I stub my toe I give a little yelp, or a big yelp depending on the stub. It’s my natural reaction and there’s not much space to reasoning about that. Or is there? In a lecture hall where a hundred attendees are listening to a speaker and I stub my toe, I’m probably not going to yelp! Somehow, the situation interrupts my natural reaction and I can choose a more appropriate response.
Many relationship interactions are the same. We react to discomfort and fail to censor our reactions. My husband tells me he doesn’t like my haircut and I snap at him followed up by the cold shoulder all because I can’t handle the discomfort his “criticism” caused me.
The problem with reactions is they rarely make a situation better and in most cases, really mess it up. It represents the paradox of emotions in that what we want, we make less likely because of how our emotions drive our behavior. It can be really worthwhile to spend some time in discomfort learning about yourself and responding in more effective ways.
Take my example: my husband says he doesn’t like my haircut. I feel upset, uncomfortable, but I catch myself and rather than reacting, I explore why I’m having such a strong feeling.
So, my thoughts might run like this: Who does he think he is? I like this haircut! His haircut really sucks. (You might agree, this isn’t helpful) You might employ the Five Whys here. Why am I feeling so upset? Because his comment feels like criticism. Why do I have a problem with his criticism? Because I want him to think I look nice. Why do I want him to think I look nice? Because I want him to love and accept me. Why do I want him to love and accept me? Because if he doesn’t, he might not want to stay together. That’s only four whys, but I’m starting to get a much clearer idea of why his comment bothers me. My insecurity is triggered a bit and that fear fuels my anger. Of course the rational part of my brain understands this is ridiculous. Armed with that understanding I can now respond very differently. This process requires spending a time in discomfort (that’s how growth occurs). How much discomfort is there when you snap and withdraw? I’m betting MORE than my way!
So Practice Time! Think about the last time you had a strong reaction to something. Can you allow yourself to sit with that memory and analyze where it came from? Spend some time with the Five Whys to lead you to a deeper sense of where your fear or pain lies. This is excellent material to share with your partner if you can.
Let me know how it goes! I’d love to hear from you. Comment or email me privately at Allison@allisonvelez.com
Q-I think of myself as an optimist, but my wife seems to be a pessimist. I love my wife, but it feels like she is always complaining about something, and it’s starting to bother me. In a way, I think she is trying to express her feelings. I want to support her, but I’m not sure how.
A-You’re right, she’s trying to express herself. John Gottman says a complaint is an unmet desire expressed.
That being said, complaining is a habitual behavior most of the time. Try having a compassionate, supportive conversation with her about how it bothers you. It probably bothers you because you want to help correct whatever’s going on. Don’t start off telling her how wrong she is to communicate in that way. Try to make her feel understood and she won’t be defensive.
She may also have realized this is a problem and be open to changing this about herself. If she isn’t, don’t waste your time coercing her. Don’t respond to the complaining behavior, but fully engage when she’s being positive.
I, too, sometimes complain, and my husband just abruptly changes the subject! I’ll be going on about something and he’ll say, “Man, look how pretty the sky is today!” It’s kind of a joke between us now and we’ll just both laugh.
I assume from your question that she is not complaining about YOU specifically. If she is, there’s an opportunity for you to decide if there’s something you need to work on. If not, approach this as a team in trying to reduce a bad habit.
f she is depressed, seek professional help.
Best of luck, hope this helps!
As a 20+ year veteran of marriage and family counseling, I have often been dumbfounded at how a previously loving couple will be cruel to each other. Often they will intentionally insult, disrespect, and otherwise belittle each other. Although we can assume that most relationships begin with a level of love, hope and commitment that convinces the couple that they want to be together for the forseeable
future, several years later they cannot carry on a civil conversation.
Often by the time a couple seeks counseling the relationship is doomed to fail. For this reason counseling couples is often frustrating and tedious work. I have often said I wish I could be with my patients all day to coach them through their interactions. Many of the things I coach people on are repetitive and need to be applied on a daily basis rather than one hour a week in my office.
Winning Your Relationship Game means you reach a level of happiness they’ve only dreamed of or haven’t felt in a long time. Let me begin by telling you what no one can help you do. No one can tell you how to convince your partner that they are wrong and you are right. No one will excuse your behavior because of what your partner is or isn’t doing. If you’re looking for a way to change others, good luck! Chances are very good that there are some things that you can change that will make a positive difference in your relationship anyway.
