Breaking the Cycle of Negativity in Your Relationship

Too often, when we encounter challenges and conflict in our primary relationships we tend to spiral down very quickly. When we’re in this down cycle, rather than pausing to assess what’s happening, we tend to fall into a reactive debate around who is right or wrong. As we all know this non-rational instinct is ruinous and sets up a no win scenario. If I need to be right and that makes you wrong, how’s that going to work out? The more sensible goal is to try to turn the tide of the degenerative energy that you’re both experiencing.

In these conflicted downslides that we endure the competitive energy that befalls the couple makes them very antagonistic. To shift back into a healthy, collaborative and supportive experience simply requires a shift of mind. This shift is easy but counterintuitive; we must let go of our reactive impulses and quiet our mind.

If you want to re-enter the energy field of the initial romantic engagement or the caring friendship you once enjoyed, try to selflessly get into the other person’s shoes. Doing this doesn’t mean you’re abandoning your position; it simply means you’re trying to care about and validate the other person. You’re not pleading guilty but acting mindfully. If I try to appreciate and care about my upset partner’s point of view, I’m invoking a shift of energy.

Connecting empathically with your partner is the most powerful thing you can do in those troubling times. Doing so can turn the tide from a competitive—even emotionally or verbally abusive— exchange back into the loving energy field you once experienced. After all, it’s easy to say, “I love you,” but it’s far more important to be able to act lovingly when you’re feeling upset.

Another way of shifting the energy of your relationships is to express positive feelings. Once we’ve defaulted into negativity, it’s natural to get caught in a hostile loop. We succumb to having— and expressing— critical thoughts and feelings about each other. Negativity fills the space between the two of you. There are times in therapy sessions when individuals may share with me positive or appreciative feelings they felt about their partner, even when their relationship is troubled. If I ask, “Did you share that with them?” I rarely hear a yes. It makes no sense to acclimate to negativity and yet avoid sharing something positive.

As silly as it seems, we may feel awkward expressing kind thoughts and feelings. This is because we’ve gotten stuck in the groove of negativity, which only widens the gap. We may be holding back something positive so as not to give the other person a stronger hand— a sign that we’ve retreated to separate battle stations. Set a new intention: when you feel good about the other person, share it. This immediately shifts the energy and sets up a breakthrough potential.

In trying to reset the downward spiral of your relationship cycle, the common expression, “You can’t change another person,” appears plausible. When we are stuck and embattled, each party becomes more defensive. But from a differing perspective, if you alter some aspect of yourself as we’ve been discussing, your partner will be impacted. Change yourself and your partner is immediately impacted. Don’t try to win, try to understand. Find something you may agree with or some positive perception and the avalanche that is overwhelming you both may retreat. This sets up a new possibility for a fundamental shift about how you feel about each other.

This article was excerpted in part from Mel’s book, The Possibility Principle.

 

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Entangled People, Entangled Issues

Romantic relationships offer a unique opportunity for our personal growth, although they typically bring some degree of disturbances and challenges. Our interpersonal relations showcase the chronic issues that each individual brings with them as the complexities of their personal life experiences spill over into the relationship.

The tendency to blame each other only results in each person feeling invalidated and therefore upset. When this happens we pull back from the sense of loving oneness that we once felt and begin to see each other as separate individuals. We differentiate issues as his problem or her issue. What began as a loving, connected union begins to dissipate into conflict and the sense of oneness withers into separation.

When we see our partner’s insecurities, defensiveness and challenges as separate and distinct from our own, we become tricked by the illusion of separation. Their issues become our issues. The problems may be different, but they are not separate. Picture a drop of ink as it drips into a beaker of water. The ink disperses throughout and it’s trail becomes indistinct and diffuse. The same thing happens in relationships. Each person’s fears, challenges and unresolved issues become interspersed with their partner’s problems and trigger further reactivity, exacerbating the couple’s problems.

