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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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5 Principles That Unleash Your Power of Communication

dialogueWhat could be more important than acquiring a strong command of our communication?  We know that these skills are essential for enjoying successful relationships, building prosperous careers, and attaining genuine self-esteem. Learning to communicate effectively–and convincingly–provides us with the opportunity to live a fearless and resilient life.  Here are 5 primary principles that can unleash your personal power.

 

 Principle 1.   Surrender the NEED to be right
In marital counseling I may at times ask people: Would you rather be right or rather be loved (happy)? Although virtually everyone says they would prefer happiness, the battle soon retreats to right vs. wrong. We turn our relationships into a debate. If you pause and consider it, it’s really insane isn’t it? The very fact that we’d mindlessly choose to win an argument at the cost of damaging our relationships points to something terribly amiss.

 

The need to win an argument assures that no one is actively listening. Feeling loved, cared for and validated is nullified by the drive to be right. If I need to be right, and we have differing points of view, that obviously makes you wrong. Doesn’t exactly sound like the stuff of friendships, let alone romantic relations. This compulsion to be right sidetracks our lives and impedes our learning and happiness. The need to be right, to win at all costs, is antithetical to enjoying empathic and compassionate relationships.
 

 

Principle 2. The 5% Rule — Turing Conflict into Collaboration
When we find ourselves in an argumentative, adversarial back and forth, the instinct is to win — to find a part of what the other person is saying that we can refute. Having done so they likely reciprocate the argumentative energy and both parties are left feeling unheard and frustrated. Rather than trying to score a point, try instead to suspend that instinct. Don’t look for what you disagree with as fodder to dispute.  Instead find a small percentage – let’s call it 5% –of what the other person is saying that you can agree with and therefore validate.  We can usually find some part of what the other is saying that me might concur with.
You can immediately apply the 5% Rule in your communications with others-whether your intimate partner, a friend or relative.  Challenge yourself to search for a small piece of what they are saying that you can affirm. Once the other person feels heard and, moreover, affirmed, he or she may be in a far better position to take in what you have to say. Timing is essential here. You cannot just say, “Yes, but. . . .” That is part of the process of invalidating. Instead, validate something, pause, and let the conciliatory spirit fill the space that would otherwise be occupied by the noisy back and forth of argumentation. That shift of energy now becomes fertile ground for a meaningful transition and constructive exchange. If you rush to reassert your own position, your affirmation looks disingenuous.
 
Principle 3.  Shared Meaning
When we use certain words and expressions we assume they mean the same thing to all of us. They don’t. And this contributes to misunderstandings and fractured communication. The absence of shared meaning can be ruinous. In my first session with Jerry and Diane, a longtime married couple, I inquired as to how I might help them. Diane, without pause, proclaimed, “He has no idea how to be intimate.” Jerry immediately tightened and shot back, “I have no idea how to be intimate? I have no problem at all with intimacy, it’s you that does.”
 I intervened and said, “I’m not at all sure what you each mean by the word intimacy. Can you each take a moment and share with each other what this word means for you?”
After a noticeable pause, Jerry explained that intimacy for him ranged from physical affection all the way to sexual intercourse. As he was speaking, Diane looked incredulous. “You must be kidding me, that’s not at all what I mean,” she proclaimed. I encouraged her to go further. Not surprisingly, she spoke of sharing deep feelings and thoughts with each other in a safe, nonjudgmental way. Once we exposed this essential misunderstanding, born out of miscommunication, the couple was able to engage in a meaningful exchange of their actual needs and preferences-for what was clearly the first time.
We take for granted that our words convey what we intend. In my experience this assumption is grossly misinformed because most often our words tend not to be received in the way we have in mind. By the time many couples exchange a few sentences, a totally misconstrued interaction often prevails.
Neither party is sharing the same conversation; their internal monologues have branched off as they react to a word or phrase in a way that the other party may not have intended. This results in a virtual loss of coherent communication, compounded by the fact that both parties may be totally unaware of this. The miscommunication may elicit further damage; feelings become hurt as an emotional landslide occurs.
To pause and ask what the other person meant by the words they’ve just spoken is remarkably respectful. We need to check in and confirm that we are on the same page.What someone thinks I’ve said is ultimately more important than what I was intending because it can disrupt the entire purpose of the exchange. And so, I must be thoughtful and selective in my choice of words, increasing the likelihood that I’m understood clearly. As Abraham Lincoln said, “We all declare for liberty, but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing.
Principle 4. Shared Inquiry — Dialogue
We typically misuse the word dialogue. A dialogue is far from two or more people conversing about an agreed upon topic. I’d call that exchange a conversation or a discussion, in which each individual tries to put forth a point of view. This type of interaction plays out on the surface, and little new learning or insight typically occurs. Given a lack of consensus or even a full-blown disagreement, we might expect each person to repudiate any opposing positions. The communication breaks down into a frustrating back and forth like a Ping-Pong match. Each party clings to their own subjective truth, but presents it as the objective reality, and the conversation collapses without anyone feeling understood or validated.
 So what exactly do I mean by this word dialogue? I would define it as a shared inquiry, temporarily suspending your assumptions and beliefs to further the process of shared meaning. A shared inquiry has no opposing sides but instead is a coming together, which demands listening. The root of dialogue is dia-logos (through words), which implies a flow of meaning. This type of exchange is foreign in our culture because we are so much more driven toward winning-making our point-than sharing meaning and seeking new learning.
The irony is that the only authentic winning comes from understanding, listening, and validating another’s point of view-not from vanquishing it-even if we’re not in agreement. To accommodate this shift in communication, we must learn to still the reactive pull of our thoughts, upend our compulsion to be right, and learn the art of listening. To quote Thomas Jefferson, “I never saw an instance of one or two disputants convincing the other by argument.”
 
