September 2014 Issue #44
Today's Topic: How to be in your relationship with all your heart
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We all want our relationship to be the best it can be. However sometimes we unconsciously sabotage our own capacity to be present and loving with our partner. This can happen so easily when we are both stressed or experiencing differing needs and wants.
This newsletter offers some reflections on what can get in the way of an open-hearted connection with your loved one, followed by three practices for unblocking the flow of love between you.
May it be useful to your relationship,
Something to think about
Wherever you go, go with all your heart.
How we vacate our relationship
If we want to experience joy, fulfillment and connection in our relationship, then we need to show up fully – or in other words, be all in. The simple fact of being married or co-habiting doesn’t ensure this. Being fully committed is a choice we make and re-make daily.
Here are a few of the ways we take ourselves away:
Nothing undermines a relationship like having one foot out-the-door. I don’t mean actually leaving your relationship. I mean the many small ways that we leave our partner -- mentally and emotionally – when we fail to be fully present. Then we find ourselves feeling disconnected from our mate and unhappy, and we wonder what happened.
**We focus more attention on our partner’s shortcomings, than we do on their assets. In the process, the things we dislike about our partner become amplified in our mind’s eye, while their strengths shrink in comparison.
**We selectively compare our partner’s shortcomings to the assets of others. We zero in on those attributes of others than we wish our partner possessed. We notice someone else’s partner who seems more successful, more sexy, more romantic, more fun, more _______ (fill in the blank) -- and we negatively compare.
**We blame our partner when we are dissatisfied or unhappy. We entertain the thought that if-only they were being or acting differently, we’d feel better.
**We harbour little resentments about things our partner “should” have done or “shouldn’t” have done. And we nurture these hurts or slights righteously.
**We compare our relationship to the fantasy romance we just saw at the movies or on TV. In these, the partner is usually gorgeous, perfectly coiffed and says and does just the “right” thing.
Need I go on? I know from talking with clients and friends that I’m not the only one who has slipped into this kind of unproductive and negative thinking at times. All of it results in feeling critical and distant from the one we love best.
It’s a slippery slope
When we give a lot of mental air-time to doubts and what-if’s, we take precious energy away from finding solutions to what may be troubling us – and keep ourselves stuck in discontent and fault-finding. This can only lead to more difficulties, which will lead to more doubts. And around it goes. Sometimes we need to mentally give ourselves a shake and notice what we are doing!
So how do we stay positive, constructive and present?
No one can “make us” take a constructive attitude toward the challenges in our relationships – including our partner. We need to take that positive and responsible stand ourselves, in the interests of our own happiness and for the good of our relationship. Here are three practices that can help:
1) Have zero tolerance for resentments.
Resentments occur when we fail to address something that bothers us. Irritation and anger precede resentment and they are signals we need to pay attention to. These feelings are often self-protective and can point us towards hurts we have sustained and boundary-violations we are tolerating.
2) Accept that your partner is a “package” -- just as you are.
So we need to examine our resentments, discover what is at the root of them and take steps to address them. If we allow them to simply fester, we will feel victimized by our partner and nothing will change for the better. Get down to what you are feeling, what you want and what requests you may have for your partner. Or take steps to draw a boundary. You can discover what you need by reflecting on your own (journaling can help) – or by talking with a trusted friend or professional. Initiate the conversation/negotiation with your partner that can lead to change.
Sometimes when we reflect, we may decide to “let go” of what is bothering us. However self-honesty is critical here. Unless you can truly let go of an issue, it needs to be dealt with – even at the risk of conflict. The litmus test of whether you have truly “let go” of something is that there is NO residual resentment and you will feel open and loving towards your partner. If you don’t, then go after resolving the concern. Don’t kid yourself that you can simply “stuff” your feelings. This is costly to your health. And believe me, resentment kills love.
After listening to many people talk about their marriages, I have come to conclude that every partner is a unique “package” of assets and liabilities, strengths and weaknesses. Have you ever noticed that your greatest asset is often the flip side of your greatest weakness? My husband admires my kindness, yet is frustrated when I let others steam-roller me. I admire his ability to stand his ground, yet dislike it when I think he’s taken too tough a stance with someone.
3) Treat yourself and your partner with loving kindness.
I have come to see that the things I admire in my partner (and in myself, for that matter!) often has a shadow side that I’m not so fond of. However no one is perfect and EVERY person is an evolving package of attractive and unattractive qualities. It’s not helpful to parse their attributes, as if we can take some of them and leave out the other parts. They are a package deal. However they are evolving and growing, just as you are.
I have noticed that I am most critical and judgmental towards my spouse when I am being hard on or impatient with myself. However I am often unaware that my harsh inner critic is active until I see my husband flinching (or reacting!) in response to my words or tone. From the teachings of Buddhism, “loving kindness” describes an attitude we can cultivate towards ourselves and others.
With all your heart
Over time I’ve learned that if I’m not treating my partner with love and kindness, then I’m probably not treating myself with love and kindness either. Being kind to myself (in my thoughts and my actions) always benefits those around me too. Treating ourselves well is an investment in ourselves and in the health of our relationships.
I think we all yearn to feel connected with and loving towards our partners on a daily basis. Yet critical, comparative attitudes and withheld resentments all too often get in the way. We can pave the way for love when we deal with our resentments, accept that our partner is package of strengths and weaknesses (as are we) and treat them with the loving kindness that we are learning to cultivate towards ourselves.
Invitation to action
Don’t tolerate feeling distant or disgruntled with your partner this week. Use this article to reflect on what might be getting in the way of love and connection for you. Do you need to deal with a resentment? Accept your partner the way they are? Start treating them and yourself with loving kindness? Take a stand on being in your relationship with all your heart.
Over the past while there has been much conversation about the death of Robin Williams. The good news about this sad event is that it has prompted a public discussion about depression and suicide – experiences so often kept “secret”. I want to share two articles which touched me and expanded my understanding. Confronting Death and Unmasking Suicide
by Vanessa Fisher and Forgive us for our blundering attempts at love
by Heather Plett. Thank you to those who are sharing their personal stories to help us all connect with more awareness and compassion.
Shirley Vollett BSW PCC is a Life and Relationship Coach, with over 25 years of combined experience in counselling and coaching. She delights in helping pro-active individuals make positive changes in their lives, their work/business and their relationships. Her clients appreciate her ability to listen deeply, her compassionate wisdom and her support in staying focused. Contact Shirley for a complimentary intro phone session. If you are experiencing a challenge or are eager to make some changes, explore how coaching works and how she can help. Click on a link below or visit her website.