The ball may have dropped on Times Square and next time you write a check, remember it’s 2017 now, yet it is certainly not too late to usher in the best possible for 2017. Reading about New Year’s traditions the world around started me thinking about how much they teach about how to move forwards from challenges, especially if those challenges come in the form of relationship issues or marriage problems.
Here are a few particularly striking cross-cultural New Years traditions, and for each a few thoughts on what they can teach about making a new era for a relationship – whether it’s New Year’s Day or any of the other 364 days of the year.
The tradition: One Scottish tradition is “first-footing.” In the early moments of the New Year Scott’s visit their neighbors with gifts of coal for the fire or yummy shortbread.
The advice: When you want to put a relationship on new footing, a simple warm, nourishing gift or gesture can really help. That said, a loving note or a bouquet of flowers might be more appropriate than coal.
The tradition: A silver or gold coin is baked into St. Basil’s cake. Whoever finds the gold coin will be especially lucky in the upcoming year.
The advice: When eating your figurative cake (that would be gong through life in your relationship), look for the gold coin that might be hidden within. Keeping your focus on the positive moments or hidden treasures helps everyone to feel more appreciated!
The tradition: At midnight Buddhist temples strike their gongs 108 time to try to expel 108 kinds of human weaknesses.
The advice: Everyone has weaknesses. At the same time, learning about common relationship mistakes and then calling out loudly to yourself each time you slip into an “oops” will help you bring in skills and strengths in place of those weaknesses.
You know how the saying goes… If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. In a marriage you may not always have nice things to say and while it is important to voice concerns and bring up uncomfortable issues how to talk about difficult topics is the subject of another post. The rest of the time, how positive you are and how much warmth you share between you has a big impact on the quality of your relationship. While it may be an oversimplification to say that you can avoid couples counseling by being nice, you can have a major impact on the day to day climate of your marriage by keeping the ratio or positive to negative interactions to 10:1. When you espouse an attitude of positivity and gratitude you lift those around you into that mindset as well. Positive people are more attractive, tend to be healthier and happier. Continue reading Want to avoid ending up in couples counseling? Say something nice!
In an ideal world when there is strife in a marriage both partners will recognize the need to make some changes and be ready and willing to do that. Unfortunately this is not always (or often) the case. You and your partner may both recognize there is a problem, however you may be on your own when it comes to seeking help. Or you may be the only one who feels a change is needed. Either way you are on your own when it comes to relationship counseling. So where do you turn?
Finding the right relationship counseling is critical when you are flying solo. Here are some ideas for where to begin…
1. Steer clear of toxic talk. If not careful, toxic talk can easily creep into daily chatter with your spouses. One of the wonderful things a close relationship affords is lots of information about each other, the good and the ugly. When you use the intimate information you have about each other to tease, mock or rail against your spouse you undermine the trust and safety critical for an intimate relationship. Happy couples steer clear of harsh words and share encouragement and positivity instead! Continue reading 5 Habits of happy couples.
In continuing with our mini-series on how to communicate with your spouse, this weeks installment is about navigating this tough communication road block: an argument. Now, the idea of communicating with your spouse during an argument is a bit misleading because in truth you can’t! Effective arguing or “fighting fair” is something you occasionally hear as a solution to couples fighting. In reality, effective arguing is an oxymoron.
When arguments are heated and tempers are flaring your brain, under the influence of adrenaline and cortisol (the stress hormone) is actually incapable of making rational decisions. The parts of your brain responsible for rational thinking and problem solving (the cortex) take a back seat to the lower, more primitive part of your brain, (you know, the old fight or flight part) the limbic system. The limbic system, also know as the emotional center of your brain is not designed for calm, logical thought, you are better off putting the conversation in park until you can reactivate the cortex. Continue reading Communicate with your spouse: During an argument.
