We are biologically designed to seek belonging, both to communities and to other people. The stronger and more secure that sense of belonging, the more confident we are taking other risks in life.
From our early years, we learn to behave so we’re accepted by our peers and families. Anyone who’s experienced the pain of being bullied or ostracized from their peers knows that it can shake your confidence.
One benefit of being in a committed relationship is the feeling of a solid foundation with our partner. From this foundation, we can face greater risks of “not belonging” out in the world.
Our level of self-doubt is based on this feeling of belonging. As children, the more our families created that attachment, the more confidence we tapped into. Research shows our level of self confidence increases as our sense of belonging with our partner increases. This promotes greater personal and family functioning as the basic anxiety of belonging moves out of the forefront.
Attachment security sets us up to take risks in other areas of our lives. We see things more rationally, aren’t as needy of approval. For example: That old saying, “behind every successful man is a good woman” illustrates this for us. Feeling that belonging at home allows work life to be more effective. When we KNOW we belong, it’s easier to risk rejection from other arenas.
Exploring our self-doubt both individually and with our partner helps us learn. We begin to recognize how self-doubt causes us to behave in less than productive ways. Our partner begins to understand how to nurture our sense of belonging. And, if you’re lucky, vice versa.
Is there an area of self-doubt that you struggle with? Can you make the link to your sense of belonging? Take time to work this out by asking a series of 5 Why questions. (Search this site if you don’t know what that is.)
Share any insight below in the comments.
Together with you,
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There’s a saying that if you don’t care where you’re going any road will take you there.
You want to be deliberate about the road you’re travelling. In order to make lasting change, you have to set a goal. Setting a goal will help you Win Your Relationship Game, but there’s some planning to do first.
Winning Your Relationship Game has a lot to do with habits and behavior change. Many of the lessons are based in research that’s proven to support positive relationships and behavior change. You aren’t going to rely on will power. Anyone who’s had to try to diet knows that will power is very unreliable. You’re going to set goals that allow you to capitalize on motivation.
Your initial goal, I like to call a personal motivation statement. This is where you’d ultimately like to end up. Take just a minute and focus on what change you’d like to see in your relationship. What is it you’re hoping to improve?
Now, go back and look at it again. Does it focus on changing something about your partner? You can’t change anyone’s behavior except your own, so if you thought about something your partner needs to change, think again!!
This is the beginning of your personal motivation statement.
Right now it can be fairly broad. As you go on, it will change, you’ll gain insight and tweak it to fit. Remember, this is the foundation for moving forward so it’s worth some thought.
Having a Personal Motivation Statement is good, but to really ramp up your motivation, you have to know why that Personal Motivation Statement is important. You might be able to tell that I like to play games whenever I can. It makes life more fun.
To clarify a Personal Motivation Statement I like to use a game called “The Five Whys”. The five whys are actually business concepts used to do what’s called root cause analysis. It’s also a really useful tool to help you dig deeper into your thoughts and feelings.
Refer back to your personal motivation statement. You’re going to ask yourself WHY it’s important to you. You’ll get your answer and then you’ll ask again WHY that is important to you. Then you’ll have another answer and you’ll ask WHY that is important? You’ll continue to do this for five cycles. Don’t rush through this. If you are persistent, it will lead to a very clear idea of the value of your personal motivation statement
To give an example:
My Personal Motivation Statement might be: I want to feel closer to my partner.
1. Why is it important to feel closer to my partner? Because closeness feels good.
2. Why is it important to have the good feeling of being close? Because I feel more secure when I’m feeling close.
3. Why is it important to feel more secure? Because feeling more secure reduces my anxiety about belonging in my relationship.
4. Why is it important to have reduced anxiety about belonging? Because then I can be relaxed and really be myself.
5. Why is it important to feel more relaxed and be myself? Because then I feel have a stable foundation for all the other areas of my life.
Just walking through this exercise reveals something deeper about of what is important to me. I know exactly why it’s important for me to be closer to my partner. It’s going to put me on the road of changing the right behaviors creating more closeness with my partner.
That’s the basics of setting a Personal Motivation Statement about your relationship. Having a Personal Motivation Statement to focus on is a habit you can start today. It can be revised as needed, but every day, you want that statement front and center in your awareness. I want you to find such value in focusing on that statement so that by this by the time this program is over, you’ll continue to use it to motivate you to your goals.
