Five Essential Ingredients In The Recipe For a Mature, Lasting Relationship

Fulfilling mature relationships don’t happen overnight. Most often two people come together through the magnetism of mutual attraction. This is what brings people together but its not what keeps them together

Everyday life intervenes eventually in all relationships. This is when the real work of relationship building begins. It takes patience and commitment to build a lasting relationship. It’s also helpful to keep in mind the following key ”relationship building” guidelines:

1. Get To Know The Full Relationship History Of Your Partner

More than likely you are not the first person your partner has been in relationship with. For this reason it’s important to start the dialog early on about all of the romantic relationships that have preceded you. It’s also important to begin to understand relationships in a broader context as concerns your partner. What kind of friendships and family relationships are in his/her current and past life? All of this is important data when you want to develop intimacy with another person. You need to talk about and explore strengths and vulnerabilities with each other. Are you with someone who has lasting relationships or not? Does your love interest have close family and friends? If not, why not?

2. Practice Effective Communication Immediately With A New Love Interest

As you are getting to know someone new, remember to do at least as much listening as you do talking about yourself. Slow everything down and check that you are truly understanding what it is that is being said. You can even check your understanding by asking “Did I get that right?” Or, “Is this what you’re trying to say?” Don’t assume you know things, or interrupt the flow of another’s conversation. Ask questions and be curious.

3. Build A Deep Friendship Based On Mutual Respect And Trust

Focus on what you can give to another rather than what they can give you. How can you be of service to this person in support of who they are authentically as a human being? Do for them and they will do for you. That’s how it works. The love flows naturally from this.

4. Build A “We” In Relationship That enhances Rather Than Detracts From Each “I”

By This I mean that in the best and most mature relationships, neither individual needs to force the other to sacrifice who they are as an individual. You each become who you are, and this is a source of pride and wonder for your partner, rather than a source of competition or derision. Together you become more than the sum of your parts because of the unique “blend” that you are. Individually you are each of you whole human beings and you value and support each other on your lifelong journey.

5. Find the right “balance” in your relationship… in all things.

Time together should ideally be balanced with time alone. Time with “Us” friends should be balanced with time with “Me” friends. Always find ways to have “me” time. Balance of “power” means equality in terms of making mutual decisions, and taking the needs and preferences of your partner into consideration.

These five concepts are just “starter” ideas I have come up with though my experience with watching and counseling children, individuals, couples, and families. It’s about finding and keeping relationships that are about growth and change, rather than suffocation and dominance. It’s also about valuing equally the “relationship” and the” individual”.

Relationships In Adolescence

LOOKING FIRST AT PRESCHOOL RELATIONSHIPS:

Observing Preschoolers as they “play” taught me that there are three ways young children interact. First, there are the natural “leaders” who always come up with ideas and delegate “roles” or “tasks” to other children. Then there are the “followers” who are perfectly happy to follow along with whatever the leader delegates to them. In the third group, are the kids who can flexibly move between being a “leader” or a “follower” depending on the type of play, and the personalities of the other members of the playgroup?

Members of the third “flexible” group” have the easiest time fitting in with a new situation when it is necessary to make new friends or leave behind old friends. This is because a more “flexible” child can participate in the “give and take” that is part of forming successful relationships. A flexible child can allow another child to choose the game this time, knowing that next time it will be his/her turn.

Equally important, a more socially flexible child is perfectly happy being alone for a time, and will spend more energy figuring out which friends are the best “fit”
When we “coach” young children to have better social skills we always try to coach them into more flexibility.

AND NOW ADOLESCENT RELATIONSHIPS:

Working with preschoolers ended up to be the best possible training for understanding the complexity of adolescent relationships…especially when you add “romance” and the urgency of raging hormones into the mix.

In the same way as preschoolers, adolescents want to be a part of their peer group. They are looking to form close friendships with peers as well as more intimate relationships with opposite or same sex partners. The added pressure of sexual attraction obviously complicates the situation.

What I have found is that teenagers who were more “flexible” as preschoolers in terms of their friendship bonds, have an easier time in High School, college, and early adulthood. When a young person hits adolescence and has already had the experience of many types of relationships, as well as the experience of being comfortably alone, that person will form better and more lasting bonds. I think its because an adolescent who spends time both alone and with many types of people knows him/herself better. The question of “Who am I when I am not with you?” is more easily answered.

In short, the “flexible” preschooler has the opportunity for a more stable adolescent and adult identity. Lasting relationships are then built upon a strong sense of solid “self”

There is a lot of research out there that suggests early education is important for intellectual development, but I’d like to make the case that its also important for social and emotional development.