We are going to be running a short series here on the Power of Two blog over the next few weeks. Let’s call it a mini-course on how to communicate with your spouse. Essentially it boils down to this, communication in marriage is essential and so many folks struggle with how to do it! When you stop communicating with a spouse or partner it’s a signal that something may be wrong, but what? Why did you stop talking? Or maybe you talk to each other all day, and at the same time never really share anything deeper than the surface anymore. Remember when you were first dating, falling in love or getting married, did it ever feel like there wasn’t enough time in the day to talk to each other about life, dreams, ideas, art, music, books? Getting back to that level of conversation may take time, just like anything else though you just have to start somewhere. Here an idea of where to start…
Ask good questions.
Sounds simple right? Learning to talk to each other again is a process and takes some time and practice. Taking the time to learn new skills is invaluable for any relationship. One of the core skills groups we teach Power of Two is talking and listening. Talking about thoughts, feelings, ideas, wishes without falling into the crossover trap and listening to learn. While these skills require effort and time to learn, there are simple steps you can take to start to turn things around today.
We are kicking off this series in honor of Valentine’s day. The theme of this post is how to communicate with your spouse, on a date. If you are one of the lucky ones who managed to secure a babysitter and get reservations at a romantic restaurant you may want to spend a little time thinking about how to intentionally reconnect to partner while you have the time carved out. Even if you plan to stay home and do something more low key, you can invite a deeper experience with a little thought ahead of time. Continue reading How to communicate with your spouse: On a date
Over the past weekend I attended a memorial service for my grandfather. He passed recently in his own home surrounded by loved ones. He was 84 years old. The memorial service was a lovely tribute to the man, mostly shared through stories told by his four sons. He was a hard working man, a funny and kind person who made friends wherever he went. He was also a devoted husband, married to my my grandmother (who passed in 2007) for 60 years. After the service ended, hugs and loving embraces were exchanged and we all went home to continue on with our lives. As I thought about the day and service and my grandfather I was struck by something that stood out to me as we all celebrated the life of a man we loved. It was these four words: The Power of Two. These words are something I read, write and say often given the work I do. I do not ponder them deeply as often as I should.
Why does making a relationship last matter? As I thought about my grandparents and the legacy they left behind I believe that their marriage and its impact on the lives of the people who sat in that auditorium was their greatest legacy. 60 years of a life shared together, raising four sons was surely no easy life. My grandfather grew up on a farm in South Dakota, he worked for The Coca Cola company for 25 years. He then went on to own a successful print shop and retired to enjoy his eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Continue reading The Power of Two: Why making a relationship last matters.
Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Established in 1983 by Ronald Reagan. Dr. King continues today to be an example for the power of love, struggle, light over darkness, nonviolence and so much more. Can we look to his messages and seek guidance for a way to rekindle love in marriage? Can we practice love and kindness in our most intimate relationships and expand this practice to all mankind?
In Dr. King’s novel Stride Towards Freedom, published in 1958, King writes about the Montgomery bus boycott and shares his vision on what he believes nonviolent resistance to be. He lays out the Six Fundamental Principles of nonviolence. Looking through the lens of the incredible struggle King and thousands upon thousands of people endured it is not difficult to see the importance of his message and the path to change. In contemplating King’s legacy we can look to his words for the wisdom to rekindle love in marriage.
THE SIX PRINCIPLES OF NONVIOLENCE:
The Six Principles and how they can inspire the path to rekindle love in marriage.
PRINCIPLE ONE: Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people. Kindness towards strangers is sometimes easier than kindness towards the people we see and interact with on a day to day basis. Our close relationships are sometimes bogged down in baggage and deep feelings which can lead us to slip into unkindness. Make love, positive communication strategies and nonviolence a way of life in your marriage. Let that be your default day in and day out. Maintain a positive outlook and seek a greater understanding when it comes to communication in your marriage.
PRINCIPLE TWO: Nonviolence seeks to win friendship and understanding. In terms of a marriage or long term intimate relationships with another person what greater goal can there be than to share a deep friendship and feel a sense of connection founded on the idea that you are understood and loved as you are. Studies and surveys frequently show that a friendship is the foundation for a life long loving union. Seeking to rekindle the friendship the relationship was built on is an important step on the path to rekindling the romantic relationship.
