OVERVIEW OF RELATIONSHIP SESSIONS

Loving Yourself

The Three Selves Of Dating

Essential Qualities Of Healthy Relationships

How To Communicate In A Healthy, Constructive Manner

Warning Signs Of Relationship Breakdown

The Phases Of Committed Relationships

LOVING YOURSELF

Before you can create healthy relationships with others, you need to come to terms with the parts of yourself that you feel uncomfortable with.  There may be parts that you have disowned or denied because you can’t stand the uneasy feelings they generate.  These parts may have to do with a traumatic time in your past; how you view some aspect of your life such as your body or career; or some dysfunctional pattern of thinking or acting.  Anything you disown creates an imbalance.  Because the nature of life is to seek balance and integration, those parts will act out in increasingly extreme ways to get you to pay attention to your needs.  Moreover, if you can’t love yourself, you’ll look for someone else to love you, hoping that if she/he gives you enough love your unlovable parts will just go away.  Unfortunately, you will tend to attract others who don’t love and accept themselves either, thus setting yourself up for even more hurt and disappointment.  So, first up are some guidelines for learning to love yourself more fully and unconditionally.

Dismantle Your Inner Critic:     We become what we think.  A harsh Inner Critic can sabotage your success more easily than any external, real-world obstacle.  The inner critic will tell you that you don’t deserve/can’t attract a healthier relationship.  Dismantling your Inner Critic is wonderfully liberating.  Having a written or verbal dialogue with your Inner Critic can result in a major power shift in your inner world.  Tell your Critic off again and again, and see what happens, the inner bully isn’t used to being confronted and will often meekly retreat when challenged.

Befriend and Nurture All Parts of Yourself:      If there are parts of yourself from your past or present that you feel shame, embarrassment, guilt or inadequacy about, treat those parts as you would a sad or frightened child: with love, nurturing and warmth.  These parts really need the healing power of love.  Visualize yourself actually being with and nurturing a part of yourself or your past.

Confront Your Own Denial:      Look at yourself honestly.  Step back from the drama of your life, and look at your relationships totally objectively.  What do you see?  What are the themes?  What are the successes?  What are the recurring unhealthy patterns?  Do you tend to deny certain issues or blame them on your friends?  Take responsibility and become as healthy as you can be: you can only attract a healthy partner if you are healthy!  Whenever denial is present, you are living with a false sense of who you really are, which contributes to not loving your true self.

Access Healthy Inner Resources:         Take advantage of the healthy resources available in your inner world.  This can be anything from trying to act like the healthy people you know (i.e. ask yourself, "What would my healthy friend do in this situation?") to accessing inner spiritual guidance.  Discover which techniques seem most helpful for you in opening up to peace, serenity, and inner knowing (prayer, meditation, exercise, yoga, debate, etc).  Practice these techniques on a daily basis, and continue to learn new ways to connect with your inner guidance.  Honour the full range of gifts that you were born with so you can love the person that you are.

Take time to forge an honest, open relationship with all parts of yourself, even if you’ve spent your life running away from some of them.  Befriend those parts.  Accept without denial or distortion who you are, and acknowledge the gifts that you bring to this life.  Actualise your capacities for self-love and inner guidance.  Remember that no one else can love a part of you that you disown, and no one else can make up for or give you what you cannot give yourself.  Be gentle, kind and forgiving of yourself, yet also challenge yourself to do more, be more, and honour the highest purpose of your existence.  Only then can your heart’s true desire for love, companionship, and deep connection be truly fulfilled.

 

THE THREE SELVES OF DATING

You may feel perplexed as your new partner reveals different and contradictory parts of him/herself.  One day you may be delighted by your partner’s charm and thoughtfulness yet the next day be devastated by their stubbornness, rigidity and inappropriate expressions of feelings.  How and why does this happen, and what can you do to keep yourself emotionally safe as you go through the stages of a developing relationship?  We all possess many different sub-personalities, which are needed in order to survive and thrive.  Among the most common of these are the three discussed below.  Knowledge of these sub-personalities may help you to understand why your new partner’s behaviour often seems contradictory. 

The Rational, Practical Persona.  Presents ‘appropriate’ mask to the world, concerned with maintaining a certain image or status.  Thinks logically and analytically about life and relationships.  Intelligent, thoughtful, linear, methodical, functional, practical, goal-directed.  Never acts impulsively or irrationally.

