Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Disturbing the Sounds of Silence

The number one complaint I hear in the therapy room is, "we have communication issues!" It often sounds like, "He just doesn't talk!" or "she just doesn't understand me" or "we fight about everything!" Whatever 'communication issues' look like they are real and they are real for a purpose.

The only way two people can have a relationship is through communication and the only way two people can have a deep abiding relationship is to have a deep level of communication. A relationship will only be as good as its communication. When you and I can honestly tell each other who we are, what we think, judge, feel, value, love, honor, hate, fear, desire, wish for, believe in, hope for, have passion for and are committed to, then and only then can either of us grow. Without a relationship I am nothing and I can never know who I am without a relationship…it is the only way I can ever find God and His grace in this life.

I must have freedom and cultivate the ability to tell you my thoughts, to tell you my judgments, to tell you my fears, to tell you my vulnerabilities. Many years ago, she said to me, "I don't know anything about you that everyone else does not already know!" I thought, "What on earth do you mean?" I did not have a clue as to what she meant…but I ask for more information and she offered, "Well, what are your vulnerabilities?" "Vulnerabilities? What are you talking about?"

Of course, I was wondering, 'do I have any?' I mean, real men are those who don't allow others to see them sweat…and I was so good at not allowing others to see me sweat that I had forgotten that at times I did sweat!! Several days went by and then one night our son, who was two at the time, was "exercising" and I stepped out to show him the 'right' way to exercise. As I squatted down to begin the rhythmic movements he and she both giggled at my awkwardness. A flash of pure fire exploded from within my gut and I whirled to her and said in slow even tones, "That is one! that is one! I hate it when people laugh at me." I immediately sat down and the little fella climbed up between us and stroked my arm. Ah, yes, one of my 'vulnerable' moments that I was made was aware of and furthermore, was able to share!

Only as I expose to you my fears and my shames, to tell you of my failures and my triumphs, can I be really sure what it is that I am and what I can become! Only as I know myself can I let myself be known. I must be able to tell you who I am before I can fully know who I am. Relationships are as healthy as the bloodlines of open and honest communication. Open up you may just discover yourself!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Improving Emotionally Committed Relationships

Turbulence in emotionally committed relationships is the norm rather than the exception. In the face of such "upsetness" most of us struggle with feelings of apathy, rejection, frustration, etc. A major key to navigating such inner turmoil is to reflect and focus on the self rather than on your partner or the relationship.

As an example, whenever I got upset and I focused on my partner and I blamed her for my feelings ("You make me so mad when you do ____________.") and when she would accept the blame for my feelings (that is, when she would feel responsible for them somehow) I thought I had it made! (Curious question here, how many "I"s are in the previous sentence?) Now you realize and know our relationship suffered over my selfishness and we were emotionally stuck. We were in the proverbial gridlock and stalemate of life!

Years ago some wise person told me, "She does not make you mad!" I remember thinking that was about the dumbest thing anyone had ever told me, I mean he did not know her, I did! I mean, he would be mad too if he ___________!

The problem was, I only thought I knew her and of course I did not know myself at all! Hello wake up! What a revelation it was for me to recognize that I was responsible for my behaviors and my thoughts and most importantly my feelings and attitudes! No longer did she have to bear the brunt of my ego centric selfishness. It was quite plain, I had feelings and they were mine! What do you do with these feelings? Do you deny them or 'stuff them' or act like they are not there…no. You must discover yourself by knowing your emotions and attitudes and only then are you worthy to 'know' your partner!

Here is a critical key to long-term emotionally committed relationships succeeding…learn to self-sooth. Self-soothing is developing the ability to tolerate discomfort in the relationship for the good of the relationship, personal growth, and the nurturing your partner. This 'art' is like driving a car. You can read books about 'car driving', you can watch movies about 'car driving' but you can only learn to drive a car by, yep you guessed it, driving a car. In much the same way, self-soothing can only be developed through testing, which means you will have to be in a stressful situation to practice soothing. This being said, you will feel raised and maybe new anxiety while attempting to develop this new approach but over time you will be able to more readily lower your reactivity in stressful situations so that your relationship can mature. Here are a few pointers and suggestions to remember today (while you are calm) so you can recall them when the 'storms' hit.

Don't take your partner's behavior personally (even if they did 'mean it personally' why take it that way?)

If you cannot regulate your emotions, control your behavior (you can always control you actions!)

Stop the negative mental tapes that "awfulize" the situation ("this is awful, it will never end!!")

Soothing may require a temporary break with your partner in order to calm down and think clearly (a little distance, such as sleeping on the couch, or going for walk, clears the mind!)

Remember the purpose of self-soothing is to increase intimacy in your relationship not to help you feel "right" while your partner is "wrong" (nuff said!)

This is a time to "replenish" yourself not to punish your partner (don't make your crap about your partner!)

This is also a time to seek clarity and to challenge yourself by asking "What is it about me that responds to you in this manner?"

Click and Watch and Listen and Laugh and Learn

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