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here are several criteria to successful behavior changes. First, there has to be a desire to change. Second, there has to be a substitute for the problem activity. Third, a system of accountability ensures lasting change. While it is fairly easy to find an accountability system, it’s even easier to find a substitute activity. The really difficult part of this equation is to develop the desire to change.
How can you develop the desire for change to occur? There are two types of motivation. One is a “towards” motivation. Examples of a toward goal is regaining health or reconnecting in lost relationships. The second type of motivation is “away from” motivation. Examples of away from goals are losing employment or losing my residence. The best type of goal builds in both towards and away from motivators.
Another method of building motivation is to increase the discomfort with the present situation. This is often what occurs when an Intervention occurs. Loved ones raise the awareness of the negative aspects of the situation and outline clearly what the boundaries are for the future. Often this involves a withdrawal of support or a suspension of relationship which creates a new level of discomfort and urgency for change to occur.
While I am speaking to work with addictions, these techniques can be very useful for any type of behavioral change. If you have struggled with a particular behavior, identify the towards and away from motivations. You can create a motivator to “turn up the volume” in one direction or another. You can do this with yourself, but embedding a system of accountability into it is helpful. For instance, a friend and I are training to run a 5k race. We agreed that every day we are supposed to train and we don’t, we will pay the other person $1. I don’t want to pay her $1, but I really don’t want to have to tell her I didn’t follow through.
You can see that even if we aren’t very good at our routine, we won’t likely go broke! You can be sure though, that we eagerly report to each other when we do our workout (and even when we don’t). There is a towards motivation: being prepared to run a 5k. There is an away from motivation: paying the $1. There is a system of accountability: we report our success to each other. The replacement activity in this case is the running which takes the place of other activities in our lives such as watching TV or sleeping in.
What ideas can you come up with for establishing your own behavior change?
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Emotions are always trying to tell us something. Is there a source of unhappiness in your relationship? Boredom? Believe me, every relationship has issues. I bet you felt the same excitement about your current boyfriend when you first met.
Unfortunately, when we feel attracted to another person, we begin to compare them to our partner. Of course, we know all our partners warts, so we are comparing apples and oranges.
Consider it fully before you end a real relationship for something you don't really know. If the relationship is important to you, consider counseling. It may help you recognize whether you really want to be committed or not.
Hope that helps,
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The question I want you to consider today is how good are you at listening? Do you really hear your partner? Most of us are pretty good at listening until we hear something we don’t like. Then we stop listening and begin to mentally draft our response. Learning to listen well is a terrific Winning behavior in a relationship. I’m going to walk through a process with you for speaking and listening and hopefully, you’ll give it a try with your partner.
In every communication, there’re two roles to play. One person is the speaker and one (or more) person is the listener. We communicate in multiple ways, with words, gestures, tone and body language. In fact, all behavior is communication. There is no NOT communicating. It’s impossible not to communicate something to the person we’re with.
Unfortunately, often the message received is not the message sent! If the first thing out of your mouth makes your partner defensive, your communication has failed. If the goal is for your partner to hear what you’re saying, you’ve got to be more aware of your own communicating behaviors. Remember that you can only control your behaviors, so presenting information in a way that it will be received is YOUR responsibility.
Now I always think it’s best to have a plan when you’re not sure about something. It’s also great to give yourself structure when there’s something that’s emotionally charged. You don’t want all those feels to take over your communication. My favorite structure for communication is from Imago Therapy.
Structure can feel awkward at first. But believe me, it helps you take that necessary pause to consider your communication. If it helps, isn’t it worth feeling a bit awkward? So this is how it goes:
The speaker’s responsibility is first to “make an appointment”. This isn’t necessarily a formal appointment. It could be just asking, “Is this a good time to talk to you?” How many conversations have gone down the tubes because one of the parties was tired or hungry or in the middle of their favorite TV show? So step 1 of successful communication is ensuring it’s a good time to talk. This may seem silly, but isn’t that the ultimate in respect?
What do you do if your partner says, “No?” This is a request, not a demand (ever notice most of us don’t do so well with demands?). A request can be declined without consequence. So a “no” doesn’t mean you stomp off and slam the bedroom door. It doesn’t mean you take it as a rejection and blow up. It also doesn’t mean your partner can avoid the conversation forever. If there is a no, ask when there might be a better time. Set an appointment.