Relationships rest on 3 foundational pillars of Compassion, Communication and Commitment. You must have all 3 for your relationship to remain stable. A shaky relationship will have weaknesses in one or more areas. Development in all 3 areas will grow the closeness and happiness of the relationship. Your relationship will be a winning one.
My philosophy is also one of acknowledging the role of attachment. Insecure attachment fears seem to be at the bottom of every conflict within a relationship. If we can own that our responsibility is to make our partners feel securely attached, our relationships will be amazing!
Things that impact relationships are issues of addictions, mental illness, domestic violence, or infidelity. These introduce irrationality into any situation. It’s difficult to work with someone who does not think in a rational manner. Please get professional help if you need intervention which focuses specifically on those areas. If you’re in an unsafe situation, I urge you to get outside help immediately.
There are 3 areas of our reality that has to be examined. Those are areas of thoughts, feelings and behaviors. While thoughts and feelings are important, behaviors are what wins or loses in relationships. Sometimes, changing behaviors is dependent on addressing the thoughts and feelings behind them. Don’t be afraid, I think you’ll find this simple, but maybe not easy.
All things in life occur in cycles. Relationships are no different. Closeness occurs and distance occurs. There’s the falling in love part and then there’s the settling in part. Each change in stage represents a new set of rules for your relationship. Our actions during and reactions to these times create a stronger or weaker relationship. Sometimes we read difficult times as the end of a relationship, but it may just be a natural stage of moving closer.
I also see a relationship as a system. This system cannot change in one area and be unchanged in another. Therefore any change you make will impact the relationship. So, CAN you change your relationship? Yes. And you should if you’re not happy with it now.
Love and Be Lovely!
Are you afraid of narrowing down your preferences when it comes to finding a partner? Are you looking for a blonde haired, blue eyed, independently wealthy supermodel? You might have your preferences too dialed in!
If you feel you're being reasonable, then heck no! Narrowing it down can absolutely help you find the one!
I just had this discussion with one of my lovelies last week! The clearer you get on what you want and are willing to accept, the easier your decision making process is.
Don't want a drinker, easy to spot. Want someone who wants children, easy enough to discern. Don't second guess yourself! If you know being physically active is a huge priority to you, don't date someone who has no interest in the gym or other activities! Otherwise, you're just trying to conform to someone else's lifestyle or belief system.
Here's your analogy: The pond is full of frogs. The more you can eliminate from the lineup, the fewer you're going to have to kiss! It's easy to catch a frog in a pond full of frogs, but the high quality frogs are hidden in the crowd.
Don't feel bad for those other frogs! They are probably the perfect fit for another Prince or Princess Charming, just not for you!
Hope that helps!
If you want to succeed at your relationship, you're going to need to be consistent and persistent at investing into it. Get some inspiration here.
(If you'd prefer to watch the video, it's at the bottom of this post.)
Esther Perel, in her book, talks to us about affairs. This is a quote:
“So for modern love’s idealists, the very act of explicitly addressing monogamy seems to call into question the assumption of specialness that is at the heart of the romantic dream. Once we have found the one, we believe there should be no need for, no desire for and no attraction to any other.”
Me: So what do you think about that?
He: I agree.
Me: So you buy into the idealist notion that if you have found the right one, that you are never going to have any attraction to another person?
He: You shouldn’t go looking for anybody else.
Me: But that’s different, right.
Me: You know, making a choice to go looking for someone else is a different thing.
Me: But, do you feel like you’d never have any attraction for another person?
He: I hadn’t thought about it.
Me: So, in all the almost 23 years we have been married, you have never had any attraction towards anybody else, never thought, wow, she’s beautiful or anything like that?
He: She may be pretty but I don’t think that I would be trying to pursue.
Me: Right. Thank you……(laughing). But, did you think that the fact that you found someone else attractive was evidence that I wasn’t the one for you.
Me: Okay, so you think it’s a normal thing for people to see other people and think that they are attractive and things like that and it’s not evidence that your relationship isn’t right or anything like that.
Me: I think the point that she makes throughout the book is our modern notion of love is that one person is sufficient to meet all of our needs and historically that has not been the way that marriage was.
Me: We had extended communities and different people who filled different needs for us. The way that modern society has evolved, we now put all that burden on our romantic partner usually. It’s kind of a big burden to bear.
