for change –

This could get tricky. Limit the complaint to one specific behavior and be sure to ask for change at the end. For example "You left the door unlocked when you left for work the other day, would you mind making sure it's locked when you leave from now on?"

E) Wishes, hopes, and dreams –

Here you have the opportunity to inform and enlist your partner in the fulfillment of your dreams, whether it be a vacation you'd like to take, a meal you would like to have next week, or the fact that you'd like to have another baby. This exercise is intended to create a safe space for the sharing of such ideas.

4. Develop a sense of autonomy
Couples also need time (without the other) to pursue their goals, and to maintain a sense of personal identity. After all, it's difficult to cultivate a sense of desire for someone who is attached to you all the time. So, if you are an aspiring chef who has been meaning to sign up for that cooking class, go for it. Partner not into it? Do it anyway. By doing so, you honor your unique self, give yourself space to develop your talents, and allow your partner room to do the same.

5. Have realistic expectations
Recent research suggests that when it comes to happiness, the key is not necessarily whether things are going well, but rather that things are going better than expected; and the lower the expectation, the higher the likelihood that the outcome will exceed the expectation.

So, communicate to your partner that you expect a card and flowers on Valentine's Day, but don't be heart broken when they fail to deliver a personalized, sky- written love poem, complete with fireworks. After all, they need to feel like they can be human, and still be accepted by you.

Bungee jumping anyone?

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