The Alive, Loving Self.  Present and spontaneous, genuinely wants a deep, intimate connection with others.  Willing and able to take risks, playful, fun- loving and bursting with energy and feelings. Never concerned about  making ‘sense’ or being practical.  Very expansive, imaginative and visionary.

The Wounded, Fearful Self.  The part of you that has experienced emotional wounds, hurts and disappointments of growing up. The storeroom of inadequacies, frailties, vulnerabilities and shame.  Limited capacity for growth and change without outside help because it has developed a variety of strategies, shields and compensatory mechanisms to keep itself safe to avoid further wounding.  Functions as your ‘emotional thermostat’ and strives to keep your emotional life stable, similar, and familiar.  Re-creates/maintains whatever emotional experiences you may have had in the past, whether they were loving, chaotic, distant or hurtful.

So how do these three parts interact and change as a dating relationship develops?  Initially, the Alive, Loving Selves come out as fully as they ever will when people first meet.  They dance and play and exude aliveness and spontaneity and fun and desire closeness.  Unfortunately in most relationships, this phase is temporary because the Rational, Practical Persona and the Wounded, Fearful Self quickly team up to put a lid on the Alive, Loving Self’s playtime.  As more closeness develops, the alarms of the Wounded, Fearful Self go off and self-protection takes over.  Intimacy = vulnerability = risk and the Wounded, Fearful Self cannot tolerate the chance of being hurt again.  The Alive, Loving Self is partially or completely shut down, leaving the Rational, Practical Persona to take over and make relationship decisions.  Suddenly someone who wanted to see you every day has to work late 3 nights a week, or no longer wants to talk about "the future".  Or out of the blue, you encounter anger or resistance when you want to do things to bring the relationship closer.  In most cases, you fall in love with someone’s Alive, Loving Self but end up dating, living with and/or married to their Wounded, Fearful Self and Rational, Practical Persona.  Thus a crucial task of conscious dating is to understand the nature of your partner’s Wounded, Fearful self. Are they aware of this part of themselves?  Have they worked on healing it?  How pervasive is it now in their life?  When dating, it’s wise to open your heart gradually, until you get a sense of all parts of your partner. Honour the needs of all parts of yourself as well as your partner.  Don't commit until you really feel you have a sense of each of these parts in your dating partner.  These steps will help avoid any hurtful surprises and enable you to be fully present in your relationships with others.

 

ESSENTIAL QUALITIES OF HEALTHY RELATIONSHIPS

 

 

1          Commitment.  A relationship is reciprocal and you must be present and committed when it is easy and meets your needs, as well as when it is difficult and you feel like you are doing all the giving.  To make such a commitment, you must be capable of selfless service beyond your own needs and the relationship must have a deeper vision or meaning that transcends the unpleasant times. 

 

2          Conscious attention.  All healthy relationships require consistent, ongoing, conscious attention to survive and thrive.  Whenever you pay attention to something, you are choosing to keep it in your life.  Whenever you choose to ignore something, you are letting go of it.  Where you choose to put your attention and how long you do so is one of the most important decisions you have to make in your life.  Our present world has many distractions, such as television, which make conscious attention to our relationships all but impossible.  Yet, couples and families frequently eat their meals in front of the TV, passively and inattentively.  One aspect of conscious attention is the ability to listen without judgment.  A foundational skill to all healthy relationships is the ability to really be present to understand what is going on for your partner: listening with your ears, feeling with your heart, seeing with your eyes and sensing with your intuition.  What does your partner really need?  What do you need right now to feel in harmony?

 

3          Respect.  You can consciously attend to your partner, but if you do so with an attitude of manipulation and control, the outcome will be a one-sided unhealthy relationship.  An attitude of respect, on the other hand, will assure that both yours and your partner’s needs are attended to.

 

4          Gratitude.  When you commit to a relationship, give it conscious attention, and feel respect for your partner, you will experience gratitude for his/her presence in your life.  You should honour his/her presence and communicate your gratitude on a regular basis, in whatever form feels right. 

 

5          Trust.  You must be able to trust the relationship when things appear to be going nowhere.  You must have faith that there is something going on that you cannot comprehend or see.  Become quiet and mindful and listen to yourself, so that you can become aware of, and trust the impulses from the small, still voice within when it urges you to examine your choices and perhaps go in a new direction.

 

6          Bonding.  In a relationship, there must be a mechanism for an ongoing connection, for a reciprocal exchange of energy, and this is bonding. Bonding is a basic human need.  We are most bonded with other people when we are touching and maintaining eye contact.  Yet, we rarely communicate with others in this manner.  Examine what rituals you have developed for bonding, and explore how you can expand on these. 

