Category: Domestic Partnerships

Don’t Hide Your Feelings

Fake it till you make it. We’ve all heard this advice at some point in our lives. While there’s a time and a place for putting on a positive outlook to muscle through a situation – or until you genuinely feel better – it’s not healthy to do all the time.

I advocate being honest in your relationships and with yourself about how you’re feeling. Acknowledging your emotional state is the first step to improving it, and accepting yourself where you are does your mental health a world of good. While feigning positivity until you begin to stabilize your emotional state can be a useful tool, living your life while constantly denying your feelings is emotionally harmful.

If you’ve been masquerading as content, or pretending that you feel wonderful to hide feelings of depression, anxiety, anger, or resentment for too long – you have the potential to truly do yourself a disservice.

Being honest with yourself when you’re experiencing depression, grief, anxiety, anger, or resentment isn’t easy. Any unpleasant emotion can be difficult to face, especially if you’re doing it on your own. It may feel easier to hide, or to pretend that you’re happy. But you deserve true happiness – whatever that looks like for you. Acknowledging what you’re going through and how you’re feeling can help you move past those unpleasant feelings or to find ways of managing them.

That’s not to say that you’ll never experience unpleasant emotions. Our emotional changes are a part of our life, and that’s okay. They’re nothing to be ashamed of.

If you’re feeling unpleasant emotions for any length of time, it’s best to be honest with yourself and others about them. If you experience these intense and unpleasant emotions for an extended period it’s even more critical that you reach out to somebody. A loved one or a trusted professional can assist you in seeking help. You are not alone, and you deserve to feel true contentedness.

 


Speaking Truth in Our Relationships

When I work with couples, I always advocate for one thing consistently – always stay honest with one another. Regardless of the problem you’re experiencing in your relationship, it can likely be traced back to a moment when you weren’t entirely truthful either with yourself or your partner. It’s easy to want to hide our truth sometimes. We may be afraid of rejection. We may be afraid of hurting our partner. We may be afraid that our truth is selfish, or negative in some way.

But the honest truth is that hiding how you feel or what you think from your partner does far more harm than good. If you hide your truth, you may experience feelings of resentment. And from their perspective, they may experience resentment, as well.

I believe that honesty is the best policy – whether that’s in your romantic relationship, with family, with friends, or with colleagues. Expressing how you feel and what you think helps to open up a productive dialogue. You may be surprised to find the listening party is incredibly receptive – maybe they’ve been feeling the same way or having similar thoughts. You may be equally surprised to find that they disagree with you – but are willing to openly discuss the disagreement.

The more open you are about your experience and your truth, the less likely negative interactions are. Your openness draws in openness. Your energy attracts similar energy. If you are open and honest and someone disagrees with you, there may be a moment of tension. But by accepting their honesty in kind, you move forward in productivity and understanding rather than in negativity and bitterness.

Of course, there are ways to ineffectively communicate your truth. You may be feeling negative emotions – like anger or sadness. These may lead to you lashing out and being brutally honest in a way that’s intended to hurt or offend your partner. It’s important to understand that speaking your truth comes from a place of self-respect and of respecting others – not from a place of anger, fear, or desire to be hurtful. If your words are rooted in good intentions, they will likely be received as such.

Communicating honestly and openly by speaking your truth can lead to great things within your relationship. You will find yourself being more open to hearing the truth of your partner. You will find that your partner truly hears you and empathizes with your experience. Most importantly, you will no longer feel a masked bitterness within your relationship that results from you (and your partner) not being honest with one another (or yourselves) when resolving conflict.


Validate, Empathize and Acknowledge Your Partner’s Experience

It’s not uncommon to have a disagreement in your relationship. It’s to be expected. Any time two unique people with differing backgrounds, priorities, and emotional attachments come together to try and make a decision or work to improve their relationship they’re bound to clash every once in awhile. That being said, there are ways that you can disagree – even when emotions are running high – that keep communication lines open and maintain your relationship as a safe space for one another. There is no one-size-fits-all plan for solving relationship arguments or disagreements, but there is one step that you can take to help ease tensions and improve communication to reach an effective resolution to you and your partner’s problem.