Principle 5. The Art of Listening
Our thoughts get in the way of our ability to listen. Old, habitual thoughts, summoned from the archives of every lived moment we’ve experienced, incline us toward re-presenting the past so that we are not truly present and, of course, not listening. Unless the individual with whom we are communicating is expressing something that corresponds with our own beliefs, we tend to repudiate or deflect anything that seems to be in opposition. To listen closely, we need to note any disturbances created from our thoughts, feelings, and reactions and suspend them for a time. If we can see our reaction, we don’t have to become the reaction. We temporarily avoid taking a position. If we don’t, we can’t be present to listen.
Dialogue and listening are noncompetitive. No one is trying to be right; instead, we seek to understand and appreciate, which, in turn, ordinarily reciprocates with our being understood and validated. When we inquire together and suspend our pre-existing beliefs, we gain deeper insight into the other’s thoughts and feelings.
Ask yourself the following questions:
Do I appreciate what the other person trying to convey?
Is it more important for me to correct their misstatements or to stay present and listen?
Would I rather be right or engage in genuine dialogue?
Am I judging or listening?
Watch your thoughts, they’ll inform the answer.
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Living a Fear-Less Life

 

fearFear is a universal experience for virtually all of us. Perhaps there are a few exceptions to this rule, such as the Dalai Lama, but for the rest of us it’s part of life. The goal of living without any fear might be desirable, but somewhat naïve. What we should aim for is to reduce fear to its rightful place. Constant apprehension shouldn’t be a burden that we carry with us, day in and day out — moment in and moment out. So when I use the word fear-less I’m not proposing a life without fear, as that may be a stretch. But I am advocating living with less fear.

 

There are appropriate fears that are a warning signal that we are at risk and there’s something we need to pay attention to. If the road you’re driving on becomes icy, you want to be cautious. But you certainly don’t want to freeze up – as the road beneath you did. If you’re having chest pains it makes sense to seek assistance. If you’ve noticed you’ve gained weight and aren’t exercising, rather than fretting about your health, do something about it. If you’re noticing that your child isn’t thriving and feel afraid that there’s something wrong, seek help. You can choose not to let fear consume you.

 

There are some fears that go unspoken yet are common. One of three people will be eventually be diagnosed with cancer. Do many people feel apprehensive about this? Of course they do. That makes sense, but to carry a sense of dread around with you gets in your way of living well. Fears run a very wide range from apprehension about losing your job to not having enough savings to retire. From not be loved to having your lover leave you. From thinking others don’t like you to worrying about what you say and how you’ll be judged.