 

Examine your relationships and see how many of the above qualities are a regular part of those relationships.  For example, are you committed to yourself, to bringing out the full range of your gifts to the world?  To your own happiness and fulfilment?  Are you able to commit to an intimate partner?  Or do you have a commitment to a spiritual path?  Reflect on how much conscious attention you give to yourself and others.  See if you are relating to them with respect and gratitude.  Notice if you have a basic sense of trust with your self and others.  Be aware of how much genuine bonding you do with the important people in your life and with yourself.  Consciously reflecting on these questions can open the door to richer, deeper, healthier and more alive relationships on all levels of your life. 

 

HOW TO COMMUNICATE IN A HEALTHY, CONSTRUCTIVE MANNER

Constructive communication styles can help couples to communicate better.  If you are unable to communicate constructively, a psychologist can help you (and your partner) understand what is causing a problem in your relationship (Couples therapy, family therapy).

 

DESTRUCTIVE COMMUNICATION STYLES:

 

÷             Arguing and Withdrawing

÷             Blaming and Accusing

÷             Not Listening

÷             Changing the Subject

 

If you use destructive communication styles, you will not be able to resolve conflicts in your relationship and the relationship will be destroyed by resentment, distance, and unhappiness.  Fortunately, you can lean to substitute destructive communication styles with more constructive ones.

 

CONSTRUCTIVE COMMUNICATION STYLES:

 

            In constructive communication, only one person speaks at a time, and the other person's job is purely to listen.  Only when the first person is completely done talking does the other one begin expressing what they have to say.

 

             Instead of arguing or withdrawing, learn to SET THE STAGE FOR HEALTHY COMMUNICATION.  Communication must occur at the right time and place.  If either of you are upset or distracted, you will most likely end up using a destructive communication style.  To set the stage for more fruitful and constructive communication, do the following:

- Stop and cool down; leave the situation if necessary for a while

- Set a specific time and place to talk again

- Don't interrupt your partner; let him/her express

- Acknowledge your partner's concerns

 

             Instead of Blaming and Accusing, learn to USE "I" MESSAGES.  When people blame and accuse each other, they start many sentences to each other with words such as "you always..." or "you never..."   Your partner is immediately put on the defensive when s/he hears a sentence beginning with the word "you".  A better method is to take responsibility for what you are feeling and communicate that to your partner.  Begin your sentences with phrases like "I feel..." or "I think..."   

- Discuss your feelings in a responsible way 

- If you discuss your partner's behaviour, again do so in terms of your feelings

- Let your partner know your feelings when they engage in the behaviour

- Tell your partner the consequences of their behaviour to you

 

As an example of this, if you are upset your partner doesn't call when they're coming home late, you could use blaming and accusing and say, "You're irresponsible" or "You don't care about me" or "You're selfish".  Using "I" messages, the same statement might come out like this: "When you stay out late past when you told me you'd be home, I feel hurt, frustrated and angry.  When you finally do come home, I really don't want to be close with you.  In fact, it usually takes me all day long the next day before I feel like being close with you again."

 

              Instead of not listening, learn to USE ACTIVE LISTENING, in which the listener's job is purely to listen, without interruption, without adding anything to what the speaker has said.  The key elements of Active Listening are to:

-Listen to understand: even if you don't agree with what you're partner is saying, pay attention and listen to it. 

-Summarize: after you've listened, paraphrase and repeat what you heard:  "So what I heard you say was..."  

-Verify: after summarizing, ask your partner "Did I hear you correctly?"  Let him/her give you feedback.  Maybe you missed an important element of what they said.  This is not about being right or wrong; it's about being heard and understood correctly.

-Be open and receptive for more input: when you have verified that you heard your partner correctly, ask him/her "Is there anything else you want to say?"  Let him/her know that s/he have the floor until s/he has said everything s/he needs to say.

 

              Instead of changing the subject, learn to STAY ON ONE SUBJECT AT A TIME.  By agreeing ahead of time to talk only about one topic and nothing else, you can make significant progress on an important issue.  It may take several sessions to hear what each other has to say about a topic, just as it took some time for the feelings about it to develop.  Be patient and keep talking.

