Below are a series of relationship tips we have put out in newsletters over the past months.
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We hope you enjoy them!
Relationship Tip #1
Appreciation Goes a Long Way
Spring is blossoming a plenty where we live in Oregon. As flowers burst into bloom and empty tree branches begin to fill with leaves and blossoms, it is the perfect time of year to bring our attention to appreciation. The energy of appreciation is easily available on beautiful spring days. So as you appreciate that warmer air, or the flower beginning to bloom, allow that to stimulate your feelings and expression of appreciation to those you love. Appreciation is music to the ears of our loved ones.
Practicing appreciation with our partners and others we love is a powerful way to better your relationship. Appreciation acts like a balm and sets a tone of positivity. It is quite simply a good vibration between you. Appreciations can be expressed for the day to day task your loved ones do, the way they look or for who they are and why you love them so much. We all love to hear that!
Did you know that when positive interactions outweigh negative interactions by 4 to 1, each individual perceives the relationship more positively and they are happier in it. Makes sense doesn't it? Appreciation makes for a more solid foundation.
When we live in appreciation of our partner, we live in the recognition of the best parts of them. We see all that is good and we acknowledge it. As that becomes our point of focus, that is what grows in our life and within our partners. Simple as that.
So go ahead. Take a moment to tell your partner, your child, your friend, your parent, your sibling, just how much you appreciate them. It is time and energy well spent.
Relationship Tip #2:
Peace Begins Within Our Mind and Relationships
May is such a glorious time here in Oregon. After a long rainy winter, it is when we remember why we live here. All that water brings beauty beyond belief. May is also the time of the holiday of Wesak. Wesak is the celebration of the birth and enlightenment of the Buddha. What better month to bring our attention to the subject of peace. We often say, "peace begins within our mind" and what we also know is that "peace begins in our relationships".
The war outside is only a reflection and we know there can be no peace among nations until we can learn to peacefully co-exist with our family, friends and partners. It can be so easy to look at those we live with and love and find our critical mind in high gear, blaming them because they are not doing or being what we want them to be. Our minds can be filled with negative thoughts and judgments. Literally we can be at "war" within our own minds, slinging blame and shooting off resentments.
It is important to notice and identify those thoughts and judgments for what they are, expressions of our ego, trying hard to rule the roost. We can also consider a practice of noticing our blame and making a commitment to non-blaming. This means that when we notice ourselves blaming our loved one for something we don't like about who they are or what they are doing or have done, we make a conscious effort to hold that blame back. We often say in couple's counseling, there is no right and no wrong and no one is to blame. This concept challenges people because so often they want to feel a sense of self-righteousness. But the truth is, having to be right, or blaming our partners, doesn't serve love. It doesn't serve our relationships.
Breath and practicing presence is always a good way to bring about more peace within our mind. So this month, we invite you to notice when you are critical or blaming of someone you love, and to stop, take a breath (or three) and to say "I release this judgement or blame now". Now focus your mind on a positive quality in that person. In doing so, feel the shift toward a more peaceful mind and heart.
Relationship Tip #3:
Letting Go With Love
We are in a transition in our family that has inspired this months theme, Letting Go With Love. Our oldest child, Angelo, who is 20 and been away at college in Seattle for the past two years, has decided to stay in Seattle and work this summer. We celebrate his move toward independence and at the same time, there is aching in our hearts as he makes this next step away from the nest. He no longer lives with us, even part time. He now has an address in Seattle and it is no longer a dorm!
The great paradox of loving is that it inevitably causes us to face letting our loved one go. This is always true! The letting go takes many forms.
From the moment they are born our children make the movement toward separation into their own individual self and eventually into their own life. In a hundred ways a day, we as parents are called to release them. Some part of our heart aches to hold on, to hold them back or protect them from their first steps (always away from us) their first day at school, their first heart ache, and eventually their movement away from home and into their own life. But we do them a great disservice when we do not let them go. We don't communicate our confidence in them when we hold on, protect them and try to keep them from becoming a person that is separate and different from us or attempt to keep the world from hurting them in any way. As parents it is always important to look within and see where we hold on in an attempt to avoid our own fears and anxieties, our own pain, or our own emptiness.
There is a favorite practice that we have taught many people that helps with this process of letting go with love. It also helps to keep us in a very positive and loving energetic connection with our children as we let them go
Close your eyes and settle into your breath. Once you feel present, imagine your child in front of you. Really see them there as best you can. Let them show up in their beingness. Allow your heart to open to them. Once you really feel them there in your heart and mind repeat this prayer.
I honor who you are.
I honor your divine self.
I release you to your divine path and your own soul's journey.
I thank you for your presence in my life,
And for all that you have taught me.
