Thursday, February 27, 2014

Last 2 Stages of a Relationship: Are You There Yet?

On the last blog, I talked about the first three Stages of a Relationship :

Stage One - Passion and Chemistry
Stage Two - Power and Control
Stage Three - Problem Solving and Compromise

We are going to  move on the final two stages of a relationship, but before we do I just want to remind everyone that these stages typically occur in the order that I am giving them to you. However, because of transitions or crises or changes in your relationship, you will move back and forth into these stages and you may stay in some stages longer than you do others. This is to be expected.  

Let's move on to Stage Four - Co-creativity and Mutuality. Couples typically start to settle into this phase after they have been together for some time or at least after they have worked through Stage Two and are able to integrate Stage Three into their relationship with a level of ease.  It is my opinion that at the root of Stage Four is a key ingredient to healthy relationships - Respect.

Let me explain. Co-creativity means that each partner is able to pursue his/her personal and  
professional goals with the support of the other.  Although this may mean that one partner puts his
educational goals on hold or takes over childcare or house-hold responsibilities while the other partner is completing a program of interest or working or gaining work-related experience, each one is respectful
of the other's dreams and desires. It also means that one's personal or professional passions are not more
important or significant than the other's - regardless of income, role, title, or degree of education, etc. Couples work together (co), as each one creates personal and professional paths that fulfill themselves individually, and as a couple.

This process of Co-Creativity blends in naturally with Mutuality.This means as partners are pursuing their individual personal and professional goals, each one is consistently taking stock of the demands and sacrifices of how their choices are impacting their partners and their families. It means that in the process of giving to ourselves (which is important) that we are keeping a pulse on how we are giving to or taking from our partner. We move from a mindset of self- benefit to mutual benefit - thus mutuality. This stage is hard work! But when this mindset starts to take hold and come naturally, you will know it by the deep respectful connection you feel towards one another.

Stage Five - Compassion and Interdependence.   This stage is most often associated with couples who are in the later season of their lives together, but again, because of transitions, illnesses, or even trauma, many partners move into this stage prematurely. This is a test of our Compassion for one another. This is a time in a relationship where one partner becomes more dependent on the other, or becomes completely dependent upon the other. This is when one partner takes on the role of caregiver for the other. There are so many variables that come into play here. For our discussion, I want to share that this can be a very challenging and stressful stage for couples.When levels of independence diminish as the need for Interdependence increases, feelings of anger, resentment, and guilt are quite common on the part of the caregiver. Couples experience the losses of their relationship and sometimes one or both of them need time to grieve what is no longer. 

However, with time and often with assistance or support, healthy couples will move forward as they re-discover a quiet strong Compassion for one another and they will find deeper meaning in their relationship as they re-experience the closeness of Interdependence. 

In closing, when I am writing about couples and relationships, I often think of that famously quoted line of Jack Nicholson's...You make me want to be a better man... and I want to challenge all of us by changing it just a bit...

No matter what stage we are in, what can each of us do to be a better partner?

Let's start today.  Let's start now.  

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I want to leave you with two short easy exercises for communication. Give yourselves about 20  minutes or so for these two exercises.

1.  Feel - Why - Need exercise. Sit down, face to face, with no technology. Kids are in bed!  Do not interrupt each other. State what you are feeling, why you are feeling this way, and what you need from your partner.  Avoid the word 'you', if possible. Address this issue first before you go on to another one!   Here is an example:

I am feeling very resentful.  Work is taking up more and more time of our alone time. I need more time together. Let's talk about some ways we can make that happen.

2. Problem Solve - Compromise exercise.  Each partner takes a few minutes to come up with 2-3 possible solutions to the problem. Then, discuss the pros and cons to each solution!  Do throw any suggestions out! Narrow down your options to two; then both of you decide what will work best. Try it for a week or two; then check back in to see what is working and what is not.   

For more help, consider this little e-book! It's filled with exercises! Betrayal-Proof Your Relationship: What Couple Need To Know & Do

Next time, When one partner relapses or returns to unhealthy behaviors, how do couples move forward?

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

5 Stages of a Relationship : Where Are You?

Over the Valentine's Weekend, my husband and I had the pleasure of attending a beautiful wedding in the wine country of Southern California. A sparkling lake outlined with rows of vines served as the backdrop for the elegant ceremony. Listening to the vows laced with poetic verses and timeless scripture, I couldn't take my eyes off the bride and groom. Although they met in high school nine years ago and have been sweet-hearts ever since, their mutual love and respect for one another simply glowed. For a few minutes, my mind revisited the 5 Stages of a Relationship ~ and I thought of how this couple (although still young at 27) has successfully navigated through two of the most difficult stages. 