 

By using this structured communication format, people are forced to listen without interruption, and to take responsibility for what they are experiencing.  While getting skilful at this format takes some practice, it is more than worth the effort when you and your partner see that you have the power to transform repetitive hostile arguments into healing, solutions-focused discussions.

 

WARNING SIGNS OF RELATIONSHIP BREAKDOWN

The early warning signs of relationship deterioration can help predict which relationships are likely to end within a few years.  This information is crucial in accepting when your relationship is in serious need of more attention or help.  There are specific warning signs of deterioration of an intimate relationship.  In order of increasing danger, they are listed below: 

Escalation of negativity  - increase in complaining and criticism

Criticism - Attacking and blaming partner's personality and/or character, (e.g. "you are a selfish uncaring person")

Negative interpretation - interpreting partner’s intentions as hostile/negative when they are meant to be neutral or positive

Invalidation - not attempting to understand partner’s point of view

Contempt - insulting and/or psychologically abusing partner (e.g. "you are a total idiot ")

Defensiveness - not being willing to listen to anything partner has to say, due to fear of being hurt or attacked (emot/phys)

Stonewalling - ignoring, avoiding, distancing and withdrawing from partner

If you notice two or more of these signs, your relationship may need some extra attention.  A bit of prevention can save a lot of emotional, financial, and physical pain.

 

RESOLVING CONFLICT, CREATING SOLUTIONS

Conflict in a relationship is often seen as negative, as if couples should not have disagreements.  But conflict is inevitable in intimate relationships and present excellent opportunities for personal and relationship growth.  Therefore, conflict should be embraced as a signal that something needs to change or grow in either or both partners.  However, some areas of conflict (causing repetitive arguments) are very difficult to resolve.  The following method is often useful in resolving such issues.  If the method doesn’t help to successfully resolve a conflict, it probably means that the issue requires professional help from a qualified psychologist. 

 

TO RESOLVE AN ONGOING CONFLICT:

 

1. Identify the area of conflict as specifically as possible.  You cannot solve a vaguely defined conflict.

- Poorly defined conflicts:         "You're a slob", "The house is a mess”, "You always run up the credit cards"

- Well-defined conflicts:            "I feel we're not working as a team on the house cleaning”

”I feel anxious because we haven't yet paid   off our debts and started saving for retirement"

 

2. Use the Constructive Communication Exercise (page 4) to take turns to state your feelings and thoughts on the issue.

-Take as long as you need to state your position and ensure that your partner has really heard you

-Doing this exercise can sometimes resolve a conflict, though not always

-Do not go on to the next step until both of you feel heard by the other one

 

3. Brainstorm at least five possible solutions, preferably more.

-Be creative!

-Don't worry about being practical; focus on generating as many solutions as possible

-Write down all the solutions

 

4. Go through the list of solutions together and pick one that you both agree to try.

-There may be one obvious solution that you both agree on

-You may both have to compromise somewhat to agree on one solution to try

-Remember that the solution is just an experiment for a limited period of time and that it mustl be evaluated and changed if it does not meet both partners' needs.

 

5. State the Experimental Solution as specifically as possible.  Write it down if you like.

- Poorly defined solution statement:      "We'll put on music and clean the house when it gets dirty"

- Well-defined solution statement:         "Every Thursday night at 8:00 pm we'll both clean the house for two hours.  I will vacuum the living room and clean the

 bathroom; you will dump the garbage and clean the kitchen floor.  We'll take turns choosing music every other week to

 help make it more fun."

 

6. Agree on a specific date/time for a review (usually within 2-4 weeks) for assessing how the experimental solution is going.

-Make sure nothing will interfere with the Solution Review

-Use the Constructive Communication Exercise to review how it's going for each of you

-Decide if you both want to continue implementing the Solution

-If you don't like the Solution, modify or enhance it, or start over at the beginning of this exercise.

 

 

THE SIX PHASES OF COMMITTED RELATIONSHIPS

-A reality-based roadmap for the journey of creating a loving, healthy intimate relationship

 

1. ROMANTIC LOVE  (the ‘Hollywood style’ phase)                                                                                      from 6 months to 2 years

§          Wonderful, easy, effortless, spontaneous, alive  - little or no effort required

§          Maximizing similarities / minimizing differences: “we are one; we are the same”.  “You are perfect”

§          Expectation that partner will provide for all / most of one’s wants, needs, desires

§          High degree of passion / feelings / expressions of romance, lots of eye contact/affection, infatuation

§          Belief that feelings / experiences will go on forever (“we will never disagree on anything”)