Step 2 for the speaker is to state what you want to talk about using nonviolent language. Focus on your feelings and don’t tell your partner’s story. Things to stay away from are “you never”, “you always” and anything insulting. Generally it’s a good idea to stay away from the word “you” altogether. Remember writing things out is a great way to practice! I always suggest my couples do this at least a few times to get a feel for it. You will catch on much quicker than you think.
Step 3 for the speaker is to not trigger your partner’s defenses. This means your words cannot be critical or accusatory. Your words should not be sarcastic, or delivered with a contemptuous tone. You will have to carefully select your words. It’s a good idea to practice the delivery looking at yourself in a mirror. You can see so much in your expression that you’re mostly unaware of when you look in a mirror.
Remember this is growth, so expect pain!
Step 4 for the speaker is to stay on topic. You can’t solve every issue with one conversation. Your partner also doesn’t need a full accounting of every ill you feel they’ve done you. If you tend to be a kitchen sinker, time for a behavior change! Learn how to be really effective at this and you can resolve issues, but only one at a time. As your confidence builds you’ll have success, and you’ll be more relaxed with each other. Then you’ll find this much easier!
Step 5 for the speaker is to maximize agreement. Every few sentences, you want to gain agreement from your partner. Make sure they are comprehending what you said by having them mirror it back to you. This helps catch misunderstandings early on. Remember most of us listen until we hear something we don’t like, then the listening stops. Frequent checking in keeps both of you in the moment and focusing on the message being delivered.
The last step for the speaker is to thank your partner for listening.
OK, did you think that was challenging? You might not think so, but it really is. If you think that was tough, read on for the rules for the listener.
Rule number 1: Listen only. No speaking except to mirror agreement/understanding. Don’t interrupt. If you feel something rising up in you that wants to retort, focus on the words your partner is saying. Listening without reacting doesn’t mean you agree or give up your right to respond.
Do you ever watch Judge Judy? Sometimes they have a case there between people who were in a relationship that’s now gone bad. One person starts talking and the other cannot control themselves, they speak out and interrupt. Judge Judy jumps in and says, “Be quiet or you’ll be out of my courtroom”. You can laugh about that and shake your head, but how often do we do the same thing to our partner? The only problem is we don’t have Judge Judy to intervene, so our partner has to fight for their right to be heard. Pretend you have Judge Judy sitting in front of you.
The second rule for the listener is to mirror back what was heard. You do this by saying, “What I heard you say was…..” You can repeat exactly what your partner said or you can paraphrase, but don’t add your own spin to it. You’re not allowed to introduce your own thoughts to the discussion. You’re only allowed to ask two questions, one is, “Did I get that right?”
The other question is the third rule for listeners. The question here is “Is there more?” You then allow your partner to say more about the issue if they have more.
You repeat steps 1, 2 and 3 for as long as your partner needs to speak. If they are sticking to the one topic rule, then it shouldn’t take more than one or two times asking that question to get to the end. The speaker and the listener should agree that they are both understanding (doesn’t mean agreeing necessarily) the issue from the speaker’s perspective at this point.
When the speaker is done rule 4 is to summarize. After summarizing, make sure you got it all, by asking, did I get it all? If not, go back in for some clarification. The speaker and the listener should again agree that they both understand.
The fifth rule for the listener is to validate with empathy. Validation does not equate to agreement. Validation means if you really heard your partner, you can begin to see their perspective. It might be different from yours. You might demonstrate this by saying, “I can see why you’d feel that way because…..”; Or, “I can see why you’d react in that way........” Developing empathy and validating your partner shows respect for their feelings. It doesn’t mean you think they are right or wrong.
And the last rule for the listener is to thank their partner for sharing.
Are you wondering how you can use this if you’re playing alone? The same way it’s outlined here. If you approach or respond to your partner in this way, do you think your discussions are going to go better? I’m betting they will. Remember, behind every complaint is a deep personal need. That goes for both you and your partner.
Let me show you this in action.
Speaker(S): Is this a good time to talk?
S: I’d like to share my feelings about our laundry challenges, OK?
S: I believe I work hard, just like you, and we should both share household chores. You know what I mean?
L: You and I both work hard and you want us both to work together at home too. Did I get that right?
L: Is there more?
S: Yes. I’d like for us to come to an agreement on how we get our laundry chores completed. It seems that it never gets DONE. You know what I mean?