Practice time: Take all the time you need to work through this. It should take you a while and it might be frustrating. Don’t rush it.
If you have an answer that just doesn’t seem right, sit with it. Trust yourself. We all have a deep inner knowing, so when it’s your truth, you’ll know.
If you get stuck, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org . I would love to hear from you!
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Experts say that 90% of communication is non verbal. For instance, I had a nervous habit of giggling when I was anxious. Someone confronted me about being flippant about a serious topic and I went to work changing that habit.
Some aspects of what we call body language are outlined below. This is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how we communicate though.
1. Eye Contact-Maintaining good eye contact is a great method of becoming engaged with the speaker. It demonstrates focus and attentiveness to what is being spoken. There are some cultural implications with direct eye contact (and you should always have awareness of these), but for most people looking into the eyes of another person most of the time is essential to making them feel heard.
2. Smiling-In most cultures, a smile is a gesture of welcome and approval. Smiling encourages the speaker to continue speaking (good goal!). Conversely, frowning implies disapproval and should be avoided unless you are using this to accentuate a point. For instance, you might be puzzled by conflicting information. Displaying a frown while asking about this incongruence can accentuate the question about clarification.
3. Gestures-A lot of people “speak with their hands”. While this can be habitual, like saying umm, it is worthwhile to examine if you should tone down this particular habit. It can be extremely distracting to the speaker. Not to mention, some gesturing may be perceived as threatening. If your partner feels intimidated by your gesturing, sit on your hands!
4. Proxemics-Everyone has a different comfort level with how close you get to each other. A good rule of thumb is at least 3 feet in distance. You both should be able to reach out and grasp hands for a handshake comfortably. Be mindful that different cultures have different concepts of appropriate proxemics. Your partner might be very comfortable to be close to you ordinarily, but in the heat of an argument, more distance might be called for.
5. Touch-Touching your partner is an intimate interaction. The type, frequency and areas to be touched is highly personal. Discuss this with your partner. Touches can communicate affection or anger and the message is the one the receiver gets. If your partner tells you they don’t like a certain touch, don’t get upset, believe them!
All these avenues of communication can help or hinder your connection. Winners examine their strategies and improve them.
Keep Being Lovely!
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If you’ve explored much of my stuff, you know, I’m always looking at nature for the lessons it can teach us.
Have you ever watched one of those time lapse videos of a flower growing and blooming? You see the flower begin growing and proceed through its life span. You see the flower burst forth in enthusiastic growth and then pause where it seems to rest. Then suddenly, another burst of growth occurs. It’s not a continuous steady growth. It bursts and rests and might even appear to retreat at times.
I think it’s so useful to think of our own growth like this. It happens in fits and spurts, in seemingly unrelated cycles. The truth is growth cannot sustain itself in a straight predictable trajectory. We have to allow it to run its own course. No matter how we struggle, we have to go through the transitions, the resting places, the retreats, the bursts of unbelievable growth.
And boy, some of this results in a lot of growing pains.
When we’re in those times of growth or “bursting forward”, it can be a bit scary. We don’t know where we’re going, but somehow, we can’t stop it. It can also be frustrating when we reach a place of rest. We may feel comfortable with that movement or lack of movement. Maybe we desire to keep it in motion. Sometimes, we look at motion as “good” and rest as “bad”. But know that nature always seeks balance and our effort has to be balanced by rest, or we become unhealthy.
It becomes important in our practice of self compassion to acknowledge and appreciate times of pause.
How does this relate to your relationship? How do you handle these natural cycles? Do you get frustrated with yourself when you feel stagnant? Do you get scared and want to stop change when it’s occurring so quickly? Doesn’t everything that affects you also affect your partner?
Something more to consider: Your partner is having the same sort of growth cycles. Do you get frustrated with your partner when they’re low energy? When they don’t move, grow or act as fast as you’d like them to? Or when they don’t set the same priorities as you?
In the compassion department, you have to respect your own cycles and understand that your partner is experiencing their own resistance, growth and rest cycles.
Practice time: Where have you not been honoring the growth cycle for yourself or for your partner? Can you recognize and summon patience for yourself and your partner? Can you become curious instead of judgmental about where you both are in growth cycles?
