The True Task Before Us When it Comes to Love

I came across this quote from Rumi that gave me some food for thought:

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”  – Rumi

When you come to think about it, our built in attachment system sets us up to be able to love and to be loved back. It is what we have been taught about love or our negative experiences with desire, tenderness and devotion that tend to build walls around our hearts. If we are fortunate enough to have been raised in an environment that enabled us to be secure in our attachment, we are one step closer to not allowing our barriers to prevent us from the affection of others.

And if our childhood brought us pain, or those we sought out in love were not kind to us, we can still be in charge of our own destiny when it comes to love. By leaning into Rumi’s advice, we can explore our own barriers and make the choice to give our hearts first to ourselves, clearing a path for those that will follow. 🙂

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Why Do We Want to Fix It?

We have a tendency to want to fix things. Part of this might come from learned behaviours and childhood roles; being responsible for others at a young age, being made to feel as though something was our fault, the tendency to people please or mediate.

But perhaps it can also come from nature. One thing that I have learned from Avanti Kumar Singh‘s podcast The Healing Catalyst, is that we all possess both masculine and feminine energy. Feminine energy tends to lend us our ability to be compassionate and to listen to our intuition – it is an energy that highlights our inner world. Masculine energy tends to orient us to the outer world and is the “doer” energy; what lends us our ability to take action.

Perhaps when we are feeling the plight of another, when we sense they are struggling with something, our natural instinct kicks in to want to fix in for them. We might see it so clearly, we know we have the answer; to give them a solution or advice.

And I would say that there is nothing wrong with wanting to fix it, as long as that is also what they seek. We are much better served to slow down, to listen, and to ask before we come to the conclusion that they want our solution. Understanding that we want to fix because of our nature is an important element in consciously slowing down long enough to listen with intent. 

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Ask Yourself This Question When You Are Feeling Confrontational

We all get in those prickly, confrontational moods. Sometimes we can have a sour day at work, someone cut us off on our way to the grocery store, or our partner says the wrong thing at the wrong time. Other times, we might be quietly minding our own business, and we get pulled into someone else’s need for an argument. In any case, we end up heated and the fight is on.

Whenever we are in a confrontational mood, there is one question that we can ask ourselves that might help us temper the moment, moving us to take a break from what is clearly becoming the perfect storm.

Taking a deep breath, we need to ask ourselves “Okay, am I doing this to be right or to be effective?” The need to be right will rarely lead to a solution; leaning into anger almost always sends out the message: “I don’t really care what you think.” Being effective, however, leads almost always to a solution. Your goal becomes to find a compromise; sometimes that means simply taking a break from the argument; returning to the conversation after everyone has cooled their jets.

“Am I doing this to be right or to be effective?” Try it out….you may be pleasantly surprised by it’s effect on you 🙂

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The Classic Dynamic of Pursue and Withdraw

One of the classic partnering-up that occurs in an opposite-attracts type way is a dynamic known as “Pursue and Withdraw.” In an attachment framework, one person is typically Pre-occupied and the other is Avoidant-dismissive. In layman’s terms, one partner tends to be more emotional with a need for connection, looks to their partner for reassurance and will fear being alone. The other partner tends to have less emotional capacity, will “shut down” when pressed for deeper connection and tends to struggle with closeness in relationships.

Initially, this couple will provide the yin to their yang; their peanut butter to their jam. But over time with increased stressors, and in times of conflict, the differences between how the two communicate will widen the gap. When one pursues, it creates an increased need for the other to withdraw, and withdrawing creates panic in the pursuer, who reacts by increasing the pursuit; creating a vicious cycle.

It becomes important to begin by recognizing the dynamic and then seeking help in lessening the gap. It is never the differences that lead to a break down of relationship, but rather an avoidance of self-reflection within ourselves and within the relationship. Learning how to correct some of these behaviours is the first step in understanding that when two people each have a healthy ability to regulate their emotions, they have confidence in their capacity to be an independent partner while still navigating as a team.

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Are Opposite Sex Friendships Okay?

Yesterday’s blog post touched on jealousy and how it can erode relationships. But are opposite sex friendships okay? The short answer…..they can be, but proceed with caution. Our attachment system works in such a way that we can easily attach to more than one child, more than one friend, more than one sibling or family member. When it comes to our partners, however, our attachment system tends to need full investment; when we begin relying on an opposite sex friend on an emotional level (instead of our spouse), we risk becoming attached to them, leading potentially to thinking that the grass is greener on the other side. It is a slippery slope; hence the caution.

The reality of our intimate relationships is that they ebb and flow from times that we are content to times that we are frustrated and feeling vulnerable. Leaning into our opposite sex friend instead of working to fix what is unhealthy at home can lead to infidelity if one is not very aware of their actions.

In order to maintain a friendship with someone of the opposite sex, transparency is a must. Both partners have to be okay with the friendship and adopt the philosophy that there is “nothing to hide.” When we work as a team with our partners, making sure their feelings take priority, we make the ground underneath us more even, and therefore, more secure.

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Jealousy and How it Damages Relationships

Secure attachment is a safe place; one in which we feel a sense of reciprocal loyalty to our partner. Within the context of a healthy relationship, there may be times when we feel a bit territorial; if you are at a social event and it appears that someone has decided to put the charm on your partner, you may get a little prickly feeling, a natural response to someone invading your space.

But what happens when it moves to jealousy? And what does that do to a relationship? The short answer…..it erodes it. Jealousy is a feeling that can border upon and include emotions such as envy, resentment, and bitterness. Jealousy is about unentitled ownership, mistrust, and suspicion; all of which will do nothing to contribute to the health of a relationship. Jealousy is about feeling insecure and placing that vulnerability on the shoulders of your partner; clearly not their job.