It can make all the difference

Relationship Formation In Early Childhood

Early on in my training to be a pre-school teacher I took a course in The Observation Of Young Children”. The idea was to observe children ages 2 thru 5 as they “played” in a natural environment. The experience was “Eye Opening”

What I found is that children become very social at an early age. Making friends is of paramount importance and not all pre-school children are very good at it. Some are very dominating (bossy). Others are extremely shy and easily dominated. It is the beginning of the power dynamics that we see playing out in relationships throughout the life cycle. You see it in couples, in siblings, in the workplace, and even politically on the National and global scale.

What I grew to understand over the years is that individuals who have the need to dominate others are not that different in a certain way from those who are easily dominated. They are both fundamentally very insecure in terms of their own identity. Here is how I see it:

Even though the seemingly more powerful can manipulate and bully others to do their bidding (and yes I see this in a 3 year old), underneath that “bravado” is someone who feels like they can’t just simply ask for what they want. The fine art of relationship formation whereby there is a “give and take” of getting to know one another is unknown to a bully. In truth they are afraid. I have seen this fear in a three year old who does not know how to make a successful social approach, but is dying for a friend.

The easily “dominated” have a different kind of problem. These kids on the playground were often painfully shy. As shy as these kids were, I would observe them agreeing to do “anything” to curry favor with the more dominant children on the playground.

So…there you have it. In preschool the power dynamics in relationship are already beginning to show themselves. Preschool social development is where you see lasting patterns of social interaction. Later on, these dynamics show up again when superficial relationships deepen and become intimate. This is what I discovered as I moved from being a preschool teacher to becoming a relationship therapist

Why Did I Decide To Be A Relationship Therapist?

 I found myself thinking the other day about why I do the kind of work I do.  It’s a good question to ask, I think.  I’m at the age now when I could at least begin to think about retirement, but for some reason it doesn’t even cross my mind.

This leads to the question of how I got here.  I love this work.  It feels important.  It feels to me that working with people and improving their relationships is the obvious culmination of all work I have done before.  This is where I was meant to “land”.  So what was the first step on my journey?

The first step on my career path was as a pre-school teacher.  This entailed getting a good understanding of child development and learning about the very first stages of becoming a human being.

Here is where the importance of relationship first entered my consciousness, and became a pivotal concept for me in my work…and in my life.

A child comes into the world literally through the process of his/her physical relationship to “mother”. Very quickly this helpless infant must bond to a mother or caregiver in order to just survive.  Relationship is survival. It is as simple as that, and yet as profound as that.

So…no wonder that early relationships in a child’s life have a profound and lasting effect on all subsequent relationships.

This is how it all started for me.  Studying the interactions of babies with their mothers/fathers/ caregivers/family and teachers laid the foundation for interest in all relationships of people as they interact and are interdependent all over the planet.

I began to realize that disruption, abuse, loss, or any kind of trauma in the early baby/caregiver bond set a blueprint for how a human is able to form necessary attachments throughout life. Secure attachments are the bedrock of healthy relationships throughout life. I’m still learning about this and trying to help people “re attach” successfully at all stages of their lives

This is the work that I do

Mastering The Art Of Deep Listening

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I think it is fair to say that there is a deep socio/political divide in America right now. All around me it feels like there is evidence that we are not all on the same page about who we are as a people, what our values should be, and how we treat other people.

Underlying the “divide” is the collective emotion of FEAR. In my 25 years as a therapist it is my observation that fear often divides us as human beings. We struggle to connect, to understand each other, and to create harmonious, peaceful, nurturing relationships, but we often fall short. We fall short in our family relationships, in our community and institutional relationships, and even in our relationships as citizens of a particular country or of the world as a whole.

At this particular point in time I find the reality of the “disconnect” between people to be particularly distressing. How did this happen? I sometimes feel like I inhabit a different country than other people, and yet I somehow missed how different our realities really were. I guess I was afraid to really look.

It’s dawning on me recently that I am responsible for my part in creating this disconnect. I have been asleep. I have been complacent. I have surrounded myself with others who believe as I do and we have congratulated ourselves on how right and smart and compassionate we are. We are not. I am not.