Keep on Growin’,
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I did a little camping last month and it gave me time to think about all kinds of things and observe nature up close and personal.
I love to take lessons from nature and so this post is going to be about one of the lessons that I took from my time in the woods.
Did you ever notice that nature produces nothing that’s perfect? Everything in nature has some sort of imperfection in its formation or it gets impacted and changed by something that’s in the environment around it. When you look at a forest landscape, it can look so perfect. The leaves are green; there are different textures. And, it looks perfect from a distance. But, when you get up close, you see there are millions of imperfections in the shape of the leaf or the colors of the leaves. They’re usually mottled or maybe even yellowed, and just imperfect in their own perfect way. So, the lesson I take from this is that we can’t expect perfection in anything or anyone for that matter.
We want our relationships to be a reflection of nature. Nature is fluid, changing, growing all the time. Translate this to relationships. We really can’t expect perfection from other people or from ourselves. But, do we really expect that? Don’t we get upset when our partner doesn’t meet our expectations? When we first start to get to know our partner, we notice the beautiful things in them. We notice the things we see as perfection. We notice the color or the motion, the essence of their being. Just like the forest’s perfection from a distance. But, once we get a little closer, we see things a little closer, get to know them a little better, we start to see the flaws. Those flaws inevitably draw our attention away from what we might see as perfect. We might feel like we’ve been betrayed or duped or that we’ve been sold a flawed product when we got together with this person.
There comes a time we just have to back up and pay attention to the imperfect perfection that is everyone and everything in nature. Your perspective really is important isn’t it? Do you think that you’re perfect? Of course you don’t, at least I hope you don’t. Do you think that your partner focuses on your flaws? Do they notice your perfections or imperfections more? If you’re lucky enough to have a partner that doesn’t pay much attention to your flaws, is it possible that somewhere along the line they made a decision about what to pay attention to? If I had a choice, I’d certainly want my partner to focus on my positive qualities vs. my imperfections.
Another element of this perfection versus imperfection dance is how we practice self-compassion. Do you let yourself notice the glorious perfection that you are or do you spend a lot of time focusing on what you see as your imperfections? So, this is a lesson we can take into our self-compassion as well as into our compassion for our partners. We have a choice about where we place our attention, and like all habits, it’s something that has to be developed. That takes motivation and intention to do that. I hope that your motivation is to win in your relationship!
If you remember back to that time when all you saw was the perfection, when you committed to your partner, wasn’t it your intention to honor them? Both their perfections and their imperfections, that is. And, shouldn’t we have the same commitment to ourselves? So, focusing on the areas of perfection versus the imperfection is one of those winning behaviors. And, it’s what you’d like from your partner, too.
So, have you been focusing on the imperfections in your partner? Or in yourself? If you need to do self-work then take this opportunity to look at that. How can you shift that perspective and take in the perfection that is all of us?
Practice Time: Spend just a few minutes jotting down the things that are perfect about your relationship, your partner, or yourself. Get a list of eight or ten things that you love about your relationship, partner or yourself. Now you’re going to leave those notes around somewhere where you’ll come across them several times a day. Maybe on the bathroom counter or in your purse would be a good place. When I want to look at something several times a day, I put it in my appointment book. A lot of people set up reminders on their phone, which is great if you’re into technology. Take a few seconds every time that comes into your awareness and just hold that thought of perfection. For a moment or two, really feel and appreciate that thought fully. A few moments and a few times a day can really help you in this journey you’re on. It can help shift your perspective back to the view that looks perfect rather than the close-up view that shows you all of the imperfections.
And remember, nobody is perfect; nothing in nature is perfect, relationships aren’t supposed to be perfect.
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A-Feelings are just feelings and they're not good or bad, right or wrong. You can feel attracted to someone and not have to have a relationship with them. The same way I can really like chocolate cake, but not have it for dinner every night.
Behaviors do not HAVE to follow feelings, although we usually treat them as one and the same.
If there's a good reason not to be with him, then don't. If he's just different from your normal "type", why not give it a chance? The world is full of unlikely love stories.