Acknowledge, Validate and Empathize with your partner.

It simple yet many couples don’t do this. When you’re arguing with your partner or with anyone in general, you may feel defensive. You may feel angry or hurt. Maybe you feel that your feelings aren’t being heard. You are completely entitled to these feelings. You’re always entitled to your feelings and I encourage all of my clients to fully acknowledge and accept what they’re feeling – whether it’s positive or negative – before choosing to focus on the moment and what is best for that situation. However, while you are entitled to these unpleasant feelings that are a result of an argument, your partner is likely experiencing many of those same feelings. They, like you, are entitled to their feelings, as well.

When you’re trying to work through a problem as a unit, it can help to acknowledge and validate your partner. Acknowledge and validate their experience. You may not agree, and I’m not implying that in order to make up agreement is necessary – it often isn’t, and it’s unreasonable to force any parties to agree to something they inherently disagree with. Acknowledging and agreeing with your partner without validation and empathy will not make the problem go away.

An Exercise in Validation and Empathy

Validating and empathizing with them is sometimes as simple as saying, “I see and understand what you’re feeling, it makes sense to me and if I were in your shoes I might feel the same way.”

It may be saying, “I hear what you are saying, it makes sense to me and I imagine that if I were in your shoes I would feel hurt.”

This relates to a process I encourage – the mirroring exercise. The mirroring exercise works like this:

Sender: Speak slowly about a given topic, using short sentences.

Receiver: Repeats back to sender everything that is being said, word-for-word.

Maintain eye contact at all times.

Receiver: May hold up a hand to signal to the sender that they’re moving too fast.

When the sender is finished speaking…

Receiver validates and empathizes by saying: I hear what you are saying and it makes sense to me. If I were in your shoes I might feel the same way (list the emotions they’ve expressed to you). Did I get that correct? Did I miss anything?

During this exercise, partners aren’t permitted to ask each other questions about their feelings or distract from what their partner is sending. Partners will likely feel uncomfortable. That’s normal! The point of this is to practice daily, for about 20 minutes (10 minutes each) to regularly validate and empathize with your partner.

By acknowledging your partner’s experience – their emotions, thoughts, and reactions – you open the door to allowing your relationship to remain a source of comfort despite the disagreement you’re having. Empathizing with your partner by saying “ If I were in your shoes I also might be feeling the way you are feeling” will help you and your partner to connect. Opening that connection can help you move forward in a safe space with love.


Preparing for Summer with Your Family: Prioritizing Your Relationship

Summer is an exciting time for families. Your kids are home, family vacations are planned, and you may often feel like you’re connecting more with one another. However, summer can also present challenges. If you work full or part time, having kids home may bring up issues with finding childcare or summer camps and activities for them to participate in. Even if you work from home or stay at home full time, this change in how you’ll be spending and organizing your time can feel like a disruption. One important thing to keep in mind is that even though your kids are home for the summer, your romantic relationship still is a priority. Here are a few ways to prioritize your relationship during family time or catering to the summertime activities that your kids are participating in:

Date Night

Date night doesn’t have to mean getting out of the house, and it doesn’t have to mean a fancy dinner or a show. Instead, tap into your creativity to create a “date night” that focuses on your significant other and still accommodates your summer schedule. Maybe you share a special dessert and watch a movie in your pajamas after the kids go to bed, or maybe you meet for lunch in the middle of your work day. The key is setting aside focused time for one another.

Vocalize Your Feelings

When we feel like we have plenty of time for our significant other and for ourselves, we might fall into a habit of not sharing how much that focused time means to us. This can evolve into forgetting to vocalize how much we appreciate one another and ourselves. When your life gets busy with kids being home for the summer, remember to tell your significant other that they matter to you. It doesn’t have to be a great speech, just a simple, “I love you and you’re important to me,” in the morning before your day starts can often be enough.

Make Family Plans Together

When your schedule shifts to accommodate your kids being home for summer break, it’s easy to have one person in your relationship take on all aspects of the planning. Instead, sit down together before school lets out and make plans. Whether that’s signing all of the little ones up for summer sports or deciding you’d like to take a week-long trip as a family, staying organized and unified before schedules get hectic is a great way to start things off on the right foot.