PRINCIPLE THREE: Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice not people. When a romantic or intimate partnership goes south or encounters difficult or painful times your spouse can become your enemy. Anger, bitterness, even hatred directed towards a spouse or partner can pit you against that person and the goal often becomes defeat. Who will win the battle between two people? In the end, there will be no winner, only the relationship will suffer. Seek instead to overcome the injustice that led you down this path. Take the instance of infidelity. What greater injustice is there in a committed romantic partnership than infidelity? On the path to recovery can we seek to recognize the pieces of the puzzle, the unraveling of the connection and direct energy toward healing those wounds and changing the behaviors that contributed to the infidelity rather than seeking the defeat of the “offender.” This is not a question of circumventing blame or responsibility, it is a path to greater healing and to rekindle the love.
PRINCIPLE FOUR: Nonviolence holds that suffering can educate and transform. Few among us will not face suffering at some point in our lives. Whether it is experienced within our intimate relationships or from outside circumstances can we look to those moments as transformative and a path to greater understanding? What better teacher than a spouse that sees you through your darkest hours. What better place to look for understanding and learning than the person whom you reveal your deeper self, the self that may be keep from the outside world and shown only in the safety of an intimate partnership. Seek to learn and grow from the difficult times and look at the experiences you face together as an opportunity for transformation.
PRINCIPLE FIVE: Nonviolence chooses love instead of hate. It doesn’t get more simple than this. Choosing a loving stance over one of anger and bitterness is a choice you can make each day in each moment with your spouse. When times are good celebrate the love, when times are hard find the love. Anger is damaging to you and your partner. Choose to love your partner for who they are today and everyday.
PRINCIPLE SIX: Nonviolence believes that the universe is on the side of justice. Placing the concepts of nonviolence at the center of the universe of your marriage will create a foundation of love, support, kindness and warmth. Have faith in yourself and your partner on the path to rekindle love in your marriage. When there is harmony in your closest relationships that harmony can and will ripple through the layers of your life and beyond.
A note about Dr. King:
Over the years MLK has become an American mythological figure and much of the complexity of his real life and personality have been lost. For example, many Americans today don’t know that Dr. King had a very troubled marriage plagued with infidelities. At the same time, he a was a remarkably well spoken and intelligent leader whose words cut to the core of how human beings should treat each other.
What does your cell phone have to do with marriage problems? Recently, several prominent news sources have presented surveys and research that point to the problem with cell phones and romantic relationships. One survey reported that “70 percent of women said smartphones were interfering in their romantic relationship.” That’s a huge number of women! In NPR’s recent story “technoference” was citied as a serious problem in relationships. Aside from the question of what you are actually doing on the device, the accessibility and pervasiveness of the devices in our lives is causing several problems. Cell phones are the worst kind of distraction, the convenience of access to all your email accounts, the camera, the social media accounts, not to mention the thousands of other apps you can fill your device with offer an endless stream of information. This coupled with the dings, ringtones and other alerts that make everyone in the room look at their phone in some sort of pavlovian response to a bell are bound to cause marriage problems.
There are certainly big questions to answer individually and culturally about the influence these devices have on our lives. Technology no doubt has it’s place in daily life. If we can thoughtfully engage with it it can actually be used for good in the relationship. Time savings is one instance that can benefit your romantic relationships. If you are able to take care of a task like paying bills that may have in the past taken up precious evening time at the kitchen table you can use that time you’ve gained to connect with your spouse, but do you? The evidence seems pretty clear that by and large they are causing more marriage problems than they solve. In her research, Sarah Coyne, boiled it down to this, “What I think the most important finding is, the more you let the technology interfere, the more conflict you have with your spouse or partner and that leads to not feeling great about the relationship.” So where is the balance? Obviously this question is best left to each couple to navigate, provided the right skills are there to actually have a win win outcome!