Category Archives: Relationships
If you watch a child you can see that they are constantly learning, mystified by and engaged with even the simplest of things. Whether it’s blowing bubbles or discovering a new hideout, children are extremely curious. Now it may sound silly, but I envy that constant state of curiosity.
Curious- adj. eager to learn; having a desire to know.
So what, we all have to become child-like and become fascinated with the basics? Not exactly. However, holding an attitude of kind curiosity can lead to a sense of openness, deeper understanding, appreciation and diminished boredom. The sheer prospect of discovering something new about oneself or one’s partner can light a spark in us or in our relationships.
The Curious Partner
Take steps to actively listen to your partner. This means being engaged and attuned rather than formulating your response or preparing to showcase your problem solving skills. The ability to be engaged requires us to be present. Yes physically, but mentally and emotionally as well. If we ourselves are distracted, upset, exhausted, it can be difficult for us to be in the moment and truly be attuned to our partner’s experience.
Reflect on what your partner is both telling you (I’m hurt, I’m exhausted, etc.) and needing from you (support, unloading, connectedness etc.)
“Love is three quarters curiosity.” - Giacomo Casanova
While we may not have an innate interest in every topic, story or complaint our partner shares, try to approach the conversation from a curious standpoint.
Curiosity creates a sense of being interested in your partner, like when you were truly new to each other and shared interests, dreams, experiences and hopes. Partners who have been in relationships for years often feel they know everything about someone and the sense of discovery and newness fades and sometimes even leads to disinterest or boredom. However, we know that we can never truly know everything about a person, so in order to maintain some sense of that newness and spark in our relationship, we need to have a continued sense of curiosity. Keeping a curious stance can create feelings of excitement, attunement and intimacy.
Ultimately, if you do something different in your conversations you will have a different experience talking with and relating to your partner.
The Curious Self
As adults, we typically have established our understanding or opinions on how things work in the world, in relationships, in our careers, who we are, what we want etc. Oftentimes, we need to know how to categorize those things in order to function in the adult world. But what happens when we put those things into neat little boxes and tuck them away? We lose our curiosity.
When we stop being curious, whether in a relationship with ourselves or someone else, the fire can burn out. Continue questioning, continue learning and continue growing.
Is each action and interaction of your day executed with purpose and intention? Most likely not. We are constantly working on auto-pilot as most of us are overscheduled and overworked. We find ourselves making to-do lists while brushing our teeth and becoming consumed with work details in the shower without even noticing where our mind has gone.
While this mindlessness may be harmless while brushing your teeth, it can become problematic in your intimate relationships, particularly in times of conflict.
More often than not, we react from a surface emotion without understanding it, knowing where it is coming from and without taking a moment to pause. That surface emotion typically is anger. However, if we look at the anger iceberg, we see that anger is a secondary emotion, with primary emotions, such as hurt, embarrassment, rejection, fear, etc lying below the surface.
When we are not making a conscious decision about responding to our partner, the impact of our words and actions tends to stray from our intention.
For this reason, it is important to cultivate self-awareness and an ability to identify emotions. While self-awareness can be cultivated in many ways (self-reflection, journaling, therapy, music), mindfulness skills can also greatly benefit this process.
When we practice mindfulness, we are essentially learning to notice when our mind has wandered off over and over again. When we are able to notice that our mind is not in the present moment, we can become more aware of what is actually occurring right here and now. This here and now experience enables us to become more attuned to what’s happening inside of us, rather than continuing to react mindlessly and carry on in autopilot.
- Physical sensations
- Thoughts and mental activity
By tracking and identifying thoughts, feelings and emotions as they arise in the moment, you can use them as signals or a stop sign to PAUSE.
Why is the pause so crucial?
1. Gives you the opportunity to become present and check in with yourself
- What primary emotion am I experiencing?
- What am I being triggered by?
- Am I being triggered by what’s actually happening in this moment?
2. Interrupts the knee-jerk reaction pattern
- Allows you time and space to make a conscious decision about how you would like to respond, or what kind of impact you’d like your response to have
Again, mindfulness is a practice and not a quick fix. As you become more aware of your present experience and more empathic with yourself, your ability to be attuned and empathic with your partner grows as well.
A topic I often come across in couple’s therapy is one partner being more “sensitive” than the other. This relationship dynamic can be a great source of conflict for couple’s who struggle to accept and understand the other person or who believe this trait is something that can be changed. As I’ve said before, when we let go of our mission to alter our partner and instead practice acceptance, we create space for compassion, compromise and intimacy. However, it can be hard to create space for that acceptance and appreciation without truly understanding what makes a sensitive person the way he/she is. The research refers to sensitive or highly sensitive people as HSP’s.
5 Gifts of Being Highly Sensitive
- Attuned to sensory detail
- Pick up nuances in meaning
- High emotional awareness
- Very creative
- Great empathy
Research on HSP’s highlights that these traits are due to a fundamental difference in one’s nervous system functioning, as systems with decreased latent inhibition are more open to incoming stimuli. As a result, these individuals are prone to overstimulation and becoming easily stressed and therefore need more down time.
