Thursday, February 14, 2013

Valentine’s Day Is About Love, the Rest of the Year Is About Caring

valentine

Valentine’s Day is an opportunity to express your love for your partner. When you say “I’m in love” you are describing how you feel, but not what you do with that feeling.

Giving cards, chocolates and flowers express that you feel love and that is what this day is about. However, your relationship needs more. Connection is maintained throughout the year through knowing that your partner cares.

Caring is more difficult than feeling love. We don’t think of being in love as work; it’s more like sliding downhill. Caring is work, much more like climbing up that proverbial hill.

Caring behaviors are often those behaviors you would not normally want to perform but do because you want to be close to your partner. When you are first falling in love, spending time together is effortless. It doesn’t matter what you are doing, you just enjoy time together.

As you become a committed couple, how you spend time together and how much time you spend together becomes something that is negotiated. Activities now require more of a sacrifice and effort. This is natural. You now are being challenged to be caring…instead of falling (in love) you’re climbing.

Love is feeling based, whereas caring is action based. Love is not a substitute for caring. But caring will produce love. Challenge yourself to consider how you can be a more caring partner and how you want your partner to express caring for you. Then practice this daily till next Valentine’s Day. Your love will have deepened and that loving card will have more meaning!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

A Time For Rage Toward Your Partner?

harriet_lerner

I’m a fan of Harriet Lerner’s books and her blog, The Dance Of Connection. Recently, she blogged that there are rare times when anger can be useful. She reasons that “a raw expression of hurt and rage, will break through the other person’s defenses and get through” (to your partner). Admittedly, she suggests this is a rare exception to the general rule that anger is not a useful expression in an intimate relationship.

Still, I have a problem with her reasoning. Couples must make every effort to not excite that part of the brain that we share with the animal kingdom. This primitive brain only knows self-protection through fight or flight and knows nothing of relationship. Someone fighting or fleeing is not connecting with another person.

When you’re hurt you feel diminished and want to stand strong and say, “I will not allow you to hurt me.”  It feels strong to lash out in anger; your adrenaline is pumping into your bloodstream and you’re prepared to make a stand – “I’m not going to accept this.”

Coaches try to motivate players’ anger so they will enter the game ready to “fight.” But these players do not have to be concerned about maintaining intimacy with their opponents. Couples must learn to handle pain in a way that also preserves the connection.

A much stronger response that preserves connection is to share your pain in a vulnerable tone. Express your pain and expect your partner to respond in a soothing manner. If this doesn’t happen, then back away from your partner by becoming emotionally, physically and/or sexually distant (typically you will withdraw by degrees, but sometimes all at once).

When your partner is deprived of the connection, then he or she will be in a position to pursue you to restore the “goodies” that come with connection. Now you have the leverage to ask your partner to address your pain and to reassure you that the relationship is safe from further pain – at least that type of pain.

It is certainly easier to simply go off on your partner in a fit of rage, the question is whether it will be helpful. Reach higher (in the brain) and seek a path that maintains connection.