I often hear one person claim, I have no issues but my spouse certainly does. How silly! If you believe the other person has challenges—as we all do—they are sure to affect you, which means you have a problem as well. Trying to compartmentalize yourself as separate from the other person is naive and unachievable.

Picture yourself on a seesaw with your partner. You’re up in the air and of course they must be on the ground. You are inextricably connected, each of you affecting the other. If you need to win, then they must lose. How do you think that’s going to work out? If we move past the transactional attitude that sets up a win-lose, you—versus—me stance into the perspective of one team, we can shift to a win—win, mind—set. You then shift into a participatory relationship.This perspective reveals that you both participate in your reality-making process.

If you find yourself in an adversarial situation with your partner, ask yourself, “Are they intending to hurt or devalue me?” If you feel hurt ask them if that was their intention. If it wasn’t their intention, then you might look at why you’re personalizing their words or actions. This is  not to suggest that you surrender and accept unhealthy behavior. You might say something like. “I just feel unimportant to you when you ignore how I feel or tell me my feelings are wrong. I feel hurt. Do you care how I feel? 

If you’re thinking the worst about the other person and go on the attack, you’ll trigger their worst reaction and you’ll both be sliding into an ugly place. You can choose to try to connect with empathy or to engage in conflict. Choose your path and you’ll get the corresponding result. Each person’s challenges provide an opportunity for the other’s growth. It’s your choice as to how to handle it.

This was excerpted from Mel’s new book, The Possibility Principle: How Quantum Physics Can Improve the Way You Think,Live and Love.

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The Wrong Reason for Staying Married

The institution of marriage should be intended to enrich our lives. Certainly we might agree that the purpose of marriage ought to be to enhance our life and further our sense of meaning, purpose and gratification. Yet this expectation meets with an incredible rate of disappointment, if not outright failure. Ironically, marriage often becomes the justification for people’s unhappiness.

The fact that more than fifty percent of marriages end in divorce is actually the lesser of the problem. The greater difficulty lies in the fact that the majority of intact marriages are far from joyful. And many people regrettably live out their lives that way.

Remaining in the discontent and lethargy of an unhappy marriage, dulled by the absence of a more hopeful vision, can be downright depressing. And yet, so many people resign themselves to such lives.

Many individuals in such relationships merely give up and don’t work on improving their relations. They stay stuck in their unhappiness due to their fears. Divorce, although tumultuous and potentially scarring, at least provides the possibility of better days. I’m not glibly promoting divorce but suggesting that we do every thing in our power to awaken our relationships and live more meaningfully. Let’s take a deeper look at this dilemma.

The Fear Factor

Fear is the greatest impediment to growth in our lives. Very often, people are literally afraid of sharing their true feelings with their partners. They go silent and angry rather than expose their more vulnerable feelings. The fear may run the gamut: the fear of divorce and its incumbent anxieties or simply the avoidance of coming to terms with a relationship that may be lacking in intimacy, passion or respect. Another poignant fear may simply be the anxiety of being alone and starting life over again..

When you stay married out of fear, the emotional paralysis that pervades further poisons the relationship. Staying together out of resignation – due to fear – results in an enigmatic dilemma. Such people won’t consider divorce, and yet they are convinced that their marriage won’t improve, so they don’t work on the relationship. This is the worst of all possible scenarios.

If you find yourself in this place, it’s essential that you address your fears. The fear of divorce paradoxically eliminates any chance of improvement in the relationship. It produces a state of inertia, and the ensuing stagnation and frustration make mediocre marriages even worse. They become imprisoning.

If we can work through the fears around separation, then we are electing to stay in the marriage not from fear but from choice. This movement begins to unburden the chronic state of unhappiness, and genuine marital therapy may begin. In other words, processing the fear of divorce is not necessarily for the purpose of divorcing; it is for the purpose of clarity. Am I staying married for the wrong reasons?