When we hear the term “sensitive” we often conjure up stereotypes of what that term means and what it says about a person. Oftentimes sensitive people may be labeled as “shy,” “timid,” “inhibited,” or “introverted,” when in reality 70% of highly sensitive people are introverts and 30% are extroverts. So yes, there is such a thing as a sensitive extrovert! Nevertheless, this stigma against being a sensitive person can often be an obstacle to 1) identifying yourself as one, 2) being compassionate towards someone or 3) valuing these traits in yourself or others. Here are a few common stereotypes:
The usual break-up tagline, “it’s not you, it’s me” oddly enough seems to be reversed during relationships, “it’s not me, it’s you.” Something I often hear individual clients and couples say is “if it weren’t for him/ her doing x and y, everything would be perfect” or “if he/she would only do x and y then everything would be fine.” This idea that our happiness in a relationship is contingent upon someone ELSE changing is nearly impossible to work with.
#1- Accept the fact that you cannot change your partner
While we can talk about ways that we can help our partner do more or less of something, it seems to be more fruitful to talk with couples about acceptance.
When we love someone, we must love all of them. We cannot selectively choose the things we want to keep and discard the rest. This does not mean we are overlooking certain traits or characteristics, it means truly accepting the dark, ugly and hidden parts of someone. Of course this is not easy. Most of us struggle to accept part of ourselves, let alone parts of someone else.
#2- Nurture fondness and admiration
John Gottman, PhD., is a leading marriage researcher who has written books, such as The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. Through Gottman’s years of research, he has highlighted the importance of nurturing fondness and admiration. This enables couples to better accept each other’s flaws and weaknesses. Gottman’s research also indicates that these are two of the most vital elements in preserving a long and satisfying relationship. Read the rest of this entry
Whether you are talking among friends about relationships or you are sitting with a couple’s therapist, the concept of trust is likely to come up. For some it’s a question of “how do we rebuild trust?”, “How can I ever trust you again?” or even “I’m struggling to trust you due to a past relationship experience.” According to John Gottman, a leading researcher and writer on relationships and marriage, one of the fundamental issues for couples is trust and betrayal.
While each person may have varying ideas about what trust consists of, we can agree that culture, family background, media and personal experience among others influence our definition. Nevertheless, my experience is that the majority if couples’ arguments are less about the actual words being said, and more about the underlying theme of trust.
Here are just a few questions that I have found resonate with my couples during arguments:
- Can I trust you to take care of me?
- Can I trust you not to hurt me?
- Can I trust that you will be there for me?
- Can I trust that you are being honest?
- Can I trust you not to be unfaithful?
- Can I trust you not to do drugs or drink (typically for couples in recovery)
A question commonly asked in couple’s therapy is about building, strengthening or re-establishing trust. The short answer is that trust is realized in the ordinary moments, rather than extraordinary ones. Although trust can be broken in extraordinary moments that are momentous and perhaps dramatic, such as discovering an affair, it tends not to be easily mended by grand events or gestures. That means that every day there are small, even seemingly simple opportunities when you make a decision to either turn towards or turn away from your partner. Read the rest of this entry
The face of family in 2012 is constantly changing. Not only do we have more single-parent families, blended families and same-sex parent households, but we also have more diverse families. This diversity may come in the package of race, religion, ethnicity, culture, and language and on and on. Since many of the previously mentioned don’t fit into the stereotypical box of what family is supposed to look like, these couples and families often find themselves making up their own rules as they go. For my purposes, I am going to focus on the multicultural couple and family.
I have experienced firsthand both the joys and challenges of being part of a multicultural family. Subsequently, I have developed a great interest in working with individuals, couples & families from such diverse backgrounds and specialize in working in this area.
It can be a wonderfully enriching and exciting experience to be part of a multicultural couple or family; varying traditions, ideologies, values, cuisines & languages all coming into one home. But what happens when these couples or families hit a speed bump? Oftentimes, differences in culture can become a source of conflict and even a divide in these relationships.
In an effort to better serve our diverse community by promoting awareness, I have highlighted 10 issues/questions unique to multicultural couples & families from both my clinical work and personal experience.
- Roles: Who has what responsibilities? Who has a job? Who cleans the home? Who makes dinner? Who makes the rules?
- Loyalty vs. independence: How much time is appropriate and comfortable to spend with family of origin? How much money is appropriate and comfortable to spend on family of origin? How much time do we spend away from family of origin?
- Hierarchy: My culture is patriarchal. My culture is matriarchal. Whose opinion is most valued and respected in the family? Read the rest of this entry
In the era where if someone doesn’t answer their phone, we have the option to text them, e-mail them, Facebook them or even Tweet at them, communication has definitely become a little complicated. While most of us can recite countless benefits of all these various channels, we often pay little attention to the detriment that technology and online communication can have on our romantic relationships.
While the obvious pitfall of technological communication is misunderstandings and misinterpretations, an even bigger pitfall is emotional infidelity. According to Dr. Dale Atkins, emotional infidelity or emotional cheating is “about forming meaningful attachments with people other than your partner in ways that prevent your partner from having that deep emotional intimacy with you.”
How Does this Happen?
Relationships often become vulnerable to this type of infidelity when one partner feels misunderstood or unappreciated. Often, when one partner’s needs are not being met in the relationship, he/she will go outside of it. As we spend more time at work and online, these become our primary outlets. Facebook, blogs, Twitter and other social media serve to connect people and often do so on the basis of common interests. However, the lack of face-to-face and physical contact may serve as a factor in blurring boundaries of what is and isn’t appropriate. Read the rest of this entry