Approach Everything with Gratitude

Cherish the time you have during the summer with your family. It certainly isn’t the usual pace and schedule that everyone is used to, but change can be beneficial for the soul. Find gratitude for having your kids home, and for those special moments you share with your significant other as you continue to prioritize your relationship. The more gratitude you feel and express, the more you’ll enjoy all aspects of your season.


Truly Celebrating Valentine’s Day

Pink Flowers

It’s the time of year where stores are covered in displays of hearts, sales on gifts for that special someone takes over advertising, and expectations for romance are at an all-time high. But are these expectations healthy? Getting involved in Valentine’s Day is overwhelming for some as they focus themselves on what they “should” be doing to express love for their partner, or what they “should” expect from their significant other, but there is a healthier approach. Focusing on the “shoulds” of life and love is always a recipe for negativity.

Valentine’s Day is fraught with expectations – many of which are implied by companies looking to make an extra few dollars on a dozen roses, a box of chocolates, or a sweet card. These things themselves aren’t inherently negative, but the pressure surrounding them certainly causes plenty of individuals to be discontented. If you’re in a relationship, there’s an expectation to make it a day that fully celebrates your significant other, more so than every other day that you love and cherish them. If you’re not in a relationship, there’s an expectation that you’re searching for love and will be thrilled if it magically comes together by Valentine’s (and crushed if you’re alone without a date).

However, these expectations are fully under our control. You have the power to shift your expectations to something more positive, and frankly, more in line with the holiday’s true intent – celebrating love. This Valentine’s Day, the choice is yours. Your day does not need to center on this notion of the romantic ideal. Wouldn’t it be better to spend that energy on truly celebrating those you love, however you prefer to do so?

Rather than focusing on what societal expectations are for Valentine’s Day this year, empower yourself to celebrate the many kinds of fulfilling loves in your life. Maybe that love is shared with a significant other, or between you and your family, or with your closest friends, or maybe it’s just the love you have for yourself and who you have grown into as a person. Love is not exclusive, and Valentine’s Day doesn’t belong only to the bouquet of roses you’re expecting from your partner.

This is a time to embrace the love you have in your life right now and joyfully revel in all the positivity it brings you. Whatever your love life looks like, take Valentine’s Day to celebrate these meaningful connections and relationships rather than dwelling on what material gifts or displays of love you expect out of your current or desired romantic relationship. This could mean reconnecting with an old friend, meeting a beloved family member for lunch to catch up, enjoying time to yourself with your favorite cup of coffee, or, yes, taking focused time to appreciate your romantic partner for all that they are to you.

Don’t get lost in the desires for romantic overtures and the pressure of expectations this season. Instead, this Valentine’s Day, allow positive energy and the powerful existence of all the many kinds of love in your life be celebrated without expectation – only deep appreciation and contentment.


Return to Love Again & Again

DSCN4710

The Beatles popularized the phrase, “All you need is love” and to some this may sound trite or over simplified, but it is based literally on ancient philosophical truths. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr said, Darkness cannot drive out darknessonly light can do thatHate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Do you ever feel overwhelmed navigating through a world that sometimes feels hollow and made of steel emotionally? How do you cultivate love when confronted with bigotry and misogyny or any other misguided negative attitude? Returning to the essence of love within you will stave off the blues and keep your heart healthy physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

How do we define love? There are a plethora of loves; love of country, love of an activity, love for yourself or a friend, love of family, love between two partners. In other words, what type of love are we talking about here? Philosophical love, love that transcends the limitations of our inner and outer worlds. Love that acknowledges others and never acquiesces to hatred. My grandmother used to say, “Never say never.” And she was right, there are travesties that are so appalling, it is easy for the seed of hate to flourish. Yet, even then, if you are consumed with hatred, like a small grass fire gone awry, the consequences are devastating.

