Two Factors to Longevity in Relationships

When we think about the longevity and sustainability of relationships, two factors play a big role:

  1. Compatibility. Do you share the same type of values with your partner? Are you similar in how you like to spend your time? Enjoy a lot of the same activities? Are you in agreement as to how to discipline children? Do you share a semblance of work ethic and ambition? Although we can certainly appreciate the differences that two people bring to a relationship, and can work with an opposite-attracts type of union, compatibility tends to rank higher in the ability to maintain a strong emotional bond. For established relationships, working towards common goals and values can help to strengthen compatibility factors and for anyone in the dating world, keeping the goal of a well-matched union will often lead to a healthier choice with less potential conflict.
  2. Unity. Very often our values and goals line up to create a team-like approach to our relationship, giving each other the feeling that we are joined “as a whole” so to speak. This does not mean that we are not individuals within the relationship, but rather it is the inherent feeling of consistency and integration in our movement forward as a couple.

Compatibility and unity are factors, invariably, that lead to a greater strengthening of our attachment system. Just the sound of those words together brings about feelings of security, and the notion of a safe space to land in. 🙂

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A Way to Look at Relationships

We know that in order to have a relationship with someone, it will require commitment. There are times when we perceive that being in a committed relationship means we have surrendered to it. This perception most likely has been created partly by society and the notion that “marriage comes with a ball and chain;” it can also come from learned attitudes/experiences of those in our family of origin.

Being in a healthy relationship does require consideration of the other, at times compromise and sacrifice, and an overall feeling of satisfaction and reciprocity. It is an opportunity to live and create a conscious partnership/marriage. When we make choices that support the health of a relationship, we are not surrendering to it; rather we are building it.

If we feel that we have surrendered ourselves in the context of the relationship – that we have lost ourselves to another – then the work begins in ourselves as we begin to self-reflect on our own identity. We do this by exploring our core values and beliefs, our characteristics and qualities, our interests.  We begin to move from the position that “I am important and so are you.” We recognize ourselves as a valuable part of the union of two people. (This can be applied to any relationship, not just our intimate one.)

The language we use to describe our relationships is important. We can move from the notion that we surrender to marriage into one of creating it; designing and framing one that feeds our need for a simple love and a deep attachment.

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Relationship Ground Rules

I will often see clients in therapy who are looking to date again yet are worried about repeating the same patterns as in their past relationships. When they begin to navigate the dating world, we have worked on some ground rules:

  • Know what you bring to the table. One of the activities I will often get them to do is write out a full page of their qualities, characteristics, values and interests that they bring to the relationships in their life. This acts as a good reminder when gearing up to go on a date, or when chatting with someone. If we know what we bring to the table, we will have less of a tendency to settle.
  • Know your deal breakers and your red flags. List them on a piece of paper – the deal breakers, are exactly what they sound like. If you start dating someone and you find out that they hit one of your absolute no-no’s, stop spending time together (don’t make the assumption that they will change for you.) Red flags we the things we are cautious about – if you begin to notice something that you begin to question as a possible pattern or dynamic that is all too familiar, you may decide to not pursue the relationship. People show you who they are early on – believe them.
  • Take the word potential out of your vocabulary. That is a word that shouldn’t be linked to romantic love.

Relationship ground rules allow us to know our worth; we are less likely to have our blinders on and can make rational decisions when it comes to love.

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The ‘Boredom’ of a Healthy Relationship

Many people come to therapy in order to help understand and then change their unhealthy relationship patterns. Over time, they have begun to notice that they are attracted to a ‘type’ – perhaps they tend to choose someone who is controlling or dependent, emotionally unavailable or needy. Givers tend to be attracted to takers and those who are passive to those who are dominant. In any case, they do the work – uncovering the pattern, figuring out how and why that dynamic has appealed to them and then looking at what a healthy relationship does look like. They have goals to not repeat the pattern, to act on the red flags, to have a healthy relationship.

For anyone who has had a relationship pattern that tends to run hot and cold or one in which love and approval are intertwined, sometimes entering into a healthy relationship seems boring.  They have met someone who fits the criteria of a healthy relationship, and yet this niggling feeling comes in that there isn’t much ‘spark.’

It is at this point that we can’t confuse consistency with incompatibility. Healthy people tend to be emotionally consistent, stable and dependable. If we confuse that solidity with ‘boring’, we may be landing in seeking what is familiar, not what is healthy.

We are much better served to first recognize the default position so as to stay the course to see if compatibility is present – to feel the stability of a healthy relationship, to be able to rely on its foundation of trust, commitment and securely attached love. To understand in this case that ‘boring’ is good. 😉

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The Relationships We Manage

I like to say that there are three categories of relationships in our lives. There are the healthy ones; those we feed, are invested in, and consciously continue to build. There are the toxic ones; those to which we eventually learn how to strip them of power and in some cases, end the relationship altogether. And then there are those that we manage; relationships that aren’t quite in the healthy category, but we are not ready, or in a position, to remove them entirely from our lives.

We live in a society in which “family means everything,” and “blood is thicker than water;” expressions that certainly ring true for anyone who has grown up in a home that was not touched by dysfunction or abuse. Societal norms can make us feel pressured to continue to try and adjust ourselves within a relationship, simply because they’re family; leaving us at times to wrestle with uncertainty and compromised values.