Although there are hundred of books written on this topic, I am going to keep it simple...and short. The first Stage is the easy one. Most of us sail through this one!

Most of us are familiar with Stage One - Passion and Chemistry.  This one does not need much
explanation!  We are intensely attracted!  We are swept up! The other person can do no wrong! We cannot get enough of the other person!  He or she is perfect in our eyes! Life couldn't be better, and even if things become difficult, love will conquer all! After all, we have found our soul mate. On a serious note, this is an exciting time in a relationship.  Life feels good.  It is good. And interestingly, it is a time when both partners are typically working hard at pleasing the other.  Each one is navigating from a selfless position, wanting to be the best for his/her partner.

Being Selfless!
After the initial honeymoon period, we move into the first of the two difficult stages:  Stage Two - Power and Control. Although certainly there can still be a strong romantic connection, at this stage partners begin to move back into their roles and re-establish their routines. The outward selfless focus turns inward as individuals become more comfortable and secure with the relationship. This is when characteristics that you thought were 'cute' and 'adorable' are now annoying and bothersome. This is when you start seeing flaws more clearly and begin questioning the motives, patterns of behaviors, and qualities of your partner. And as the realities of life (jobs, finances, children, schooling, bills, cooking, cleaning, etc.) resurface, couples tend to pull away from one another as they do the dance of power and control.  Who is responsible for what? When is he going to start paying for this or that? When is she going to get a real job?  Why does she nag so much?  Doesn't he get that I hate sports?!  And so on.  Remember, this is  normal!  In fact, this is where most couples get stuck! And one important reminder as we move toward resolution - returning back to Stage One (even for a brief time) won't fix this!

Stuck in Stubbornness
Couples who grow together in their relationship work hard as they enter into the challenge of  Stage Three - Problem Solving and Compromise. Assuming there is no significant underlying pathology, when I have worked with couples who come into therapy because all they do is argue and fight, they are usually stuck in Stage Two -Power and Control. Sometimes, there is a tremendous amount of resentment and bitterness towards one another which must be worked through. Many times, one partner has taken an unhealthy stance towards being in control - being the boss - and more severe interventions are required. But for most couples, they each have been hurt by the other's selfishness and have stopped communicating effectively.

Listen and Learn
First, in therapy I teach them to communicate in respectful and timely ways. Secondly, couples work on expressing their feelings and their needs in healthy ways. As couples are doing these exercises, they are also learning to become reflective empathic listeners which enables them to leave their selfish position and move into a selfless stance. This in turn, not only helps them to problem solve and compromise, but as each partner desires to do what is best for the other (and for them as a couple) while still  honoring one's integrity and truth ~ they naturally flow back
                                                         into Stage One - Passion and  Chemistry.

Don't get me wrong! This is hard work! But it can be done! And, of course, as our relationships grow and change and as we experience life's transitions, we will be tested.

It's typically not what we do with the challenge that impacts our relationship, but how we treat one another in the process that makes all the difference. 
For now, think about your relationship. How ever long you have been in your relationship, do you move from a position of "what serves you well"? Or, do you think about what pleases your partner and what is healthy for the relationship? Are you a good listener? Are you communicating  face to face on a regular basis? Are you overly set in your ways, or are you willing to problem solve and compromise? Are you taking from the relationship, or are you giving to it? Think it over. Be honest with yourself.  If you need some additional encouragement, I have authored a short e-book with some great tools and exercises in it for reconnecting.

Betrayal Proof Your Relationship: What Couples Need To Know and Do     

Next time, I'm going to give you a couple of exercises for healthy communication, and I'll explain the last two Stages of a Relationship.


Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Tech-Proof Your Relationship! Take the Valentine's Day Quiz!!

Valentine's Day is almost here!  Are you ready?  More importantly, do you feel that your relationship is stronger now that we are constantly 'connected' through technology? Many couples that I have talked with, especially females, are experiencing a loss of connection with their partners even though they are interacting electronically throughout the day! Why might this be?  We'll take a look at why in just a moment, but for now, I'd like you to Tech-Proof Your Relationship by taking a little quiz!

Answer Yes or No. Remember, Yes means true most of the time. Be honest and don't over-think your responses! Also, when answering the questions on your technology habits and usage, we are talking about time spent on any electronic device.  Also, any work time spent on technology is not included. However, this should not exceed 8 hours per day, 5 days a week. Not weekends!  OK, here we go!