The Greeks, who defined six different kinds of love, called this universal love Agape. Eventually Agape was translated in Latin to caritas, which became the origin of the word charity. In the Theravada Buddhist tradition this is called mettā or “universal loving kindness” All spiritual traditions and practices address this type of love. How do you apply this kind of love to your everyday life without feeling fake or put on? Like most things, it takes conscious practice and willingness to journey inward. You don’t need to conform to any one particular spirituality, in fact, I urge you to explore: “It is proper for you to doubt .. do not go upon report .. do not go upon tradition..do not go upon hearsay.” (Buddha, Kalama Sutra).   In other words, it’s essential to survey and study that which resonates with you. There is a banquet of philosophies on love to choose from. Find quotes that speak to your heart, keep them close to you when you need a little bolster.

Practical ways to develop a loving heart is to learn about yourself and others. The more we know and love ourselves the easier it is to open a closed fist and to reach out. For example, if I am in a grumpy mood one day and someone does a kind deed, opens a door for me, this will soften my edge. This act of loving kindness then has a ripple effect spreading out into the world. One person, you, us, can make a difference. We all have the capacity to allow love to grow our empathy for others. We may be unable to reach everyone, but like that old Chinese proverb says, “you climb a mountain one step at a time.” It has been physiologically proven that putting on a smile, when you’re feeling unhappy, changes the chemistry of your blood; all of the stress hormones drop. One simple practice can change a negative into a positive and that positive fosters love.

You may never know the impact your love and generosity has on the world. I once heard a tale about a Holy man who lived in a very small village. He asked God why he couldn’t be moved to bigger more prominent place where his work could touch thousands more than this small community he was stuck in as the spiritual leader. But alas, the man carried on his good deeds for years and eventually died, never having been relocated from his village. When he met the Sustainer he asked why this was? Then, he was shown all of the people he inadvertently helped and how they went on to help others and so on. This story stuck with me. It reflects that part of us that wants to be recognized and rewarded. It reminds me that an act of love, kindness or generosity by definition expects no reward. The act is the reward.

Stories such as those remind us over and over that the power of love can impact our world. Love guides us during duress; it is a road map that can lead us to safe shores when we feel lost or confused. That we do have a choice and that our chosen weapon to dissolve hatred is loving kindness.

 


On Being Single during the Holidays

20101231_0744

The holidays, while they may bring joy, also bring certain people who we do not see much other times of the year. Those relatives, acquaintances and sometimes friends who ask the inevitable question, “Why isn’t a nice girl like you married?” – or some variant of that inquiry.

You are good with yourself and you know it. You like yourself, you like your independence. But sometimes deep inside you may wonder the same thing. Every Holiday Season is another marker of the passage of time. “Will it ever happen?” you ask yourself. Innocent questions by often loving and well meaning relatives make us wonder the same thing. “Why am I alone?” and with that question comes doubts. “Maybe there is something wrong with me. Maybe I will never meet the right person.” The most important thing is to keep this thought from running rampant in your head.

The fact is you may not find the “right” person, at this moment in time. The “right” person may be in your life now, but you have to see him through a different lens, perhaps you can become more open to meeting people who may not look on the outside the way you had envisioned them. Perhaps, like my friend Lori, you will meet your soul mate when you are 47 after completing your PhD and working for years at a successful career.

Or, you could be a Florence Nightingale, Jane Austen, Coco Chanel, Clara Barton, Mary Cassatt, Luisa May Alcott, DNA Pioneer Rosalind Franklin, or Queen Latifah … to name just a few strong, talented women who have made their mark on the world living as independent, fulfilled, single women.

We really can choose the way we perceive our lives, and our perception changes the way the world around us reacts to us. Many people are unhappily married – many have wonderful relationships, just as there are many folks who are happily single and others unhappily single. One thing we can control is choosing to be happy, regardless of our relationship status.

Being single during the holidays, you join the majority of the population of the United States. In 2014, 50.2% of the population 16 and older were single as compared with 37.4% in 1976. You are not alone!

How can you shake those single holiday blues?