He: We’ve got it all now. …everything.
Me: You’re responsible for everything. So she challenges the way we think about love currently. We think if our thoughts or feelings stray it’s significant. The belief that one person is enough to satisfy us and all of our needs is a very recent evolution in our relationship stances. What do you think about that?
He: I think if you want the relationship to work, honestly want it to work, then you need to make it work that way. Both sides need to adjust so that they understand it needs to work for both of us.
Me: Right. And that also can look like a lot of different things because you are assuming then that we have an agreement. I don’t know that we’ve ever spoken our agreement, but I think that our expectation of each other is that we are monogamous….
Me:….and that we are not going to pursue any attraction that we might feel towards someone else.
Me: But, you know there are a variety of relationships. There are open relationships and polyamorous relationships where more than two people are involved. And people who have those sorts of agreements can have a fully functioning relationship as well but those are probably more explicit agreements than just a garden variety.
Me: But I don’t think I could ever be secure enough to be in a polyamorous relationship or an open relationship. What do you think? (laughing)
He: I don’t think I am either.
Me: I would always feel too threatened or fearful. Maybe that’s my own hang-up but…..
He: You don’t have to worry about that.
Me: Okay. (laughing) Now we have an explicit agreement.
Me: Well there you go. That was the first segment of our conversation about the book, The State of Affairs by Esther Perel.
You could probably tell that we enjoyed ourselves quite a bit and got a kick out doing this kind of conversation with each other.
I did want to bring up a couple of points about what we talked about in the video. The first thing is when I first read the passage from the book about how our idealist notion of what romantic relationships are now and how that has really evolved over time. We go into that a little bit more and it becomes a little more clear. It is hard to think of everything in the moment when you are having an organic conversation the way that we did.
But, there are lots of different kinds of relationships in this world and all of them have validity if they work for the people that are in the relationships. We talked about having strictly a monogamous relationship and that’s what works for us. I said I’m way to insecure to be involved in a relationship where there is what I might perceive as competition. Now that doesn’t mean that there is not always risk of competition, but it is just an agreement, and now explicit, that we are in a monogamous relationship. We both have that expectation of each other. It doesn’t mean that I’m never going to see someone that I think is attractive and it doesn’t mean that if that happens that it means my relationship is worthless.
The biggest point is you can want or need things that your partner can’t necessarily provide to you and that is not an indictment of them as a poor partner. It is not a judgement about the validity of your relationship because that is a lot of burden to place on another person, that they would be responsible to meet every one of your needs. I think that we all are our own independent beings while being in a relationship with someone else. I don’t want to negate any other relationship structure because I’ve known people who have had other types of relationships that have worked for them. I have also had people in other types of relationships where their relationship failed. I’ve also had people who have been in very traditional, monogamous relationships that have failed. I don’t know even if there is any statistic out there about what type of relationships are most successful.
I think the most successful relationships are one where both partners feel secure and that they have a level of trust that their expectations for each other are going to be met. But for my husband and I, we have been married for a long time. We’ve never explicitly stated what we expected from our partner in terms of monogamy. Maybe we’ve done that with some other things, but most agreements (for everybody in most relationship agreements) contracts are made. They are implied. They are not explicit. If you have something that you believe, “That’s the way it should be in a relationship”, it might be especially worthwhile to talk to your partner.
I’m interested to know if you’ve been in a relationship where your expectation might have been different from your partner’s around monogamy? Have you ever been in a non-traditional relationship that you felt was healthy? Has there ever been a relationship where you explicitly discussed with your partner what some of your expectations were? Have you ever talked about that in your current relationship?
Just curious to see where everyone is on that because it was something that we had never discussed prior to this day that we did this discussion. So let me know your thoughts and I hope that you enjoyed the conversation
Have a great day!
This seems to be especially true with many women who have suffered emotional wounds in childhood or in other relationships. They carry with them the belief they must perform, interact, or behave in a way that pleases their partner in a relationship. Certainly, this happens for men as well.
When we sacrifice our own needs in order to gain approval or acceptance, we cannot become our true self. Sometimes, this can be effective for a while, but eventually leads to burnout in the relationship.
If you do not love and care for yourself, no one on earth will ever be able to love you enough to fill that void. Eventually that inner being yearning to get their needs met, will let itself be heard. Its voice is often manifested in destructive behaviors. These can be directed towards the relationship or the self.