Perhaps a better solution, is to be able to look at the relationship we are struggling with and ask ourselves, “Are both of us invested in making this healthy?” If the answer is no, and it is pretty clear that only one of you is doing the work, then it really is okay to give ourselves permission to manage that relationship. Sometimes that comes in the form of placing in some much needed boundaries, other times it may mean taking a bit of space to slow things down; in any case, it becomes okay to accept the relationship as one that perhaps needs a bit of regulation and direction from time to time.

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Our Hugs at the Door

I have come to really appreciate this statement: “Love begins and ends with attention.”

The word attend becomes about the investment we place in our relationships and our conscious effort to attend to those we love. We can find it in the 2:00 a.m. feeding of our newborn, in the hugs we give at the door, in the dinners we make to bring family to the table, in the little gifts of affection we buy, in the love notes we leave in our absence, in patiently tolerating the temper tantrums of our two year old, in the gatherings of holidays, in the distance shortened by a phone call, in the search for repair, in the kisses before bed, in the moments of shared grief and those of play and laughter.

For love to be healthy, it requires a joint effort. When one person attends, and the other doesn’t, it will change the value of love, the shape of it; it’s meaning will shift.  And so, love begins and ends with attention; it is about our effort to feed the health of the relationships to those we love. All the more reason I’d say, to get our kisses before bed and our hugs in at the door 🙂

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Is There Such a Thing as Over-Nurturing?

The importance of attachment, unconditional love and acceptance is now undisputed as being cornerstones to our well being. When we focus on nurturing our loved ones with those goals in mind, we are creating space for a strong foundation and healthy relationships. But is it possible to over nurture?

If we find ourselves in a position where we routinely take on other people’s problems and have difficulty in saying no, we may be moving into Rescue mode. Here, we tend to have a need to save others, to have a hand in solving their issues. We are often too soft, and as a result run the risk of over nurturing.

When we over nurture our loved ones, we end up inadvertently creating a lower sense of independence as we take on the task versus letting them handle it. If we take away every struggle, we miss the opportunity to witness their capability in conquering an issue or in figuring it out in their own way. Over nurturing can also lead to issues with self esteem, and higher levels of anxiety as our loved one feels dependent in order to get through life.

If we recognize that we can land into the habit of over nurturing, we can begin by noticing when we have ‘stepped in to take over.’ Allowing room for freedom of choice, boundary setting, and learning to say no are all valuable in creating a more balanced approach to nurturing our loved ones.

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What is Emotional Dumping?

After having walked away from a verbal exchange with someone, do you ever feel more conflicted and confused than before you started?  Then you might have just experienced emotional dumping.

Emotional dumping is used as a way for people to escape from taking any responsibility for their actions, circumstances or state of the relationship. It is also a way to deflect the real issues at hand, as a way to protect themselves from coming into and embracing a vulnerable state. Emotional dumping includes:

  • the need to be right or feel justified trumps the ability to compromise or look for a solution.
  • victim type behaviours and language.
  • defensive with the need to blame you/others.
  • the conversation is overwhelming – either with a ‘dumpload’ of issues, or a constant repeat of the same issue.
  • the conversation happens on their agenda and your time is not considered.

There are times when emotional dumping will be directed at you or you become the emotional dumping ground – in either case, the person in front of you isn’t really wanting your input, advice or perspective. Knowing this can be helpful in allowing yourself to make decisions about how you want to handle this type of behaviour in the future, by taking your space, shutting it down, or politely explaining that you can no longer participate in a conversation that goes nowhere. 🙂

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Creating an Environment of Trust

When we are fully ourselves in relationship, we have an innate sense of comfort within in. This is not to be mistaken for something that feels familiar – with familiarity the relationship feels safe, whereas with comfort, it feels trustworthy.

It is only when we have trust and mutual respect can we feel true comfort in relationship. Our opinions and feelings matter as do those of our loved ones.

One of the ways that we can contribute to that process is to create an environment of trust. This can include:

  • Looking for ways to collaborate. We spend too much time in relationship wanting to be right. If we can shift our mindset to being open to compromise, we are able to each move in a direction that strengthens the relationship.
  • Being curious. The opinions of our loved ones matter – when it comes to making family decisions, let everyone weigh in. The same goes for feelings – make space for them.
  • Showing up. When we act in a trustworthy manner, we create an environment in which our loved ones feel safe and secure. Consistency is key.

Feeling accepted in relationship is one of the ways that we also feel secure in ourselves. Part of the way we can achieve that is to choose people who value relationship; the other part requires our attention as we make it our goal to create an environment of trust, for our partners, children, and loved ones.

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Two Truths About Relationships

There are two truths that rise to the surface in relationship to others:

  1. You can’t change others, you can only change yourself. I love the expression “Change it, accept it or leave it,” as it signifies the choices we have when faced with an issue. Because we have eternal hope, we tend to move towards change first as a way to better the relationship. And really, why wouldn’t we? If we can talk to our loved one about our concerns, or how their behaviours, patterns or choices affect us, they just might come to the realization that they can do better. Knowing that despite our best efforts sometimes people can’t or won’t change, it is then through changing ourselves that freedom resides.
  2. People can only give you what they have. Sometimes we long for something from our loved one; we wish they could just give us one thing or another – more time, more affection, less indifference, less anger. But people can only give you what they are capable of and we are better served to realize that whatever is holding them back is getting in the way of their own growth; it is far less about us and far more about them. People can only give you what they have.

When we are faced with the truth, we can move forward in our healing. Our story has the chance to develop, evolve, become richer. Keeping these truths in mind while in relationship can guide us to less futility and greater acceptance. We can focus on what we do have instead of what we don’t, we can work to fulfilling our own needs, we can seek joy.

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