Saturday, November 20, 2010

Thankfulness

ThanksgivingThanksgiving is a time for, well, thankfulness. It is a time for reflection on those blessings we have in our lives. We probably need this holiday because our tendency is to be ungrateful and to take our blessings for granted. We are better at complaining than expressing gratitude.

One of the biggest complaints that men and women share is feeling taken for granted in their relationship. Often both parties in a marriage feel this way! “I don’t feel important to my partner. I don’t feel he/she values me.”

Expressing gratitude isn’t casually expressing love, having sex, going to the movies, or taking out the garbage. Gratitude includes all of these but also includes the message, “You make a difference in my life.”

Try this exercise. Find a time to sit quietly without distractions (I know this is more easily said than done). Sit for a couple minutes and allow a feeling of relaxation to come over you.

After you feel relaxed, let yourself fantasize the loss of your partner in your life. The important part of the exercise is to follow yourself through your day, your week, and the year without your partner. The more you can focus on specific scenes in which your partner is missing, the better this exercise will serve you.

Now notice your tension level. For folks in harmful relationships, the exercise can be a pleasant fantasy, but those in healthy, satisfying relationships will notice increased tension. This is a normal reaction to loss - even imagined loss.

Now you are prepared to let your partner know how he or she enriches your life. Don’t wait until your anniversary to deliver this message in a card. Tell your partner what he or she means in your life. Do it today!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Don’t Touch, I’m Sensitive

Snuggling Kitties

Do you consider yourself to be sensitive? Are you sensitive to others? Do you want others to be sensitive to you?

Those who are most sensitive  are often the ones who complain that their partner’s are insensitive. Why is this?

Well you can attribute this to your partner’s sex – all men are insensitive. Or you can suggest that your partner has the insensitive gene, “she just not a sensitive person.” In either case, you are saying that your partner is unable to be sensitive.

Yet, there is evidence that contradicts this. Think back to an earlier time in your marriage, even to an earlier time when you were dating. Were you attracted to an insensitive person or did your partner attract you with his or her sensitivity to your views, feelings, and desires? I’ll bet you committed to a person you thought to be sensitive and caring!

How did you attract your partners sensitivity and what has changed? Sensitive individuals hide their sensitivity behind a wall of cold indifference or anger after they have experienced intense pain in their relationship with their partner. It is as though they are protecting their soft spot from any further pain.

The result of this protective stance is emotional distance - the exact opposite from what you desire. Instead, the sensitive individual must learn to communicate pain so that their partner is challenged to respond in a caring manner. Hiding your pain behind a wall of indifference or anger will not address your needs.

“But what if my partner does not care if I have been hurt?” The basis of a healthy relationship is commitment built on caring for each other. If your partner does not care, then it is important to know this. However, avoiding this issue by hiding your feelings ensures emotional distancing. Being emotionally distant from a partner that does not care is appropriate, but you must ask yourself if you have asked for caring in an appropriate way.

The real challenge is to present your sensitive feelings in a manner that they can be understood. If you “package” sensitive feelings in anger, then your partner will respond to the anger, not the feelings. If your message is “packaged” in an attack, then your partner will respond defensively, not with caring.

Rehearse before you share your feelings. When you practice, ask yourself, “Does my tone of voice and my message both convey a desire for sensitive caring or am I being aggressive?” I think you will find it more difficult than you think to share your feelings in a vulnerable tone. We become accustomed to challenging our partner and our tone becomes demanding, angry, aggravated, etc. – all which push our partner away.

Let me know how it works.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Political Differences vs. Marital Differences

Vote

If you are like me, you tire listening to political arguments well before voting day arrives. What makes the arguments so tiring is how the opponents must strive to make the argument about taking sides.

We are actually wired to respond to such arguments. Before food became plentiful, it was important for groups to band together to cooperate in hunting food. The lone wolf would die from starvation. So today you can look around and see all types of groups in which you belong. These groups may form around social, religious, ethnic, racial or family identities.

When such identities are formed, they are then protected. Even as differences are small, they can create much heat in debating those differences. The differences become important because they mark the unique identity of the group.

Marital arguments can assume a similar me versus you stance. You argue to protect your unique views, feelings and desires. “How much of me do I have to give up to be with you?” Such differences can become so large that we label a reason to divorce as “irreconcilable differences”.

The basis of a strong bond in marriage must begin with the development of a strong “we”. This “we” is something that is part of each partner’s individual identity. He or she describes the relationship as important to his or her partner, family and friends.

Nurturing the “we” also requires special effort to foster mutually enjoyable time together, verbal and nonverbal messages of belonging, and celebration of the “we”.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Do I let my partner know how important are relationship is to my identity?
  2. Do I offer messages that identify the important role my marriage plays in my identity?
  3. Do you take time to nurture the relationship, both through setting up mutually enjoyable activities and by setting aside time to nurture understanding by sharing your views, feelings, and desires.
  4. Do your children, extended family and friends hear you describe your relationship as something you value?
  5. Do you celebrate the “we” once a year or several times a month?