By the way, this is a great practice to do with your teenagers or any child you are struggling with. It is also an excellent way to allow your heart to stay connected to an adult child who has really moved on into their own life.
In addition, there is the letting go we are sometimes called to do in intimate relationship. We fall in love and partner and sometimes that partnership ends because two people need to move on. The pain of this is a given. A consequence of our deep and loving attachments. It is never an easy decision to let go of a relationship. It is even more difficult when it feels like the decision has been made for you by the other person.
There are several practices that can help you through this transition. A first and important step is the practice of accepting the way things are. This acceptance is monumental. This includes accepting all the feelings we have, and all the feeling our partners have. Certainly this also involves accepting the feelings of grief we may have about the loss. This practice really speaks to the daily work of allowing things to be exactly as they are, attempting not to rail against them in an effort to make them different but to accept ourselves, our partners and the change we are experiencing. Eckhart Tolle teaches that sometimes we are required to accept the unacceptable. This can often be true in the situation of ending a relationship, especially for the person who does not want the relationship to end. This acceptance of the unacceptable is a powerful practice that requires us to allow the moment to be as it is, without resistance.
Once we work with really accepting and allowing we can begin to open our hearts and practice treating ourselves, our partners and the situation with compassion. In this process it is important to recognize the higher purpose of what has unfolded. Inevitably, though not easily seen at first, there is great gain for individuals personally when they have journeyed through loss. Something has passed away, but if one can feel acceptance and see the bigger picture, then they are able to release themselves from feeling victimized by the change and see that they have grown as individuals.
Possibly the most difficult practice when dealing with relationship loss, but one that brings the most benefit, is refraining from placing blame. This can be monumentally difficult but to commit to doing so means that there is a much greater possibility of coming through the loss feeling more whole. When we refrain from blame, we must take responsibility for our own actions, our own contributions. This does not mean we blame ourselves but we accept that we have played a part and do the work we need to do to acknowledge that and accept the other as simply playing their part as well.
The above honoring prayer is perfect for cultivating acceptance and coping with the loss of a partner. We have taught this prayer and practice to countless couples and individuals and found that it is a powerful practice for all relationship situations that involve letting go.
And after all, don't all relationships, by their very nature, cause us to come together and to let go, over and over again. Our highest calling is to do so with love and acceptance. This most difficult practice is the one that will yield the most fruit.
Relationship Tip #4:
Tending the Garden of Relationship
The season of summer inspires us to write about the importance of making our relationships a priority by spending time together. Relationship experts Paul and Layne Cutright teach about viewing the relationship as a garden and the importance of tending that garden. We could not agree more. A relationship involves what is termed "a third body". The first two "bodies" are each individual, and the third body is the relationship itself, which is it's own entity. That body must be nurtured and tended, as we would a child or a garden. We all know the importance of tending a garden. From preparing the soil, to planting, watering, weeding and attention we can watch a beautiful garden come to fruition, the end result a harvest of delicious fruits and vegetables. If we ignore the garden and do not care for it, the end result is shriveled plantings and no harvest. Our relationships need this same amount of care in order to thrive.
In our work with couples we are frequently aware of how easy it becomes for the garden of relationship to fall into serious neglect. Life in the 21st Century is filled with things to do. Busy, busy, busy! That is the cry of modern life. In the midst of that, couples can start to see all the things to "do" as the priority. We have to work hard, make enough money, take care of the kids, and all the details of life, right? Yes, but! When we place our time and attention on all the myriad of details of life and do not place time and attention on our relationship, over time distance grows, we loose sight of our partners and then we become more like roommates or worse, combatants. The time and attention that we wanted to give to the relationship in the beginning has been parceled out to many other priorities. The price for this can be high. At times the price can even be the ending of the relationship.
We encourage couples to take time away to be together and to make that a regular and sacred priority. In our minds, there is little that is more important than nurturing the relationship in a steady and loving way. This can mean a daily check in where each person brings their full presence to the other. The tending of the relationship garden may be a weekly date where everything - and we mean everything - is left behind for a little while and there is spaciousness for just being together. Weekends, or dare we say a week alone together, can do wonders at reigniting connection, magic and passion. The important ingredient here is that the attention is turned toward one another in a loving way and it is clear to both parties that tending the relationship garden is the focus. It is, by the way, a lot of fun.
We do walk our talk here. With two kids and two busy careers, we have felt the challenge of tending the garden of our own relationship. Just like you, there are always pressing things on our to do list, always someone elses needs to consider. We make a practice of taking some time out of time every week for relaxed and open spaciousness, for intimacy, for tending our garden. Even when our children were young we made a regular practice of getting away together for a weekend at least a few times a year. This was never an easy thing to orchestrate. We had no local grandparents that could provide easy babysitting, so our intention to have a getaway had to sometimes be fierce. But we would get away and quickly realize that it was all well worth it. Sometimes our children were unhappy that we went away. We struggled with the pull of how they missed us. Recently however, our daughter, now 15, shared with us how she now sees how important that time away has been, even though she didn't always like it when she was young. She has recognized and appreciated the garden that we have cultivated as a result. She has lived the benefit of that abundant garden every day of her life.
