Healthy, Thriving Relationships is a favorite module within Team Happy. If you’re looking for skills to help you avoid or break unhealthy relationship patterns, you’ve come to the right place! For immediate access to my interview with couples therapist, relationship expert and founder of The Good Therapists, Alison Crosthwait, click here.
Relationships form the foundation of each and every one of us; they shape us from the moment we are born until the second we draw our last breath. Romantic relationships are among the most beautiful, yet terrifying experiences we will ever have.
Not surprising, relationship issues are a common reason for seeking therapy. Being skilled at helping clients fill in the missing gaps and execute meaningful changes are the foundations of the therapeutic relationship. According to New York psychotherapist, Jonathan Alpert:
“Dwelling in childhood dynamics or dramatic exchanges between partners is rarely effective. In fact, it can be toxic to the client’s ability to problem solve and make a choice.
If a patient comes to me and tells me she’s been unhappy with her boyfriend for the past year, I don’t ask, as some might, “How do you feel about that?” I already know how she feels about that. She just told me. She’s unhappy. When she asks me what I think she should do, I don’t respond with a return interrogatory, “What do you think you should do?” If she knew, she wouldn’t ask me for my thoughts.
Instead I ask what might be missing from her relationship and sketch out possible ways to fill in relationship gaps or, perhaps, to end it in a healthy way. Rather than dwell on the past and hash out stories from childhood, I encourage patients to find the courage to confront an adversary, take risks and embrace change. My aim is to give patients the skills needed to confront their fear of change, rather than to nod my head and ask how they feel.”
In the spirit of quickly and incisively getting on the right side of healthy, thriving relationships, here are eight tips:
1. Be willing to get hurt.
“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.” ~Brené Brown
You know you’re an emotionally evolved person when you communicate your feelings openly and honestly. There’s no hiding behind insecurity, bravado or a blunted affect in order to save face. The biggest gamble in life is putting your heart on the table and knowing it could be left there when a shinier, newer and sexier heart comes along. But as painful as rejection is, do you want to risk agonizing on your death bed about the one who got away?
2. Err on the side of kindness.
“Constant kindness can accomplish much. As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust and hostility to evaporate.” ~Albert Schweitzer
Our emotional brain and our physiology are most negatively impacted following a harsh exchange from those to whom we are most attached. According to researcher and psychologist, Dr. John Gottman, a mean word or a tiny facial contortion of contempt or disgust, is enough to speed up the heartbeat in the person to whom the comment is targeted. Conflict in couples is inevitable, and kindness should be, too.
3. Take ownership of your emotions.
“Nobody can hurt me without my permission.” ~Mahatma Gandhi
A popular tenet of cognitive-behavior therapy is your thoughts cause your feelings, not people or things. This can seem counterintuitive after a heated argument, but you do have control over how you respond. To reclaim your rational footing, ask yourself these questions:
1. Is my thinking based in fact?
2. Does my thinking help me achieve my goals?
3. Does my thinking help me feel the way I want to feel?
wp themes helvetica; font-size: 24pt;">4. Embrace independence.
“Don’t smother each other. No one can grow in the shade.” ~Leo Buscaglia
Partners who embrace their own interests and experiences have a healthy identity. It’s okay to have your own friends and not feel pressured to share everything with your significant other. This does not mean lying about your whereabouts, but maintaining a bit of distance and mystique. Love should be an ongoing process of discovery, and this is impossible if your partner expects a rundown of who, what and where, when you’re apart.
5. Fall in love with discretion.
“Lots of people want to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down.” ~Oprah Winfrey
When things are going well, life is smooth, everyone’s happy, and it’s easy to miss the signs. Pay attention to your partner’s actions, more than their words. A person’s behavior will tell you everything you need to know about them. Especially when the going gets rough.
6. Listen, listen and listen.
“The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when someone asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer.” ~Henry David Thoreau
Listening is an art. The aim is to understand, to learn something, or to get clarification. Just because you stopped talking doesn’t mean you’re in the exchange. Often our heads are so full of questions, ideas and comebacks that we’re not taking in what the other person is trying to say.
Reflection is a therapeutic technique which works wonders: “So if I’m hearing you correctly, you would like me to ask first before inviting friends over to our home, is that right?”
7. Keep your relationship off Facebook.
“Facebook: Ruining relationships since 2004.” ~unknown
Sharing relationship woes on social media guarantees sympathy and words of wisdom and encouragement. Confiding to a real life friend in a cafe is vastly different from putting it out in the cloud forever. A true friend respects boundaries and keeps others out of the dramatic fray.
“I often wondered why it is that when I get hooked, when I’m resentful for example, and I breathe with it instead of acting out, it feels like I’m sitting in the middle of the fire. I asked Kongtrul Rinpoche about this. He said, ‘Because by not doing the habitual thing, you’re burning up the seeds of aggression.’ ” ~Pema Chödrön
A simple deep breath is a powerful salve for calming the nervous system, and avoiding the trap of overreacting in the heat of the moment.
Wondering what it looks like inside Team Happy?
Click here to listen to me and Alison talk all-things relationships. Alison shares her wisdom + experience about helping couples overcome infidelity, increase motivation to get along, and the characteristics of those couples who thrive…
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