 

Changing your relationship with fear

For those who experience such excessive fears, there is a way out. Rather than focusing on the fear, look at your relationship with the worry. Fear, self-doubt and insecurity are not uncommon. But when you take these concerns and elevate them to the bull’s eye of your attention, you’re in trouble. You need to change your relationship with the fear. What do I mean by this curious statement?

 

Some people have a very strong affinity for fear; they actually seek it out. Their thoughts become habituated to looking for and focusing on what distresses them. So their minds develop a fixation as they paradoxically search for what causes them disharmony.When our thoughts perpetually attach to fear, it’s like carrying a lightening rod in a thunderstorm. What we look for we find. Anxiety is the consequence of our thoughts’ addictive relationship with fear.

 

 Fear doesn’t have a grip on you, but you have a grip on fear

The more you resist and try to ward off your fear, the larger it becomes. Think of it in the following way: What we resist we make more formidable. Imagine putting your arms out at full length in front of you as you try to hold back the fear. The irony is we actually embolden fear by trying to ward it off. Fear gets stronger when you resist it. Changing your relationship with fear means welcoming it in. Say to whatever is alarming you, “Come on in and let me have a look at you.” When we do this the fear tends to dissipate. Fear doesn’t have a grip on you, but you have a grip on fear. Loosen the grip. When you can see your relationship with the fear, you don’t have to become the fear.

In my next post I’ll be discussing how the need for certainty and our resistance to uncertainty contributes to our fears and anxiety.

 

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Are We Really Speaking about the Same Thing?

shared meaning 2How often have you felt frustrated in conversations as if you were each talking about a different thing? That’s because you were…

To experience truly effective communication, which rarely occurs, we need to make sure we’re actually talking about the same thing. If you assume that the words or phrases you’re using mean the same thing to both of  you, you’re making a mistake – I can assure you. Establishing a shared meaning is essential to have a coherent conversation.

Coherent communication doesn’t require agreement, but simply a shared meaning. We need to know that we are, in fact, talking about the same thing. How often do we pause and thoughtfully ask the other person what he means by the word or words he is using? As I was walking by a restaurant near my home one day and saw a parking attendant with whom I was acquainted, I asked, “How are you?” He smiled and said, “I can’t complain.”

As I continued my walk, a thought occurred to me: he might have meant either that he had nothing to complain about or that he literally wasn’t giving himself permission to complain. On my return home, I ran into him again and genuinely inquired which meaning I should construe. It took quite some time for him to admit that he believed that no one would care to listen to his complaints, so he wouldn’t bother. “I can’t complain” was now clear to me. I explained to him that when I ask, I truly do care and perhaps he might make an exception to his rule. Typically, I wouldn’t have inquired and never would have come to know this side of him.

To pause and ask people what they meant by the words they’ve just spoken is remarkably respectful. Respect comes from the Latin respecere, which means “to look again.” That is precisely what shared meaning demands – looking again at what the other intends in his or her articulation. We need to check in and confirm that we are on the same page. Read more

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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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I’ll Be Happy When…

What is the source of happiness? We tend to assume that happiness will come from a future event. It typically depends upon something else happening. The script often reads like this:

I’ll be happy when… I fall in love.

I’ll be happy when… I get married.

I’ll be happy when… we can buy our dream house.

I’ll be happy when… we can furnish the house.

Still, the anticipated happiness is elusive so we tie it to more future events.

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Breaking Free from Your Comfort Zone

Our Most Intimate Relationship

The most intimate relationship we will have in our lives is not with our parents, our spouses, our children or closest friends. It is with our thoughts. They are our constant companions. Our thoughts will impact our lives far more than any relationship. In fact, they will greatly impact those relations. The quality and nature of what our thoughts tell us will largely script the experience of our lives. Learning to break free from the confines of old thought is the key to personal growth.

Thoughts can either be our supportive allies or our critical antagonists.  They are the very filters through which we experience our lives. A particular thought – embedded as part of a larger belief – can either imprison or liberate us. Our thoughts very much tend to be self-fulfilling prophecies.

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