Reflect upon how you treat and speak to yourself. Great spiritual guidance states, “Love thy neighbor as yourself.” Would your neighbors be happy if you treated them like you treat yourself?
Start to recognize the words you speak to yourself. Are they words you’d speak to a friend? What was the last special thing you did for yourself? Make a commitment now to treat yourself well once per day. Your relationship will benefit; you will benefit.
This special thing can be simple, cheap and easy. One thing I do between every session, is rub a nice, organic lotion on my hands. It’s a ritual that reminds me to care for myself and prepares me for the work I do with couples every day.
I love this great quote by Siddhartha Gautama, “You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” A version is even on the back of my business card:
This site is a collection of articles designed to help you and your partner build a more fulfilling relationship. If you like what you read here and would like to go deeper, there's more resources here. Please email me if you have questions. I'll send you my 5 favorite relationship tips, just sign up here. Go over to the forum and start a conversation.
Being on a team has lots of meanings. These are the ones I think of:
Being on a team means you have common goals. Engage in a discussion with your partner about future goals. There's almost nothing that connects us more than working together.
Being on a team means you listen to your team mates ideas and suggestions. You can't always call the shots for everyone else.
Being on a team means you support your team mates. You respect them. You don't trash talk them. Even if you disagree, you don't put it on display.
Hope this little video makes you chuckle.
What does being on a team mean to you? Leave a comment below.
If you'd like to work closer with me, check out my packages here.
Have questions? Email me, I'd love to hear from you.
For my best relationship tips, sign up here.
The Coach's Corner is a great place to talk to me and others. It's the private members area where you can have direct access to me.
Wishing you closeness,
What’s the one trick to handling everything better? This answer may surprise you. If you’re committed to change, you have to maintain your own personal resources.
Your personal resources are what you possess within you which allows you to manage life. To make behavior changes, you have to draw on these resources.
If you can visualize a container you carry with you containing your personal resources. They’re always there and available to draw on. Because you draw on them, they have to be replenished regularly.
Remember, your life performance depends on these resources.
At times when they’re low, you won’t handle things as well as you might when they’re adequate. Your best chance to perform well is keeping your personal resources at maximum capacity.
To manage them well, you have to be aware of where your capacity level is, know how to replenish them and know what drains them.
To illustrate: Mom leaves work, picks up the kids, and has to get home and get dinner on the table.
Scenario #1-Mom had a crappy day. There was an accident on the way home. When she walks in, she realizes she’s forgotten to take something out to cook for dinner. She’s tired, upset, running late and trying to decide between takeout pizza and grilled cheese sandwiches.
One of the children comes into the kitchen and says, “Mom, come see what I made at school!” Mom responds in a frustrated tone, “Not now, I’m busy. Go get started on your homework.”
Scenario #2-Mom had a great day at work. She got off early and picks up the kids. Walking in the door at home, she smells the lovely scent of pot roast. She remembers putting it in the crock pot this morning. Now all she has to do is heat a veggie and dinner will be served.
One of the children comes into the kitchen and says, “Mom, come see what I made at school!” Mom responds with a smile, “Sure! Do you need some help with your homework too?”
The difference in those two scenarios is the level of mom’s personal resources. In scenario #1, she is depleted. She’s scraping the bottom of her resource container. In scenario #2, her container is overflowing.
When your container is overflowing, you can pour yourself out generously on those around you.
Your first challenge is greater self-awareness. Take a moment to look back over your week. Identify a time when you reacted poorly in a situation. Were your personal resources low? Do you know what drained them?
Now you know, you can’t unknow it. So being aware of your level of personal resources, you have to take charge of them. How can you keep them as high as possible?
You must learn to keep balance between doing things for yourself and doing things for others. If you have a program of excellent self-care, you’ll keep your resources high.
When I talk about self care, I always get this question: “Isn’t that selfish?” Taking good care of your personal resources is the most unselfish thing you can do. When you are full, you can’t help but spill over on everyone else. You’ve encountered these people. Someone with good levels of personal resources is happy and joyful, open and giving. Someone whose resources are depleted is resentful and bitter, doing things grudgingly.
So what fills you up? Keeping your personal resources at a high level requires awareness, replenishment and eliminating the drains to your resources. You need your personal resources to fuel making behavior changes and sticking to a plan. It’s hard to resist impulsive or habitual behavior when resources are low.