L: You’d like for us to agree on some sort of end point for getting the laundry done. Did I get that right?
L: Is there more?
S: Yes, I know it never really gets done, but I really get frustrated when I gather everything up and get it washed and then laundry comes from somewhere and needs to be done urgently. You know what I mean?
L: You are bothered when you think the job is done and then find it’s not. Did I get that right?
L: Is there more?
S: Yes. I think the problem is having more than one place where dirty laundry is held. I’d like to suggest we establish a formal place, or two, that is where dirty laundry stays until wash time. Then I can get it all done and not have to worry about being pressured to get that urgent thing washed. You understand what I’m saying?
L: I think so. You’d like to have a couple of laundry holding areas so you can always locate the clothes that need to be done. Then you aren’t stressed out because there’s that one more load that you didn’t know about. Did I get that right?
L: Is there more?
S: Just that I’d like to agree on those holding areas now and agree to use them exclusively. I can get a hamper for the spare room where you change if you’ll agree to put your uniforms in there every day. Does that make sense?
L: Yes. You want all the laundry in that hamper or in the bathroom hamper and you’d like me to ensure my uniforms go in one of those places. Did I get that right?
L: Is there more?
S: Yes. But first, is that agreeable?
L: Yes, I have no problem with that.
S: OK. It seems that I’m taking on the responsibility of getting the urgent laundry done now. I don’t think that’s how it should be. If the hamper idea doesn’t work, I’m relinquishing responsibility of washing suddenly located uniforms. You know what I mean?
L: You feel like you shouldn’t have to scramble to do my uniform if I don’t get it into the hamper. Did I get that right?
S: Not exactly. I’m saying, you have to own that.
L: OK, so you’d like for me to do my own urgent laundry rather than you doing it. Did I get that right?
L: Is there more?
S: No, that’s it. I’d just like to know if you’re in agreement or do we need to make another plan?
L: No, I’m really fine with that. It stresses me out to when I find my dirty uniform so if it relieves both of us of that, I can be diligent about putting it in the hamper.
S: Thanks for listening.
L: Thanks for sharing.
OK, that’s a lot isn’t it? But how many silly arguments have been born out of a similar issue???? Many, many, many, at least in my house!
Are you resisting the formal structure of this script? Remember, your best attempts at communication have gotten you where you are. It’s time to look at some more productive behaviors. Having a structure for communication makes it a safe place for both you and your partner. I promise you, if your relationship is going to change, you’re going to have change. Adopt winning behaviors, your relationship will improve.
Practice Time: Make a commitment to speak or listen according to this script for the next two weeks. Use the script for either every day for the next two weeks. Follow the script even if your partner isn’t playing with you. Feast on your success and I’m confident you’ll see some change in your relationship.
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I'm listening ;-),
A-This is a BIG topic! The best way is to manage them is together with agreement on how to do that. It rarely happens that way without some negotiation that can get heated.
I’ve seen couples work with every possible configuration: Money together/separate; Bill money split between; One person pays for mortgage, the other utilities; One person gives the other an allowance; etc. I bet every couple I’ve ever worked with does it uniquely!
In my experience, money represents different things to different people. To sort out how to handle money, you need to start there. For example, a wife gets anxious whenever the husband starts buying lots of stuff. She probably looks at money as safety and security. If her husband wants her to feel safe and secure, he needs to respect that.
By the same token, if a husband looks at money as a means to have fun and adventure and that’s an important value to him, a wife needs to also respect that.
Either of these attitudes can be taken to the extreme (as so many things in relationships can) a balance has to be created. Agreement on the low balance of the account, agreement on the amount to go in savings, agreement on entertainment budget. These can be hot button topics, but necessary conversations and negotiations.
I find that when one person handles all the financial matters, it allows the other person to be in a bit of denial about the reality of the situation. That’s not good. Both people need to be involved in at least KNOWING what the situation is and making decisions around.
Most importantly probably, in my opinion, is making an agreement in which both parties feel neither resentful nor taken advantage of. This is easier said than done.
Lastly, I’ll say that financial infidelity has been the end of many relationships. Don’t be dishonest when managing your relationship finances!
As always, start with your future vision and agree on the best means to accomplish in partnership. If you need help, get yourself a marriage therapist.
Best of luck, hope that helps!
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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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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