Fear filters our perceptions and participates in constructing our reality. The ways in which you see your partner are very much informed by your emotions, particularly anger. This anger may have arisen in part because you’re feeling mired in a hopeless relationship.

Getting unstuck permits you to either create a healthier relationship or to move forward. Either choice may be preferable to remaining unhappy without a glimmer of hope. Fear should not be a factor in your choice. Ultimately, the question is how much happiness you feel you deserve. It is not selfish to deserve happiness. In fact, to forgo your own contentment becomes a model of unhealthy self-sacrifice for your children – who will likely suffer in their own self-esteem by having parents who betrayed their own fulfillment.

For the Sake of the Children

One prevailing theme related to fear of divorce is that the act of divorce, in and of itself, will damage the children. People research multiple studies to substantiate this concern. By all means such an upheaval in our children’s lives should not be taken lightly. Divorce needs to be well considered, and navigating the children through this process should be undertaken with insight, reflection and empathy.

Yet, very few people consider the consequences of children growing up in unhappy yet intact homes, as they witness conflicted, unloving and uncooperative parental relations. Children tend to model what they see in their parents’ relations. Certainly, as parents we want better for our kids. Yet, the likelihood is that such children will incline toward similar marriages. Worse still, many parents claim their kids really don’t know anything is wrong with the marriage. The irony is that they will therefore normalize what may be a mediocre, disappointing or conflicted marriage. At least the kids ought to know that the marriage is indeed falling short of the mark. In that way, they can note the failure and aim higher for themselves when they come of age.

The legacy of unhappiness

Is this the legacy we want for our children? To be the best we can be as parents we need to model a level of authenticity in our lives. One in which we face our challenges and struggles and don’t succumb to fear. Isn’t that what we’d want for them? If you choose to stay married, commit to the process and model that commitment for your children. If your marriage precludes the opportunity for happiness, have the courage to face your fears. Let’s not claim that we’re protecting our children by exposing them to unhealthy relations. We need to face our fears, embrace them and choose to stay married from a healthy place of growth and hopefulness, not succumb to the deprivation of a joyless life.

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Quantum Relationship: Keeping Your Love Connected

quantum-relationship2The experience of falling in love is altogether reminiscent of what in quantum physics is known as entanglement. In the microscopic realm once two particles experience a shared state, they are no longer separate entities but exist as one. This remains true even when they are separated by a great distance. The falling part of the falling in love process requires a falling away of many individual boundaries as the two people merge significant parts of themselves. The coupling moves the two individuals into an entangled sense of oneness.

 

All living beings are energy fields manifesting through their physical form. Mere physical attraction to another is based on sensory stimulation, but being in lust is not quite the same as being in love. Falling in love requires that our energies coalesce with one another. When this occurs, our energy field resonates with our partner’s energy field, and our vibrations harmonize with each other’s, so that two individuals are no longer distinctly separate. This energetic interchange happens simultaneously on physical, emotional, and spiritual levels, and it is what makes falling in love—and staying in love—potentially the most fulfilling experience in life.

 

Over the course of time, however, many people indicate that although they may still love the other, they no longer feel in love. There’s a common belief that as the years pass, falling out of love is natural and to be expected. I’d suggest that it may be ordinary, but that doesn’t make it natural. Falling in love and sustaining it requires maintaining a sense of oneness.

 

In the turmoil we experience when a relationship becomes adversarial, we need to acknowledge or change something to shift the energy away from separation and back toward entangled wholeness. Making that shift may mean changing our beliefs, our perceptions, or our behaviors or possibly all of these. You might ask yourself, “What is my partner seeing in me that I don’t see in myself?”

 

If you set out to reenter the energy field of the initial romantic entanglement or the caring friendship, you can selflessly try to get in the other’s shoes. This is an exercise in empathy. Doing this doesn’t mean you are abandoning your position; it simply means loving and validating your partner. If I try to appreciate and care about my upset partner’s point of view, I’m invoking a shift of energy. Connecting empathetically with our partner is the most powerful thing we can do in such troubled moments. It can turn the tide from a competitive, maybe even emotionally and verbally abusive, exchange back into a loving energy field once again entangled with caring. (If you try this approach consistently and with genuine affection, but your partner doesn’t reciprocate over time, you might well consider whether the relationship is right for you.)

