Outcomes are goals that we strive for. As a culture, we are pretty addicted to meeting goals. We’re taught how to set goals that are SMART. (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time Limited).
Which is great if you actually could set a goal like that! Believe me, when I worked with an agency, there was like 1 person out a 100 who could actually set a goal that the auditors thought was SMART.
In your relationship, what’s your goal? Is it to fight less? Not fight at all? Is it to be “in love” again? A lot of times, I have people say, “I want us to get back to where we used to be.” Those are all pretty big goals.
What happens when a goal seems out of reach? When we look at it and it seems impossible. Fighting less might seem like a great goal, but what are the steps it takes to get there? Do you know the steps? If you knew and could do the steps, wouldn’t you have already done them?
When we start doing these little steps, we get frustrated because we feel we should be at the goal already. We feel shame and blame we’re not meeting what we see as our desired outcome. We also fail sometimes. I can’t tell you how many couples are making good progress and they slip and have a huge row and they feel like they’ve lost all the progress they’ve made.
All that can make us give up and stop going for it. It seems like an exercise in futility, it’s too difficult, or we just aren’t capable of doing it.
Well, I’d like to reassure you. When the end game seems impossible, it’s time to focus on the process, not the outcome.
Using a football analogy here: If your desired outcome is to win the Super Bowl, but your team has not learned to run a play yet, you better focus on running the play! Not only do you need to learn to run the play but you need to become great at it! You are going to run that play over and over until it’s second nature. You’re going to know that play inside and out. At first, the play is going to be awkward. At first, the whole team isn’t going to be good at it. There’s going to be a lot of failures in making the play. But eventually, your team runs a great play! They win a game, then another and before you know it you’re a Super Bowl contender. That outcome that seemed so impossible is now within reach. But only after you’ve mastered the process.
There have been times in my relationship when I’ve felt happiness wasn’t possible. I didn’t think it’d ever happen again. That seemed like an outcome that was too much to hope for.
Turning that around took a focus on the process. The processes of a happy relationship, (I call the pillars) are compassion, communication and commitment. Making the little decisions every day that align with these qualities is what got me closer to the end goal. I had to be kind when I didn’t want to be. I had to decide to stay just one more day when it would have felt great to walk out. Talking about things that made me vulnerable created intimacy little by little. I focused on the process because I didn’t know how to get to the outcome I wanted. I was so far away from it, I needed a telescope.
By paying attention to the process, I moved closer and closer, with consistency and persistence, until I could see happiness on the horizon. I tried to stay focused on my own behaviors, not my partners. By continuing on, we’ve found our way to a place of happiness I don’t think we ever imagined. We’ve now passed our 20th anniversary and we enjoy each other more now than we ever did. Do we still disagree? Yes. Do we still annoy each other? Yes. We fail all the time. But we focus on the process.
Practice time: What is your desired outcome? What processes do you need to get there? It’s the little things you practice every day that lead you to winning. What is one process you can commit to today? Consistency and persistence are mandatory!
Let me know what you decided. Comment below, I’d love to hear from you!
Cheers to the process!
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All Couples are going to disagree. Usually, we have not had training in how to fight fairly and so, fighting becomes a free for all to see who can hurt the other’s feelings the most. If we can adhere to the rules of fair fighting, our arguments can be much more productive experiences.
Rules for Fair Fighting
1. Identify the problem. If you can’t identify the problem, is there really anything to fight about? Is one of the participants simply irritable? Once you have isolated what the issue is, follow the rest of the rules and avoid the fouls!
2. Attack the problem, not the person. If an argument gets personal, it’s an indication that you’ve lost sight of rule #1. Attacking the other participant is a sure way NOT to gain agreement.
3. Listen to each other. Adults listen to views that are different than their own. Listening is a sign of respect, not submission. Take turns with a timer on if you need to.
4. Take care of each other’s feelings. Assume that you are each responsible for the other’s feelings and ensure that you do and say nothing that is damaging to the other person’s feelings.
5. Take responsibility for what you say and do. If you do lose control and say something “foul”, then own your behavior; apologize sincerely and do an act of kindness to make amends.