1.  I spend more face to face time with technology than with my sweetie.              Yes            No

2. When communicating with my sweetie-pie, I prefer to do so electronically.         Yes            No

3. I spend more time holding my electronic devices than I do my sweetheart.          Yes            No

4. When I'm with my sweetie-cakes (and I don't have my technology with me),       Yes           No
    I am thinking about my social sites, texts, emails, etc.

5. My sweetness says I don't pay attention very well or I am no longer a                 Yes           No
    very good listener.                                                                                  
                                                                                                       Total # of Yes's =   _______

Before we interpret the results of the quiz, let me address the importance of communicating face to face, and why some individuals are feeling less connected to their partners even though their electronic interactions are quite frequent.

First, when we communicate face to face, we experience the feelings and emotions of our partner.
Face to Face 
We take our cues about how and when to respond effectively by observing their mood, body language, and facial expressions. When we are able to modulate our responses in healthy accordance to our partners, this draws us closer together.

Secondly, when we communicate face to face, we look into our partners eyes. By doing so, we validate not only their voice, but we are saying that they are important. Also, when we look into another's eyes and when we are focusing on their feelings, there is an  undeniable human emotion - empathy - that swells within us. And, when we are able to empathize with our partner -to tap into the core of his/her raw emotions with unconditional understanding, we feel deeply connected.

Hold One Another
Thirdly, most of us appreciate a 'good listener'. Speaking from a female's perspective, I believe I can safely say that most women do!  Two points to  make here.  One,  when we are communicating electronically, typically many of us are multi-tasking. This is understandable, but we are not being active listeners - listeners who are doing one thing - listening. Two, because of our increased usage on electronic devices for our daily living, many of us have decreased attention spans or we have lost the ability to really listen (mainly due to lack of need or practice). When we are listening to our partner, and I mean being a reflective listener (which means we are listening so intently that we are able to reflect back to our partner what he or she has said), we connect with them. By being an active listener and utilizing reflective listening skills - we feel heard, we feel understood, and we feel incredibly connected...and close.

With that said, here we go! The results:  Tech-Proof Your Relationship Quiz!

# of Yes's.....

0  -  Congratulations!   Keep your strong connection!  Your priorities are in order! Your sweetie will
       appreciate you!  Go out and celebrate a romantic Valentine's evening!

1  -  Bravo!  Keep the human connection going! You are practicing healthy balanced 
        communication! Enjoy a loving romantic dinner out for Valentine's Day!

2  -  Well done, partner! Your close connection is strong but check in with your sweetie.  Create
        more balance into your communications - strive for  more face to face time. For Valentine's,
        plan a romantic evening out with no technology!

3  -   Time for a more romantic agenda!   Your sweetie needs more face to face time and needs
         your attention. Create time each day to communicate without technology.  Meal time is a great
         place to start! Include the entire family in this!  Then, plan a romantic weekend away or at
         home, with no technology! Practice active and reflective listening.  Make this Valentine's Day a
         time of  love and connection.

4  -  Your Valentine's heart may be hurting!   Take immediate action!  Reset priorities and re-
        establish your face to face connection. Work towards a plan of communication balance in your
        relationship.  Find out what each one of you needs and how to achieve that. For an immediate
        intervention, plan a week with reduced usage at home: start with meal times and after dinner.
        And, plan one weekend a month either away or at home with no technology! During these tech-
        free times, practice active and reflective listening. For Valentine's Day, plan a romantic evening
        with no technology! Look into each other's eyes - talk - listen - and reconnect. You won't regret

5 -  Recapture the romance before its too late!  
      On a lighter  note  - Consider auditioning for the sequel to "Her".
      On a serious note, put down your technology and talk to your sweetie! Implement the following
      interventions!  Reassess your priorities and establish a plan for creating balance in your
      communication. Begin by designating times throughout the day when there is no technology use
      (when you are together): meal times, in the car, after dinner, two hours before bedtime, etc. Plan
      tech-free weekends once a month and schedule weekly date-nights with no technology. Most
      importantly, with your tech-free time together, practice active and reflective listening.   This
      Valentine's Day, make it tech-free! Make it romantic! Feel the connection come alive!

I've tried to make this fun and  I do hope it was received that way! At the same time, I know that change is hard.  I know that my husband and I have to work at this as well.  And, I also know that our relationship benefits from doing so! One of the things that I love about my husband so much is that when I need him to listen, he puts away all technology, turns and faces me, and looks me directly in the eyes.  It  melts my heart....

Happy Valentine's Day !

~ For More "Coupling and Connection" ~

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