 

Another way of shifting the energy of a relationship is to express positive feelings or appreciation for your partner. Once a couple’s energy has drifted into separatism and conflict, they may default to unloading critical thoughts and feelings with each other. Negativity then fills the divide they have structured. Yet there are times in therapy when individuals may share with me positive or appreciative feelings they experienced about their partner. When I ask, “Did you share that with your partner?” I rarely hear a yes. Why would we become acclimatized to sharing the negative, yet feel awkward or reluctant to express approving or positive feelings? It’s because we’ve gotten stuck in the groove of negativity, which only widens that gap between us. We may be holding back an expression of approval so as not to give the other a stronger hand—a sign that we have set up separate battle stations. So set your intention: when you feel good about the other person, articulate it to him or her.

 

In trying to reset the downward spiral of the relationship cycle, it may be helpful to pause and not be reactive. Take a moment before criticizing or defending and ask yourself, “Does this really matter?” If it doesn’t, you can choose to let it go and create a very different reality. Again, this is an energy shifter.

 

The common expression “You can’t change the other person” appears sensible when a relationship is in turmoil. But from the quantum view of inseparability, if you change some aspect of yourself, it will necessarily affect your partner, because you’re both as connected as our quantum particles.

 

This post was excerpted from Mel’s forthcoming book, The Possibility Principle: How Quantum Physics Can Improve the Way You Think, Live and Love Sep. 2017 (Sounds True).

 

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Should I Stay or Should I Go?

should-i-stay-or-should-i-goCountless people struggle with the answer to this most daunting question. As our relationship hangs on the precipice of making this decision, how we go about making the “right” choice is critical. Committed relationships are typically fraught with challenges and much emotional and psychological upheaval. Yet, these challenges are rife with opportunity at the same time. The opportunity is for our individual growth, and possibly, the growth of the partnership. Let’s look at what’s necessary for making an enlightened decision about the future of our relationship.
Anger
We should never make any life-altering decision from anger. Our wrath may feel justifiable and we need to appropriately express our feelings, but beneath the anger lays deeper and more authentic emotions, such as fear, sadness or pain. Try getting in touch with your more vulnerable feelings and take the risk of expressing them to your partner. Articulating what feels vulnerable is not weak; it’s just the opposite. It’s authentic. Love can flourish with vulnerable communication. Defending against our hurt feelings erects a barrier to true emotional intimacy.
When two individuals communicate their vulnerable side to each other, so much becomes revealed. It’s where our genuine self resides and it needs to be heard. If your partner is the “right” partner they’ll be listening and caring when you reveal your softer side. If they turn a deaf ear, you may have your answer.
Fear
Critical choices are often made or avoided from our fear of the consequences. I’ve seen numerous marriages remain intact due to a multitude of fears: being alone, concern for the children or financial consequences. Staying in a relationship because of fear is often ruinous for it imprisons the future vitality of the relationship. Resentment and anger are the byproducts of staying in a relationship due to fear, as both people stop hoping for a better tomorrow. And they therefore stop trying.
We often worry about the consequences of our actions. We should also contemplate the consequences of our inactions. Work through your limiting fears and you’ll be in a clearer place to come to your decision.
Am I part of the problem?
Can I say I’ve looked at my part in the relationship struggle and tried to see myself as my partner sees me? Have I moved past the right vs. wrong debate and tried to empathize with how they feel? Have I engaged in couple’s therapy and/or individual therapy? Have I tried to be the change that I’m seeking in them? If your answer is yes, then you may be ready to make your choice.
Ultimately a primary purpose of a relationship should be to enhance your life. Hopefully your union began that way. Over time the challenges that relationships stir up may cause us to feel diminished. This in turn fuels frustration and resentment and the energy of your relationship spirals downward.
To turn the tide of negativity in your relationship try to shift the energy that you’re both experiencing. In the downward spiral of negativity, our reactions and criticism of each other quicken.  When a client shares with me in therapy a positive feeling they had about their partner and I inquire if they shared that with the other person, the answer is typically no.  Criticizing and blaming each other become familiar, but ironically if we have a warm or positive feeling about the other, we resort to silence. Come out of the rut you’re stuck in and present your best self. If you partner is “right” for you, they’ll do the same.
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Falling In and Out – and Back – in Love