For me, the reality is that I have not been listening. I have not been listening in a deep way. I have not been listening in a way that promotes deep understanding and empathy. I have not attempted to put myself into the reality of someone who does not share my view with the goal of just really “getting” them. The truth is I often enjoy the argument. I want to be “right”. I can’t solve the problems in the world as a whole, but I can change the way I listen to people regardless of weather or not they agree with me. This is the only way to begin to dispel the fear that continues to divide us.  It must begin with me. Below are the communication skills that I teach to couples when they have trouble communicating. I’m going to start using these skills all the time…. not just in my therapy room

HOW TO START REALLY LISTENING:

  1. Suspend all preconceived notions you may have about the views held by the person you are trying to communicate with. Take the view that you are here to “learn” about a different point of view… a different reality. Zen people would call it “beginners mind”. Your job as “listener” is not to defend yourself, or prove the other wrong. Lay your weapons down.
  1. After you have heard the other person out without interruptions, ask “clarifying” questions. Basically this is not about refuting what you have heard. It’s about understanding what you have heard. When you feel you have a decent understanding, check it out. Repeat back what you think you heard and correct the parts that aren’t right.
  1. Part three is the most important. Try your best to find an empathy bridge to this other persons view. “I can see how you might feel this way” for example. Try to find a way to understand and communicate to this other person that their point of view makes sense

In an ideal world, the other person in your dialog would become your “listener” in the second part of this exercise. Sometimes this is not possible, and you are up against someone who does not have the empathy for you that you are able to have for him or her. I would argue however, that you are still better off. You have given the best possible opportunity for understanding and “breakthroughs” are possible and do happen. From these “breakthroughs” are created new and more inclusive points of view, and the world becomes one where there are not “winners” and “losers” (zero sum game), but multiple “winners” (non zero sum game

That’s the world I want to live in.

 

 

 

 

 

Finding Love….How To Reclaim Your Hidden Self

Finding Love…. Reclaiming and Celebrating the Hidden Self

Wholeness

Wholeness

I’ve recently begun a series of blogs devoted to solving the “riddle” of “Finding Love” in our lives. First I talked about “The Importance of Feeling Seen”. Next I touched upon “Daring to be vulnerable”. Now I want to talk more specifically about the part of us that often is not seen by others…the “hidden” self that feels tender and vulnerable and remains unseen unless we allow it to emerge from the shadows of our personality. In fact, the famous psychologist Carl Jung referred to our hidden self as the “shadow”. In simple terms, your “shadow” is any part of yourself that you don’t want to be seen by others…and in fact you may not even allow yourself to see it because you have denied it for so long or buried it so deep. Examples of “shadow” parts of us might be our extreme shame, or our desperate longing to be loved…orperhaps our bitter jealousy of a sister, brother, or friend.

Virtually anything can be in our shadow if its something we don’t want to “own” or admit to. It could even be a hidden talent that we are afraid to develop lest we won’t be perfect at it. Whatever the shadow is doesn’t matter. What matters is uncovering it…first to yourself…and then to another with whom you wish to achieve authentic intimacy. Uncovering and exposing your shadow is important work on the path to wholeness and, I believe essential for finding lasting love.

How Do You Know What’s In Your Shadow?

I think most of us are pretty conscious of certain parts of ourselves that we keep hidden much of the time. Who amongst us has not been jealous or envious for example? Recently I have found that it’s quite liberating to admit to my trusted women friends that I have felt jealous of them from time to time. I was amazed when I did this. When my jealously was hidden and suppressed I found it difficult to be happy for the good fortune of my friends. When I admitted envy, I could rejoice with them. I could join with my friend and we could be happy together. My jealously came out of the shadows and became an admitted part of who I am.

Now…. Look At Your Projections and Discover The Connection Between Judgment And Projection

In order to find deeper parts of our shadow selves that we really don’t want to admit to or just can’t see, we have to notice the places where we sit in extreme judgment of other people. What happens is that when we really don’t want to admit to a trait within ourselves we react strongly to that trait in another person. This very human tendency is called “Projection” and it’s a really good way to keep our shadow selves at bay. For me, a really good example was when a good friend of mine got a new car that I’d been coveting for a while, but I could not afford right now. All of a sudden I was talking negatively to others about the extreme foolishness of her buying this car. My extreme reaction was Projection. I could not just be happy for her until I admitted my jealousy and took back the projection. My projection, in this case gave me a clue about that same old hidden part of myself called envy

Know That You Are Enough

Brene Brown is a well-known “Shame” researcher who has studied the emotion of shame extensively. One of her findings is that people who are driven by the need to be “perfect” are often keeping huge parts of themselves hidden from themselves and others. What they are keeping hidden is obviously anything that does not fit the image that they are trying to project of being “perfect”. These hidden “non perfect” aspects are part of the shadow of a perfectionist. What a burden! Perfectionism becomes a problem of course, simply because it is unobtainable. Brene Brown stresses the importance of Knowing that you are enough which means, I believe owning all of the parts of yourself…the perfect and the imperfect. In her book, Daring To Be Vulnerable Dr. Brown also talks about how often all of us avoid looking at the imperfect parts of ourselves by staying ultra busy, or numbing ourselves with the many distractions that are available in our modern world. Drugs and alcohol also serve this purpose.

