Tag Archives: Marriage Counseling

Finding Your Marital North Star

premarital counseling charleston scOften times when I work with premarital couples I ask them what characteristics they would like to see in their marriage. I encourage these couples to take time to think about what is important to them in a relationship, write it down and look back on in frequently.  I then talked to couples about using this list as their North Star that will guide their behavior in their marriage.

 

During the good times we don’t need this list as a guide. We can easily see the good in our partner and are open and loving. But when things become difficult we quickly lose sight of what is important to us and we get pulled off course.

 

In difficult times many people will begin to use their partner’s behavior as a guide for their own behavior (i.e. you hurt me so I will hurt you back, you are disrespectful to me so I will be disrespectful back, you withhold from me so I will withhold from you). One can see how this would become a vicious cycle for disaster.

 

We get pulled away from what we really want in our relationship if we base our behavior on someone else’s behavior.  This is because behavior is not a constant in any relationship. Additionally, our perception of behavior is not constant so all it would take is our perception being off for us to be pulled off course.

 

 

I was having brunch with an unmarried pregnant friend recently. During the course of brunch she was telling me that she was in a difficult position about what last name to give her baby who was soon to be born. She was no longer with the baby’s father in the romantic sense and she was not happy with all of his life choices.

 

On the one hand she was not particularly attached to her last name and she did not feel compelled to give the baby her name for any personal reason.  But, on the other hand she was not sure if she wanted to give her baby the father’s last name because she felt as if she was rewarding him with that honor.

 

We talked about it a little and I asked her if she wanted a friend answer or a therapist answer. She said she would like to hear both. As her friend I told her, “F- him” we laughed and than I told her about what I talked about above.

 

I asked her to think about what kind of relationship she would ideally like to have. What characteristics would it have? I encouraged her to use these as a guide during these difficult times so she did not get pulled away from what she really wanted in her relationship.

 

There is one mistake that people commonly make with this exercise. They make their list and then expect their partner to do it. Or, they give these things only if they feel their partner is doing the same thing.

 

What ever you want in your relationship give it to your partner, but give it freely with no expectation of getting it back or needing it back. When we need to get the behavior back in order to give it we fall into the trap of using our partner’s behavior as our guide. This will lead us off course.

 

 

There is one phrase that helps me when making difficult decisions in my life and I use this as my guide in all my relationships, whether personal or professional. My go-to phrase that helps me is “Is it loving?”

 

This phrase helps me when I get off course and even though I am not behaviorally perfect and forget this phrase, it is always there to help when I am ready and open to accept its strength and wisdom.

 

The phrase, “Is it loving?” does not mean I become a doormat in every situation. It might be more loving to leave a situation then it would be to stay. If I am married to someone who hits me and my children the most loving thing might be to leave. This person hitting me cannot see that there is a better way to live. As long as I stay I may be holding them back from seeing another way to manage their anger.

 

It might be more loving to stop giving financial support to my child so they can learn how strong they really are. It might be more loving to let my child struggle with the consequences of poor decisions. Being expelled from school and grounded for drinking at school helps the child learn appropriate behavior. It may also keep them from progressing their behavior of drinking that later develops into driving under the influence and killing someone else.

 

 

“Is it loving” can also be applied to the thoughts I think about other people. Thinking unloving thoughts about any one has a direct effect on me. I don’t like the way I feel when I think of someone else being the “bad guy”. When we can see the innocence in another it has a different effect. When I can see the person as doing the best they can in that circumstance the emotional pressure is released.

 

 

Examples of Characteristics People Report Using as Their North Star in Their Marriage:

 

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  • Respect
  • Listen to understand not to dispute
  • Kindness
  • Forgiveness
  • Understanding
  • Not nitpicking faults
  • Open to suggestions
  • Giving partner space to be exactly the way they are
  • Taking responsibility for behavior
  • Willing to admit when they make a mistake

Look For Loving In All The Wrong Places: Rekindling love in your marriage

Your task is not to seek for love, but to seek and find all the barriers that you have built against it. Love is your natural state. Your only problem lies in covering it up with cheap substitutes. Our need to be right, expectations of how we think something should be, judgments we project upon others all block our loving nature.

 

During the first stage of falling in love we get a glimpse of our loving nature. Take a minute to think of a time when you first fell in love. If one sits and puts themselves back at this time they will begin to experience a taste of love welling up.