falling in and out of loveThe experience of falling in love is truly a thing of marvel. It’s a remarkable and incomparable feeling. Time seems altered and our senses become fervently alive. Each moment has meaning and intent. This is a peak moment in life. Yet, sadly over time we tend to fall out of love as easily as we fall in love. We may say that we still love one another but we’re not in love. Let’s explore why this occurs and what this phenomenon is that we call love. Read more

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Would You Like to Be the Partner I Want You to Be?

In my role as a relationship therapist, I’ve begun prompting couples to ask their partners, “Would you like to be the person that I’m asking you to change into? Would you like to be the partner that I want you to be?”

This type of inquiry quiets the tired back and forth, right and wrong ping ponging that gets us nowhere. It’s not uncommon to ask your partner to make changes in their beliefs, attitudes, or behavior to accommodate your wishes. Very often, though, this is met by an entrenched resistance from the person being asked to change. You should ask yourself if you’re resisting simply for the sake of resisting, or would the requested change be consistent with your own growth and personal evolution?

If what is being requested seems authentic and resonant with your growth, and you are nevertheless resisting, then you might want to pay attention to why you’re digging your heels in. If you’re caught up in the power struggle and keeping a scorecard of offenses, the path to amicability remains obstructed; the larger picture is surely being missed.

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Creating Resilient Relationships

The wonder of first meeting and falling in love is in part due to the curiosity and passion of learning about each other. Regrettably, over time most relationships tend to wear down as predictability, distraction, communication issues and/or boredom set in. What can we do to ensure that our relations are resilient, that they have elasticity and bounce back from the stresses of life? We must learn how to keep our relations energized.

Relationships, and particularly marriages, are not closed systems that operate in a vacuum, but are open and natural systems that are part of much larger systems that greatly impact the health of the marriage. When we speak of a marriage, we are talking about so much more than the simple relationship of two people. The relationship of the couple is enormously impacted by infinite factors that would appear to be somewhat outside of the domain of the marriage, but they nevertheless greatly impact the relationship.

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The 5% Rule

being understoodLearning to remain present and not get drawn into the right or wrong argument requires a willful intention to come out of the groove of an old habit. Typically, in a contentious discussion or argument defending oneself is a trigger reaction. We react defensively and then in turn blame or attack. This type of exchange seems mindless and bears little chance of success. Both people feel invalidated and the chasm between the two only widens.

Yet, even in the worst of adversarial encounters, there are a few charges that might make sense to us. However, our thoughts filter these out as we seek to bolster our argument and not detract from it. Having done so, we remain mired in the ping-pong match that takes us nowhere and invalidates one another. Read more

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Shared Meaning

We take for granted that our words convey exactly what we intend them to. This is a particularly misinformed assumption. I have observed that upon deeper scrutiny, the words, let alone the concepts, tend not to be received in the way the messenger anticipates. By the time a few sentences have passed, we may have a totally missed communication. How often do we pause and considerately ask the other what they mean by the word they are using?

Although this problem is more glaring in confrontational discourse, it impacts amicable conversations as well. “You don’t know how to be intimate,” she exclaims. He retorts, “I don’t know how to be intimate? You’re so angry and cold who would ever want to be intimate with you?” In the following minutes this couple is off to the races, pushing buttons and hurling invective. Read more

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