When feeling jealous, it is our job to ask ourselves why; to begin to take ownership for how those feelings developed and what we can do to change them. If our partner is excessively flirty or there have been questionable moments of infidelity in the past, that becomes a relationship problem; jealousy may be growing out of what now has become unhealthy.

In any case, jealousy is an emotion we need to keep in check. Leaning into it not only erodes the relationship, it also wears away at our own sense of a confident and secure self.

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Anxiety and it’s Toll on Relationships

In an article entitled “How Anxiety Destroys Relationships (And How to Stop It) by Kristine Tye and featured on Good Therapy, Tye talks about the ways that anxiety can take it’s toll on relationships. Two of the points I found especially relevant:

  • “Anxiety breaks down trust and connection. Anxiety causes fear or worry that can make you less aware of your true needs in a given moment. It can also make you less attuned to the needs of your partner. If you’re worried about what could be happening, it’s difficult to pay attention to what is happening. When you feel overwhelmed, your partner may feel as though you aren’t present.”
  • “Anxiety is the opposite of acceptance. Unhealthy levels of anxiety make you feel as though an emotional “rock” is in your stomach almost all the time. Anxiety causes you to reject things that are not dangerous and avoid things that might benefit you. It also can stop you from taking healthy action to change things in your life that are hurting you because it makes you feel hopeless or stuck.”

Tye also notes that challenging your anxiety by focusing on the present and being okay with the feeling of discomfort are ways that you can counteract anxiety and the subsequent strain it may be putting on your relationships.

There is never a doubt that living with mental illness of any form can be taxing, to not only the individual experiencing it, but to their loved ones as well. Working towards coping strategies and leaning into healthier choices are ways that we can help counteract the after effects of emotional struggles, whether they are our own or those of whom we care about.

To read the full article (she has three more points!): https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/how-anxiety-destroys-relationships-and-how-to-stop-it-0622155

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Helping with the Meltdowns

We all know what it feels like when we are overwhelmed. There are some days where our emotions get the best of us and our rational brain doesn’t have much room in our decision making.

Imagine then, what it feels like for children; when their already emotional space gets flooded, their every frustration building with the crescendo of a crashing wave. Here are 5 tips to help with the meltdowns;

  • Be the calm. Matching their emotions with a bigger version will only increase the stimulation. Managing your own emotions while holding space for your child’s helps to validate, diffuse and comfort.
  • Re-direct. As adults, we have learned to be comfortable with the discomfort by using distraction. The same thing can work with our children; when we suggest an alternative, it often helps in creating a sense of control for the child.
  • Listen. Get down to their eye level; let them tell you what is wrong. Label and agree with their feelings. We can both validate and maintain boundaries which allows for teaching moments about behaviours.
  • Problem solve. When the meltdown is over, and calm has returned, that is when we can look at solving the problem – whether that is immediate or for ‘next time.’
  • Guide, not control. Sometimes our own fears about being the perfect parent will get in the way of what is happening in the moment which can lead us to needing to control. We can temper this by seeing ourselves instead as a guide, helping our littles navigate the emotional road.

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Inferior or Superior?

Think about someone that you have difficulty with. It could be a family member, co-worker, friend. There may be value in keeping the relationship, or they are in your orbit by way of circumstance – in any case, there are times when you struggle to maintain your composure or feel drained of your energy around them. When you reflect on your last few interchanges, ask yourself, “In their presence do I feel inferior or superior?” 

Generally speaking, we will lean one way or the other. We may feel inferior if that person tends to be controlling or dominant. Feeling inferior can occur if we feel pulled to justify or explain ourselves. We may feel superior if we feel compelled to always give advice. Superiority can also come when we see ourselves as more ‘put together’ or successful than the other.

One or the other, the feelings of inferiority and superiority come from fear. Fear that we are not good enough, that we don’t measure up. Fear that our insecurities will be revealed.

We are better served to recognize if this is happening and instead move to recognizing the equal in another. Below all the layers, we are the same being. When our ego is gently pushed aside, we are able to see that the space for equality has no room for fear, but rather leads with unconditional positive regard.

There will  always be relationships in which boundaries need to be in place and sometimes space needs to be taken, but we can do so with kindness and a respect for the equal in another.

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What Does Bad Timing Have to Do with Anything?

The short answer? A lot. One of the biggest communication traps we can get ourselves into is that of bad timing.

Communicating how we feel or what we need isn’t always easy. There are a lot of variables to consider: recognizing what our need or feeling is, deciding whether or not we want to bring it to someone’s attention, how we are going to bring it up, who is on the receiving end of that conversation and whether or not it is going to be understood. We also need to consider when to have that conversation. The variable of timing is often overlooked and it can make the difference as to how the communication plays out. Let us consider some grounds rules for timing:

  • If you are feeling angry, that isn’t the time to bring something up. We are much better served to take some space from the emotion and let our rational brain chime in as to how we want to respond.
  • If you are feeling easily overwhelmed or on the verge of a meltdown, you may be too emotional to be able to communicate effectively. We are wise at this point to ‘sleep on it,’ or instill the 24 hour rule to see how we feel about it the next day.
  • If you are exhausted, get some sleep first. Nothing makes us more vulnerable than a bleary-eyed state.
  • Wanting to talk about something when getting into bed or when someone is trying to get out the door is most likely not going to go well as it creates the feeling of being blind-sided. A better option is to find an opportunity when both of you are relaxed and have the time.
  • Choose a private space. Saying something in front of your in-laws, children or friends is going to add insult to injury.

Timing is an important part of communicating well. When we attempt to create a time and space for telling someone how we feel we are contributing to the health of the relationship as we are moving from the position of “I am important and so are you.”

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