Each of the behaviors below is considered fouls. These behaviors indicate fighting behavior that is damaging to the relationship.
Chances are you’ve been in relationships where the fouls above have been part of the fighting. While you can only be responsible for your actions, you also owe it to yourself to set limits when others use these fouls with you.
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If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, I feel for you. I had many alcoholic family members including my father. That baggage led me to marry an alcoholic the first time. Extricating or dealing with a relationship with an addict is a challenge. This article discusses some aspects of addiction.
The most commonly used substance in the United States is alcohol. While alcohol is a legal psychoactive substance, it can be addicting. Many people from every social spectrum consume alcohol in many settings and never have long term adverse effects.
In addition to alcohol, many mood altering substances are highly addictive and impair physical, social, and psychological functioning of persons who use them.
As of this date, the latest National Survey on Drug Use and Health report is from 2016 and was published in 2017. You can view a copy of this report at this web address: https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-FFR1-2016/NSDUH-FFR1-2016.pdf
The report provides the following facts:
While this report does reflect some positive trends, the problem of addiction takes a great toll on our culture. Especially disturbing is the growing evidence of the danger of opiods or herion.
Generally addiction progresses through a fairly predictable cycle: experimentation, social use, dependency, addiction and hopefully, recovery. I illustrate these stages with alcohol use below:
Experimentation: I have tasted alcohol and had some experience in drinking alcohol as a teenager and young adult. Alcohol has never really caused me too many problems. It has been limited due to availability and other barriers.
Social use: Now, as an adult, I go to a restaurant on Friday nights with my girlfriends and co-workers. Alcohol becomes part of a relaxation ritual for me. Still my once a week drink is not creating any problems for me.
Dependency: I start to view alcohol as an aid for relaxation. While going through a stressful time at work, I start to drink a glass of wine every night when I fix dinner for my family. My relaxation begins to become dependent on that glass of wine. Being a “drinker” starts to become integrated in my identity. I am a “drinker”.
Note: Dependency has both a psychological and a physical component. Both are problematic.
Addiction: I begin to develop a tolerance for alcohol, requiring me to use increasing amounts in order to feel the effects. Soon, I’m drinking a bottle of wine every night and it is causing great problems in my family, causing me to miss work, neglect my home, etc. I have crossed the line into addiction which will become a physical dependence if I continue.
Recovery: Something occurs that prompts me to seek treatment and I discontinue my alcohol use, engage with a support system and begin to re-establish my life without substance use.
Unfortunately, many times recovery is characterized by relapse. Hallmarks of successful recovery are sobriety, abstinence, social support, and active relapse prevention.
How can you tell if someone will become addicted? There is currently no way to know this. Some people may use substances many times without having a problem and then at another point in their life, use and become immediately addicted.
Infrequent use in small amounts generally will not require treatment. The person who uses in this manner will likely be able to stop use when they decide to. Often, legal, social, family or other types of sanctions will be enough of a threat to convince them to stop using substances.
Treatment may be required for people who cannot stop substance use on their own. Without outside intervention, it is rare for an addicted person to be able to discontinue use for an extended period of time. Despite consequences, often extreme consequences, the addiction overpowers their will. The desire for use outweighs any of the external results.
Treatment can decrease the economic and social costs of addiction. Additionally, there is much evidence that treatment is far less expensive than the real costs to our society. Multiple reports on the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) support this. You can review these articles at their site: https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications
More on this topic later. If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, find help through local resources or SAMHSA's website. https://www.samhsa.gov/find-treatment
In the meantime, stay lovely!
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Q-Can you fall for someone without actually meeting them face to face?
A-Absolutely! All you have to do is ask 5 of the couples you know and I bet at least one will have met online. People who meet this way often have the luxury of being themselves without the normal awkwardness that comes with getting to know someone in person. That depends on the people involved really being themselves though!
There's also always the possibility that there won't actually be chemistry when you meet in person so I would hesitate before too much commitment.
Becoming emotionally intimate with the right someone is very rewarding! Sometimes that can be easier online or indirectly than in person. Go for it!
Best of Luck!
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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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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.
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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