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When you first fall in love you experience this unspeakable feeling of joy, peace, life all tumbled together into one unit. This feeling permeates us and we begin to feel it in all aspects of our life. We aren’t just in love with the person we found but we are in love with squirrels, and plants and spoons, and coffee and anything else we come in contact with. We are in love with life itself.

 

Falling in love is wonderful and it feels so natural to us that we want to hang on to it desperately. What we fail to realize is that it is not coming from the other person. You will discover this when you take a good look at the situation.

 

When you are in love and have this amazing feeling do you only feel it when that person is present in the same room with you? Of course not. You could still feel it if they were in Timbuktu. The feeling is present when they are there and still present when they are not. This is the case for one simple reason. The feeling of love you feel is coming directly from you.

 

When you are open you shine and experience your own natural light. We experience this light in the form of what we call love. But when we think that what we are feeling is coming from the other person we become frightened and want to hang on to this feeling of love. We try to hang on to it by trying to control the other person in various ways.

 

We set up expectations in an attempt to get in touch with this feeling once again. You listen to me so I feel love. You desire me so that I feel this love. You notice me so I feel this love. You show me respect so I feel this love. Listening, desire, attention and respect are all great elements to have in a relationship but you do not need them to experience that love you are looking for.

 

No one can take their love away from you.  When you close off, hold resentments, judge others, have expectations of how a someone or a situation should be you end up cutting yourself off from your natural light.

 

When you look outside yourself for love it will fail and end up hurting you.  It will end up hurting you not because it has the power to hurt you but because you have given it the power to hurt you. You have made the proclamation to yourself that you need ____________(fill in the blank with your perceived need or desire) and that is what follows. “I need your attention to be happy”. “I need you to desire me to feel love”. “I need you to be calm for me to be at peace”.

 

What you are looking for in your partner you already have.  You have just, for a brief moment in time, forgotten. Welcome what is and your light will shine on all you see.

 

“Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere. They’re in each other all along.”

– Rumi

 

Can Someone Really Make You Feel Bad?: How responsible are you for your own feelings?

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” -Eleanor Roosevelt

 

The above quote is one I refer to often when working with people. The problem is never coming from the other person, but we continuously give away our power by putting the responsibility on someone else.

 

It is difficult to believe that the pain we can feel when interacting with another person is actually coming from us, but it is. It doesn’t matter what the action, if you feel an emotional reaction to it, know that it comes from you.  Let’s do a short exercise just for the sake of clearing up this point.

 

For a minute, imagine the last person you became upset with. Got them in your head? Now, imagine that you are in an altercation with this person and they call you a “purple unicorn”.

 

They keep calling you a “purple unicorn” over and over again. Would it upset you being called a “purple unicorn”? My guess would be no. I have yet to run into a person who says being called a ‘purple unicorn’ feels damaging in some way.

 

Most people admit they would think that the other person was crazy because they know they are not a purple unicorn. I imagine you would say something close to that.  In this example of another person calling you a “purple unicorn” you can see that the behavior is clearly about them.

 

Their actions are coming from them and it has no effect on you because you know you are not a “purple unicorn”.

 

But let’s change things around a bit. Let us change the name “purple unicorn” to something else. What if we changed it to “jerk”, “bitch”, “incompetent”, “selfish”, or any other name that gives us a little sting? Now we might be looking at a different story. We all have names we react to, but have you ever thought about why you react to them?

 

We react to “negative” things people say or do because it triggers a belief we already have about ourselves. “P.U. ” doesn’t affect you because you know you are not one, but other names do affect you because it is an idea we secretly harbor about ourselves.  People can only supply a stimulus; how we react to this stimulus reflects a lot about our belief system. 

 

Many people will respond by saying, “Well my partner doesn’t call me names. I am angry because he doesn’t do ______________(fill in the blank with what upsets you).

 

Some say they are upset because of the cheating, or lack of sex, or lack of attention.  One often times looks at their partner and quickly evaluates them on how well they are doing as a partner by whether or not they give that person want they think they want.  Very rarely does an individual take a second look and ask the important questions. Questions like: “Why do I believe I need my husband to listen to me (tell me I’m beautiful, tell me what a good job I’m doing, etc)?”, “Do I really need him to talk to me?”, “What would my day be like if I didn’t have the expectation that he should talk to me?”, Would I be happier without this thought?”.

 

 

When we refuse to take a deeper look we are left powerless and unhappy. We are letting our happiness ride on a factor we have no control over, someone else’s behavior.