  • Say yes to every invitation! Even if you stay for 30 minutes, get moving and get out. You never know whom you will meet. It could be a guy, it could be a new best friend, a lead on a cool apartment or job for the New Year.
  • Whether serving meals at a shelter or collecting used coats among friends and coworkers for the needy, or helping your next-door neighbor shovel his walk, you can make a difference. Look around, you will see opportunities large and small. Do something … even if it’s just sharing a smile.
  • Contact old friends or reach out to someone new. Sharing a cup of coffee or glass of wine is a great way to feel socially connected. 20101231_0744

Whether the questions about your relationship status from that friend or relative is “well meaning” or not, if you don’t want to share, switch the topic of conversation back to them. Everyone likes to talk about themselves … now is the time to capitalize on that!


Creating a Sanctuary

p1020810

During the stress of election time, have you found yourself overwhelmed or burned out by the onslaught of newsflashes? The chronic barrage of updates and social media stories can leave you feeling frustrated, sad, or helpless. Do you ever fantasize about escaping to a simpler less hectic way of life? One way to cope and tune out is to create a sanctuary where you can retreat and restore your sense of balance and inner harmony.

What is a sacred space? A sanctuary is a sacred space; it is a uniquely personal place that you carve out to reconnect with stillness. A place that rejuvenates your nervous system and allows you to calm and center your energy. This can be a physical place or an imaginary space that with practice, you can access anywhere.
If you have room to establish a small area dedicated for meditation or quiet time, try decorating it with relaxing photos of your favorite spots: perhaps pictures of nature; oceans, forests, sunsets, or hiking areas with waterfalls that you can place around you. Fill your sanctuary with objects that encourage you to travel within. If room is an issue, make it portable; set the serenity stage then dismantle it when you’re done. Taking the time to carve out a sanctuary sends strong permission signals allowing your body and mind to honor quiet time.

Light candles, play soft soothing music and if need be, set a timer; even fifteen minutes can make an enormous difference. A sanctuary supports your efforts to drop inward to quiet the outside chatter, relieve stress and to approach life with a clearer, calmer mindset. Imagine if you never recharged your phone or computer? Creating a sacred space reboots your nervous system and disempowers fear and anxiety.
The idea of opening up and closing down is like the very beating of our heart; the chambers open and close, both are necessary to sustain life.

Rumi, the famous 13th century Persian Poet, noted.

Just look at your hand
closing the fist always proceeds opening it.
A hand that is always opened or closed,
is a crippled hand.
So your heart also contracts and expands,
just like a bird needs to close and open
it’s wings to fly.

Shutting out the world allows you to open to your inner self. It takes you back to the you, unaffected or categorized by titles. There in the quiet chambers of your being you are free uninhibited by age, illness, or the past.

Although multitasking is rewarded these days, it has detrimental effects on our ability to focus. Taking time to cultivate a sanctuary can boost your mental and physical well-being. If there simply is no room to create a physical space, then create one in your mind’s eye. Get comfy on the bed or sofa or throw pillows on the floor and close your eyes. Begin to imagine a place where you feel calm, secure, in harmony with nature; a sandy beach with a slight breeze, the warm sun on your back. Or in the mountains surrounded by autumn leaves and a babbling brook. Wherever your place is, close your eyes and create the sensory details, the smells and sounds; perhaps play nature sounds on your computer or phone. YouTube has a plethora of these kinds of soothing symphonies from the ocean to a crackling campfire.

Once you’ve created a place in your mind’s eye, focus on your breathing. Slow your inhales and exhales to the count of five, this is guaranteed to induce relaxation. If you have set a timer, release any lingering concerns about time. Stay in your sacred space as long as you need and let tension and stress dissolve. In time and with practice, this inner haven can offer you solace whenever or wherever you need to drop in for a visit.
As the days grow shorter and the animals prepare for hibernation, we too can slow down, settle in, and relish in the safety of your sacred sanctuary.


No Judgments Please

No Judgments Please

Do you ever feel overwhelmed by negative feelings about yourself or others? Do you yearn for a life void of crippling judgments that keep you frozen and fearful? The art of nonjudgmental is like learning a new language, it takes practice. Margaret Mead, the famous American cultural anthropologist, once said, “Children must be taught how to think, not what to think.” Naturally this is a challenge, for inadvertently human beings pass down opinions and preferences, often unconsciously. Thankfully, life is dynamic and ever changing. As adults, we are free to re-program our life philosophies and belief systems. It is possible to cultivate the art of observing rather than categorizing and labeling ourselves and others.