PS-Do you have a Q that needs an A? Let me know at email@example.com
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Is it just me or is the whole world talking about porn these days? Everywhere I turn, someone is struggling with pornography in their lives or knows someone who has.
I like to remain neutral about topics that can get moralistic so I’m not trying to be judgey about this. I have seen the destructive nature of pornography in my practice though.
I’ve tried engaging with others about this topic and some folks are very dismissive. I hear things like “boys will be boys”. I attended a training a while back and the instructor stated when porn is a problem in a relationship, it’s the objecting partner’s problem. They suggested the remedy was relaxing and watching together. I was a little judgey in that moment, appalled actually. Working with couples, it’s very common that porn is a point of contention. Telling the objecting partner, “This is your insecurity problem” when that partner is not getting their sexual or connection needs met is terribly short sighted.
If a neighbor watches porn in front of your children, it’s considered abuse. Why does it suddenly become non-abuse when your child turns 18? There’s something inherent in porn that leaves some of us vulnerable.
Now I’m not saying watching porn is wrong. Lots of couples enjoy it together as part of a healthy, happy sex life. When it leads to unrealistic expectations about sexual behavior, it’s a problem. When it is interfering with a happy, healthy sex life, that can be a problem.
When engagement with porn overshadows the actual relationship, problems abound. So, do problems in the relationship drive someone to porn or does porn cause problems in the relationship?
Just as an observation, pornography allows the viewer to be totally self-centered without the burden of engaging with another human. That’s something we can probably all relate to wanting at times. There is no performance pressure when you’re engaged with porn. No one is judging whether you’re satisfying another person or not.
While scientific studies are contradictory about whether porn addiction is “a thing”, biologically, porn impacts us physically. Consider the opinion of Kevin Majeures, a psychiatrist, specialist in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and staff of Harvard Medical School. According to his research, the brain is impacted by pornography as follows.
In studies of rats, a male rat contained with a receptive female will mate, but once done, the rat is content. However, if a second receptive female is introduced, the male will again mate. This pattern is repeated every time a new female is introduced until the male rat is exhausted. This pattern has been repeated in every animal studied. This is called the Coolidge Effect. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coolidge_effect
Pornography impacts a human male’s brain in much the same way. Pornography offers the watcher a seemingly unlimited number of willing females. The lower brain is unable to discern a difference between a real female and a virtual female. Each new female that appears bumps up his sex drive again.
Dopamine is the hormone of desire. When you see something desirable, your brain pours out dopamine. This helps you focus on the object of your desire. When someone clicks and sees a new object of desire, an enormous flood of dopamine occurs and it’s on.
In our evolutionary history, humans have never been exposed to so many potential mating opportunities. With each new female introduced, a new rush of dopamine occurs. This creates a dopamine binge.
This hormonal cascade creates a vicious circle. Use of pornography overstimulates dopamine production. When the brain becomes flooded with dopamine, the brain destroys dopamine receptors to control the flood. This creates a lowered ability to utilize the dopamine. Thus, it takes even more dopamine to achieve the same thrill. It takes more time using porn, or more site visits, to get to the same stimulated state. Eventually this will not produce the desired effect and the dopamine must be boosted with shock, disgust or surprise. This means moving to kinkier and more perverse pornography, things that induce fear or disgust.
This leads Dr. Majeres to 2 conclusions. 1. Pornography is highly addictive and 2. Pornography is harmful to relationships. If you are interested in reading Dr. Majeres’ article, this is the link: http://purityispossible.com/the-science-behind-pornography/
Having sex with the same person repeatedly offers no sustained, similar rush in dopamine. This often causes the person watching pornography to prefer that activity to real life engagement. Their partner feels rejected, inferior and unimportant. Their partner gets their attachment bond rattled.
Whether you see it as an “addiction” or not is irrelevant because it CAN be a problem. Even if it’s just that your partner finds it disturbing. Part of our job in a relationship is to do what we can to make our partner feel secure.
Some signs that pornography might be a problem in your relationship are:
So, to those who see porn as no big deal, consider your partner’s feelings and preferences. Consider your own well mindedness. Porn has the potential to destroy relationships and families. I’ve seen it happen.
If you or a loved one is struggling with porn obsession, find some help here:
What have been your experiences with pornography? Has it been healthy or destructive in your life/relationship?
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!