§          Belief that fate / greater forces brought partners together (“this is meant to be”)

 

 

2. ADJUSTING TO REALITY  (the ‘who on earth is this person?’ phase)                                                          Start of the real relationship

§            Reality bursts the bubble slowly or suddenly:  Some trigger causes a minor or major conflict

-Common triggers:                  Living together/sharing household chores/experiencing personal habits up close

Discovering a partner’s act of deception/infidelity

Planning a wedding / buying a house / sharing finances / etc

§            Impossible to maintain fantasy that relationship is immune from struggle/effort/reality

§            Conflict, anxiety, disappointment, hurt, loss of closeness when reality doesn’t match one’s hopes and dreams

§            Grief/anger over loss of innocent/wonderful relationship versus desire to be close again = confusion, fear of intimacy

§            Deal with personal differences:  integration of dependence, independence, interdependence

§            2 Outcomes:                  Relinquish cherished romantic fantasies, or cling desperately to fantasies in a state of denial

 

 

3. THE POWER STRUGGLE  (the ‘Is it worth it?’ phase)                                                                                              Disillusionment  increases

§            Minor issues turn into large arguments

§            Partners fiercely defend their positions on issues:  Afraid to give in, wanting the other to change

§            Consistent feelings of ambivalence and anger: Resentment, sarcasm, blaming, accusing and hostility

§            Partner appears self-centred / untrustworthy: Occasional or frequent thoughts of leaving the relationship

§            Relationship rebuilding tasks:        -Learn Problem-solving/Conflict resolution/Negotiating/Communication skills (see p.4)

-Learn to provide self-support and support for partner's growth

-Gain insight into origins of dysfunctional patterns of conflict / conflict resolution

 

                                 

4. RE-EVALUATION  (the ‘what do you think about my choice of partner?’ phase)                                                                   The cold war

§            Taking the partner’s reality, fears, defenses, limitations and capacity to improve/change into account: Do you still want to stay?

§            Turning towards others to resolve their issues, instead of toward each other

§            Fears of abandonment: “Can I make it by myself?”  “Am I okay the way I am?” “Will anyone else find me attractive or appealing?

§            Partners disengage and withdraw emotionally (and sometimes physically)

§            Affairs / separation / divorce most likely to occur during this phase

§            Feelings of resentment less intense, as emotions towards partner likely to be very flat and empty

§            Sexual relationship sporadic or non-existent

§            A partner may confide in someone, who may gain increasing importance and emotional involvement in partner’s life.  Physical affection may spark off

a passionate, intense affair.  Primary relationship may battle to recover as it has too little gratification for either partner at this stage

§            Task: honour commitment but see yourselves as separate people.  Temporary separation can help gain perspective

 

 

5. RECONCILIATION  (the ‘boundary-setting’ phase)                                                                                                    The war is over

§            Re-awakening of interest in getting closer and connecting

§            Knowing the partner in reality instead of fantasy and deciding if there is a basis for further interaction

§            Openly accept and approach conflicts/differences with a new attitude:

-Conflicts are opportunities for learning about oneself and the other person

- Conflicts are catalysts for growth and change

§            Recognize that the differences are real and won't go away, and that neither person can really change the other

§            Begin the process of creating an honest, genuinely intimate relationship, and the relationship will again produce pleasure and satisfaction for both

§            Acquiring a deeper sense of responsibility for your part in conflicts

§            Recognising the link between your current relationship conflicts and what you learned as a child in your family 

§            Seeing your partner as you see yourself: a somewhat flawed yet decent person who is making a sincere effort to love and still take care of your own needs

§            Accepting that a relationship cannot/will not save you from your past and your individual needs/issues

§            Realising that parts of your life that can be nurtured and shared in a loving, accepting relationship and looking to the other for that connection

§            The conflicts are accepted, and there is a sincere desire to learn how to work through the issues to a satisfying resolution

 

 

6. ACCEPTANCE  (the ‘love you because of your flaws’ phase)                                                                                                Building a future

§            Less than 5% of couples ever reach the phase of complete acceptance without denial or fantasy. 

§            Taking responsibility for own needs, for own individual life, and for providing support for partner

§            Conflicts still arise, but the couple has figured out how to resolve conflicts relatively quickly during phases 1-5

§            High level of warmth, few resentments

§            Few surprises: partners know one another and know what to expect

§            Maintaining a balance between autonomy and union, working together as a team to stay connected and also maintain own identities.