In my work with addictions, there’s an acronym to stress times of high risk for relapse potential. It’s helpful to keep people on track with behavior change too. The acronym is HALT-Hungry, Angry, Lonely and Tired. I like to add Rushing, Distracted or in Pain. Any of these deplete your personal resources.
In addition, any unresolved issues can be a hole in your bucket. Childhood trauma or other huge stressors will continuously drain your container. Once you know what’s draining it, you have to take steps to eliminate the drains as quickly as possible.
To be effective in maintaining behavior changes and dealing effectively with others, you must be responsible to maintain your own personal resources.
Now let’s twist this up a bit: Your partner has a container holding their personal resources. Their container has to be replenished regularly. Their life performance depends on these resources. At times when they’re low, your partner won’t handle things as well as they might otherwise.
Go back to the mom story. The child in the story behaved the same in both scenarios. The child was in no way responsible for mom’s response. The only difference was the level of mom’s personal resources. Mom’s response had absolutely nothing to do with the child.
Look back over your week. Was there a time your partner acted poorly? If you were involved, did you take it personally? Is it possible their personal resources were low? What was draining them? What fills your partner up? What drains your partner’s container? What holes does your partner have in their container? If you began to have empathy for your partner how much difference would it make in your feeling hurt?
Being attentive to your own personal resources will help support your good in the world. Being aware of low resource times can help you and your partner avoid taking reactions personally. Recognizing times of high risk for impulsivity can further reduce misunderstandings.
Practice Time: There’s a worksheet for this post here. Take the time to learn and understand more about yourself and your partner. It’ll be worth extra points if you do!
Contact me if you have any questions! I’d love to hear from you.
All relationships go through a predictable cycle of tension and relief. The stages are recognizable to most of us if we’ve stuck around long enough to go though one round of the cycle.
There’s many different versions of this, but a simple and understandable graph is pictured below.
Most of us have been in the Attraction state. This is the start of a relationship, the “getting to know you” part. This feels fresh and exciting as you grow closer and closer to each other. This is usually a lot of fun! We want to fit and we sometimes ignore signs that we don’t. If this phase goes well, we move on to the Love part of the cycle.
Love is where this emotional connection grows. Usually, this is fun and exciting as well. We continue to learn about each other and if this part goes well, we may move on to the commitment part of the cycle.
Commitment is where we make an agreement to be with and for each other. We may get married or have children together. We think we’re going to be blissfully happy forever. Sadly, there is a next phase.
Conflict is bound to occur in all relationships. Because a committed relationship is the fertile ground for our own self growth, we are going to be uncomfortable. All couples are bound to have conflict because no two people agree on everything. When we don’t agree, we have to negotiate.
Success at negotiation isn’t guaranteed, but it is necessary. This is the part that feels really bad. We can become very upset that our partner isn’t doing what we want them to do or thinking about things the same way we do. When negotiation fails, it’s often the demise of the relationship. This is often when a relationship hits crisis mode as well. This is when many people give up on the relationship.
When negotiation and communication continues, a couple comes to a place of Acceptance of each other and the differences between themselves. After moving through acceptance, you move back into the loving part of the cycle. Your love and commitment deepens and things are smooth again.
Don’t think you’re done yet though!
Of course, you move on around again. Each cycle bringing fresh new conflict and things to negotiate about. Each cycle bringing new opportunities to deepen and strengthen that relationship.
To make it through this cycle, a couple has to remain committed to coming back to their seats at the negotiation table. They must make the choice to continue to move forward in a shared mission to reach that Love part again and again.
In considering this cycle, I recognize that my husband and I have moved through this hundreds of times. At times, I’ve wanted to take the “out” instead of continuing to hang in there. (He probably feels the same way.) So far, it has always been worth it to get to the other side. As you complete this process, you start to gain confidence that you can move through conflict and reach Love again. Your urge to bail may become less when you experience this. Our cycles have gotten less and less pronounced over the past 10 years or so. I believe this is because we both have reached a level of security with each other. It’s in those times of conflict our secure bond with each other gets rattled and much of our reactions are simply fear of loss. That’s not a huge concern for us…..at the moment! Always subject to change!
So, what about you? Do you recognize how you and your partner have moved through this cycle? How did you get back around to the love part? Are you stuck in the cycle right now? Let me know what you think Allison@allisonvelez.com
Coming around to love,