So…. Celebrate All Of Who You Are

So…now that you know how to find your “hidden self”, rejoice in it, reveal it, and celebrate your well-earned place in the human race. People will find you much more approachable as you emerge from the shadows, as long as you surround yourself with a trusted cadre of like-minded folks. One of my favorite songwriters is Leonard Cohen. He has a great line in one of his songs about how true enlightenment comes when a crack appears in anything that we as humans call “perfect” This is how the line goes: “There is a crack, a crack, in everything…that’s how the light gets in. That’s how the light gets in”

 

 

 

Finding Love….The Importance Of Feeling “Seen”

Baby In Mirror

Baby In Mirror

 

I have not posted in awhile, but have not lost sight of my intention to explore the mystery of how to find love in our lives. I’m offering a way that we can each create an individualized roadmap in order to embark on this life altering journey. I will be breaking down the journey in a series of blogs. This one is about looking carefully at where we are right now in terms of feeling we are “fully seen” by important people in our lives…including ourselves. I believe this is the first step toward the ultimate goal of wholeheartedly giving and receiving love.

       My long hiatus from writing blogs has come about because of two recent experiences in my life. In the “living” of these experiences I have learned something that I only knew intellectually before. My “embodied” learning is the following: I don’t believe that any of us humans can fully give and receive love unless we have had the experience of being fully seen, heard, and understood by meaningful people in our lives. . My first experience was attending the “Burning Man” festival in the Black Rock desert of Nevada. The second experience was attending a 2-day couples therapy workshop where I learned something of the principles and practice of Imago couples therapy.

Burning Man

The Burning Man experience is difficult to explain in a few sentences, but for the purposes of this blog, the feature I want to concentrate on is a Burning Man main principle. It is the principle of “Radical Inclusion”…. which basically means you are encouraged to show up at the event in whatever way best expresses your true and most authentic self. Of course, in such an environment people are going to dress, or not dress, in very extreme ways…but this is exactly the point. What I found at Burning Man was that I got to “play” with as many versions of myself as I wanted…and everything was accepted and celebrated. This might sound like a really fun costume party…but actually it was a whole lot more. Much more important was the “heady” feeling I got that people really saw and appreciated me. I felt like I was about 3 years old on the jungle gym…saying, “Look at me!!!” At the same time, of course, I was looking at everyone else and appreciating the way they were presenting themselves. The best way to sum up the experience is that a true feeling of love and acceptance permeated through my body and soul at Burning Man. It was a feeling of love for everything and everybody, and I promise you that no drugs were involved. Wonder why “Burners” go back to Burning Man year after year? This is a big part of why. We don’t get this experience in life on a daily basis. More’s the pity. I think we really need it.

Imago Couples Therapy

It was excellent timing for me to attend the Imago Couples therapy workshop right after Burning Man. In this training I learned the importance of “mirroring” for the quality of  couples communication …that is the importance of being able to feed back to a person that you have really heard and understood them. This is not unlike the experience of mother and baby. When a young baby is held in his/her caregiver’s arms, the caregiver ideally “mirrors” back to the infant that this infant is seen, heard, and loved. The “mirroring” is done through the “baby talk” of the adult who is responding minute to minute to the baby’s vocalizations…maybe even imitating them. This is the basis of attachment. This is the basis of love. More fundamentally, the “mirroring” experience in early infancy is what gives the baby the experience of actually existing. (kind of a I am mirrored, therefore I am)  When an infant experiences the facial expressions and “attunement” of a caregiver, this infant feels love. And the love feeds back to the caregiver who loves back in equal measure

The Couple Is Just Like Mother/Father and baby

Attachment in a couple is actually exactly like mother/father and baby attachment. Through the repetitive “mirroring” exercises of imago therapy, each member of the couple practices hearing and repeating back exactly what they heard from the other half of the couple. The result is pretty amazing, as each member of the couple understands, maybe for the very first time, what it is like to stand in the shoes of his partner without judgment and assumption. Love can begin to flow freely again  from a place of truly understanding who that person before you actually is.

What These Experiences Can Teach About The Importance Of Feeling Seen

After the experience of Burning Man and now having tried leading couples through mirroring exercises, I’m convinced that we must each find ways to bring the people and experiences into our life who allow us to  feel fully seen, understood, and appreciated. These days I’m not willing to spend much time with people when this is not the case…Life is too short and I know for a fact that love can only emerge, thrive, and grow when enough of your environment “mirrors” back to you your full, flawed, and ultimately imperfect self.