When you release the need to place judgment on yourself or others, you lift any invisible partitions that may be isolating you from others. When we are afraid, the chambers of our heart race and love is cast aside. Judgments stimulate strong emotions that can cloud our true self and our ability to be receptive to change. Jiddu Krishnamurti, a globally acclaimed thinker and teacher who subscribed to no particular religion or philosophy claimed that “The ability to observe without evaluating is the highest form of intelligence.” Judgments are often habitual, nonfactual, and spontaneous creating a sort of windstorm in our psyche. Learning one day at a time how to be nonjudgmental (which includes not condemning yourself when you fall off wagon) opens your life up to new possibilities. It gives you the freedom to indulge perspectives that differ from your own; without classifying them as right or wrong.

The following are a few basic tips to living with more observation and less judging.

• Observe language that triggers judgment such as; right/wrong, should/shouldn’t, fair/unfair. Become a witness to the verbiage you use to describe yourself and with gentle compassion rephrase them into describing your feelings. Rather than saying “I’m stupid or unworthy.” Try making a descriptive statement, “I feel anxious when I have to learn a new task.” Identifying the emotion behind the judgment helps reveal the crux of the misperception. Practicing loving kindness with your words can help you cultivate patience and a more positive, less fear based way of life.

• Become aware of your thoughts, when you learn to observe your thoughts throughout the day, you learn to let go of negative judgments. Imagine if you never saw yourself in a mirror, you would have no idea what you look like. If we don’t see our thoughts and patterns they remain invisible. By taking notice, we can stop judgmental thinking in its tracks. Perhaps every time someone expresses their belief system, we stop listening or when we are stressed we condemn ourselves. Being a witness to your thoughts is an initial step in letting go of patterns that knock you off kilter, and cause disharmony. Once you are aware, you can implement positive change.

• Begin to see problems and challenges as opportunities to grow. By embracing rather than judging a situation, you allow yourself movement for growth. When we stick our mind in the mud of old destructive, judgmental thinking we get stuck. Rather than inwardly cursing and blaming another or yourself, see challenges as an opportunity to practice your greater potential. Learning comes from solving a problem and often, we exaggerate our problems and see them as “Oh why me?” Hurdles and obstacles can become opportunities for creating positive outcomes. If we leave the judgment behind we have more mental capacity to search for solutions.

Mother Theresa once said, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” Setting judgments aside cleans the cobwebs of your heart, mind, and soul creating space for life affirming love and serenity to grow. By practicing nonjudgmental living, we tear down walls and build lasting loving relationships with ourselves and others.


Finding the Positive

Author Wayne Dyer wrote, “Every time I see a coin on the street, I stop, pick it up, put it into my pocket, and say out loud, ‘Thank you …for this symbol of abundance that keeps flowing into my life.’ Never once have I asked, ‘Why only a penny…? You know I need a lot more than that.”

It’s really that simple. Day after day train yourself to say thank-you. We all know that the more we practice something, the more natural it becomes. Change the negative self-talk into positive, even if at first you don’t believe yourself. “I can’t believe I am late to work again, I am always late.” can be, “It was a tough morning, but I am glad to be at work and will adjust myself to what is. It’s a gorgeous day and I am happy to be a part of it!” Or, “I am so resentful that I have to work late, I wanted to go to the gym and now I won’t even be having dinner until 9:00” can be, “I’ll grab a healthy snack to keep myself nourished until I can have dinner. I’m lucky to have a job and I love so many things about it!” Even if you don’t feel like you love it at the moment, tell yourself you do. You can find something positive when you look for it. It sounds simple and it is. We often make life a lot harder than it needs to be.

It can take several months to make a shift, but changing the way that you talk to yourself every day will eventually have profound effects on your day to day attitude and even your physical health. You may be having a tough minute, but you don’t have to have a tough day.