 

If we begin to question, really question, why we think we need that other’s attention we can return to our only place of power- ourselves. Why do I need my partner to give me attention? If we truly look at this and want a real answer, we will get it.

 

Often times we don’t want a real answer. Often times we just want to be right. Many people answer angrily and says something like “because she’s my wife and she should be having sex with me 3 times a week”, or “I’m not crazy for wanting my husband to show me love” or fill in your choice answer that makes you look right.  Ask yourself, “Would I rather be right or would I rather be happy?”

 

When we truly want an answer to questions like “Why do I really need my partner’s attention?” we’ll start to get answers like: “Because I believe if someone doesn’t recognize my worth it’s not there”, or “I don’t feel lovable if someone does not show me attention”, or “I am putting my own desire for something over my partner’s desire to not do something. I am acting out of fear of not having enough and not from a place of love”.

 

It can seem impossible at times when we are hurt to start asking these questions with the hopes to get real answers. It is tempting to make ourselves “right”. When we are upset we feel like this is our only option if we want to heal. But being “right” rarely helps anyone. After the short-lived high wears off we are usually left with an uneasy feeling of isolation.

 

How to Stop People From Taking Advantage of You: How to find love in your relationship.

Many people are in relationship where they are either worried they will be taken advantage of or feel as if their partner is already taking  advantage of their good nature. It would be difficult to find someone out there who honestly never felt taken advantage on in their relationship.

 

No one likes feeling as if they are giving too much in their relationship or giving more than they are getting back in return. Luckily, there is actually a secret that can help people to avoid being taken advantage of or “over giving” in their relationships.

 

Before you are about to give anything to someone else, whether it be your time, a compliment, money, sex, a gift, kind gesture, or even a “yes” to an inquiry, ask yourself it you would be ok with any one of the possible responses they could offer you after you gave your gift.

 

Keep in mind that any response could mean a number of things. Any response would include a great number of things.

 

Say you are planning on giving someone a stunning bouquet of daisies. Before you offer this gesture to someone try to think of every possible response that could come from the other person.

 

They could be delight with the flowers and thank you or they could be upset because they detest daisies. Maybe they will throw them away in front of you. They could have no obvious response to the flowers and appear to ignore them.  They might take your lovely flowers and give them to someone else they fancy.

 

You can’t control what the person does after you give them something but we oftentimes forget this. We can easily get into a pattern of giving something to get something in return. We get into a bartering pattern.

 

I’ll do this for you but I need you to do something for me.  I’ll give you space so you can play golf with your friend but I need you to return the favor and show me attention or tell me how great I am.

 

When we give with an agenda or give to get something in return we often end up saying ‘yes’ to things we want to say “no” to.  We then feel shortchanged or taken advantage of.

 

We start keeping track of all the “nice things” we have done for our partner and become angry when they don’t give us what we want. But can we really call them nice things when we are really giving so we can get something in return?

 

 

Why do we give when we don’t want to give?

 

We have briefly discussed how we can easily get into the habit of giving so that we can get something in return.  But why do we do this?  Why do we try to manipulate people into giving us the type of response we desire?

 

The manipulation that people use to get a desired response after giving something is not as malicious as it sounds. We use manipulation to get a reflected sense of self. In other words we try to manipulate others so we can feel good about ourself. We manipulate others so we can feel lovable. We want to experience love.

 

When you have an agenda in giving you can be sure that there is fear somewhere in the mix. The fear may be subtle but it’s there.

 

The fear we experience may be the fear that I will lose this person if I don’t say “yes”. It may be the fear that you will lose approval of another person. It may be anxiety that you most do something to earn another’s love. It may be that unless you make this sacrifice you worry that you will not be a “good partner”, desirable or, lovable.

 

It is safe to say that we try to manipulate so that we can experience love. This desired love may take on many different forms but at the root its all the same.  We all want to feel love but we oftentimes don’t understand what we can do to experience it.

 

How does one feel love?

 

When we feel love we oftentimes mistake it as coming from another person. What we don’t understand, in this case, is that the love we feel is not coming from that other person it’s coming from you. The love you feel is coming from you and reflecting off the other person.

 

The same way the sun reflects off tree leaves, cars and homes is that same way we experience love. When we are open and stop blocking our love we experience it shining on other people. We don’t have to do anything to be lovable, its our nature.

 

To experience our true nature we just have to stop blocking it. We block this love when we have expectations and agendas for how people and situations should be. We block this love by holding grudges.

 

The surest way to experience love is to forgive. True forgiveness brings you back to your natural Self. This Self is love.