So, we invite you to spend some relaxed time during the wonderful months of summer for some serious garden tending.
Relationship Tip #5:
Finding Compassion Through Deeper Understanding
Is there a repeating argument in your relationship? Maybe more than one? Join the club! Often in any kind of long term relationship, whether it be with a spouse or partner, a child, a parent, or a friend, there are repeated themes that emerge when in conflict. What we see in our work and certainly know from our own relationship is that any time there is an on going or repeated conflict between two people there is always a deeper story at play. Finding that deeper story within yourself and understanding your partners deeper story can help you recognize your own and your partner's trigger points and create a breakthrough in understanding, resulting in greater harmony and compassion.
Let's look at an example to help make the point. Carol and Jake have been together for 10 years. Though originally head over heels in love, of late they have disintegrated into bitter arguments that around a repeated theme. Carol feels like she is at the height of her career and is very ambitious and driven to succeed in what she sees are the best years of her career life. She works many hours a week and often prioritizes work over home and time spent with Jake. Jake, on the other hand, while also interested in his career, is more laid back about it. He puts in his hours and then wants to come home to enjoy his life, which includes a great desire to be with Carol doing things that they used to enjoy together, like biking and going to movies. Carol feels that Jake is not motivated enough and she criticizes him for not working more. She gets mad when he comes home early or takes a day off. Jake complains bitterly that Carol works to much and is mad at her for not wanting to spend more time with him. The merry go round of blame, criticism, reaction, more blame and criticism can go on endlessly.
We all have our own version of this merry-go-round. Our partner is not acting in the way that is our preference and we react to that.
The important step in finding our way out of repeated conflict is to take the time to really find what is the deeper story for you. It is rare that people are actually upset about what they think they are upset about. A question to ask yourself in a quiet moment is "In the midst of this conflict, what is it that I feel or believe about myself or the other person?". When we really deepen into that answer, we are given incredible cues about our inner story or wound. When we get that information, we can share it with our partner. When both people in the conflict can do this, a deeper understanding and compassion for both your own pain and the other emerges.
Let's return to Carol and Jake to help illustrate that point. When each of them got quiet and asked what they felt or believed about themselves or the other in the midst of the conflict, Carol was able to see that she felt anxious and afraid that she would not succeed in her career. She felt the inner voice that always told her that she wasn't quite good enough so she had better work really hard to prove herself. She also began to see that no matter how hard she worked, she never felt good enough. She recognized that voice as her own mother's voice. When she deepened into her feelings about Jake she realized that she projected that same anxiety on him, afraid and anxious that he was not good enough and successful enough. She was able to also recognize the pattern between her own parents, her mother always critical of her father and pushing him to be different, better, more accomplished.
Jake, on the other hand, had lost his father when his father was only 56 years old. Jake was 25 at that time and was devastated by his father's life ending so suddenly and early. He was well aware that his father had worked very hard during his life and had delayed doing many activities that he enjoyed a tremendous amount. When Jake deepened into the how he felt about himself in the midst of the conflict, he found a fear that he would also die young, and felt a great push to to enjoy the time that he had. He felt that Carol was always pushing him away from those pleasures and toward the story of disappointment he imagined about his father.
Once Carol and Jake were able to really speak to one another about their deeper story and accompanying feelings, they came to a greater understanding of the others position. They no longer felt the need to blame the other for being wrong, as they could understand what fueled their partners behaviors. This didn't bring about a total end to the repeating argument, but it did give them both better insights about themselves about what got triggered and a different perspective about what the other was feeling. Compassion was able to flow more easily between them as they each worked to take responsibility for their part and hold the understanding for the other.
When we operate from that place of deeper understanding and connection, we can more easily ask for what we want from the other because the asking is coming from a calmer, less reactive or critical place. So, instead of Carol yelling "You don't take your career seriously and I want you to work more", she might be able to reasonably discuss what her career goals are and what goals they might work toward together. And Jake, instead of resisting her push and withdrawing as a rebellion against her push, might be able to say "I really need to have pleasurable times with you, doing things we both enjoy, on a very regular basis.
So take a time out in the midst of your next repeating conflict and dig a little deeper to see what is the deeper story that is causing your emotional reactions to your partner's behavior. Then find a calm time to share that information. It is well worth the work!
Pathways to Radiant Loving • 5319 Donald St. • Eugene, OR 97405
"Only from the heart can you touch the sky". Rumi