Do Something Nice for the One You Love

Do Something Nice for the One You Love

I had some relatives visit recently, among them a 5-year-old boy who loves “Frosted Mini-Wheats.” For those of you that don’t know, this is shredded wheat with sugar pasted on one side. When I was a little girl I used to live on sweet cereal. So when the relatives left and the box of cereal remained, I claimed it as my own.

For a couple of days I had this lovely cereal for breakfast, feeling like a child again. But on the third day when I went to grab the milk I knew there wasn’t enough for my husband’s coffee the next morning. There was a little left, but not enough for the two cups he drinks daily…

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Dopamine, Love, and Connectedness in Relationships

Love, Dopamine, and Connectedness in Relationships

I know every time I am feeling good and I say yes to something I always feel better. It’s as if good positive energy becomes bigger. I noticed this recently when I was reading an article about humans and their pets.

A recent study talked about how when pet owners look into the eyes of their pet, both animal and human get a dose of the pleasure hormone in their bodies. That hormone is called dopamine. And it happens naturally when we are engaged with our pet at a deep level.

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Lean on Your Partner to make it Through the Holidays

Lean on your partner to get through the holidays

I don’t know anyone who is not feeling greater stress during this time of year. Even terrific moments with people we love can cause us stress, and that’s if family and extended family are individuals we WANT to see. It’s even more stressful if we are acting out of obligation.

Whatever your circumstances, it’s probably likely there will be at least a few people who drive us up a wall and cause us enormous stress. Welcome to the holidays. Not to mention the numerous details; buying gifts, decorating, baking, cooking sending cards, and trying to be a loving person on top of all that.

I’m stressed just writing about it. Let’s just acknowledge it; Holidays are HARD! And they can be much harder if you turn on the one person who is your rock 90 percent of the time, your partner. Think right now what a good team you make during a crisis. Now ask yourself if you are pulling your hair out and fighting more than usual with your mate?

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The Universal Relationship Challenge: Being a Good Partner

Fewer Relationship Challenges by Members of this Couple; They're good Partners

So many relationship challenges have a common root.

As individuals we learn a lot about how to be humans. It starts from our early days in our family. We learn how to talk and walk and feed ourselves, go to school and play with others. We are taught everywhere; parents, teachers, laws, religion, family, friends, everyone is a teacher.

We get good at interacting with life. We learn how to rely on ourselves to get our homework done, to babysit siblings or neighbors, to make our own food, to clean our rooms and to be a functioning member in a family system.

But do we learn how to be good partners?

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How to Make a Relationship Last: Think Long Term

How to Make a Relationship Last: Think Long Term

In the beginning of our relationships it’s easy to imagine a wonderful life together. You remember this moment, when you see everything you think you will need to make you happy; house, yard, picket fence, two children, or what ever your dream was. You remember your vision. It’s the one that belongs just to you and it’s perfect.

When we meet our “right” person, all of our dreams of a wonderful life together start swirling around in our head. We think to ourselves, “Wow this is the one. I will just fit this one into my dream. Wow they fit! How amazing is that!”

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What Went Wrong?

I often work with couples who impress upon me how they just don’t know what went wrong in their relationship.  They started out so loving and happy and then they woke up somewhere down the road, years later and they just don’t have that happy feeling anymore and they don’t know why.

They tell me it’s because they may have fallen out of love for their partner.  They also tell me they are not sure if they can get “it” back.

The “it” is the feeling couples experienced when they first got together, that loving, wonderful state that makes us believe we will always feel fantastic with our person.

We sign up for the relationship and believe that we will always feel this way with the person we have chosen.  Only we don’t.  We start to notice things about them that we don’t’ like.  They start to nag us or complain, or ignore us and we don’t like that.

These are the normal patterns that set in when a couple moves beyond the first phase of bliss.  It’s what we do about these differences that determine how the relationship survives.

If we have some experience in relationships we might have some communication skills to speak about our feelings with our beloved.  If we are fairly young in the relationship world we might just be beginning to discover ourselves and what we want and need for happiness, so we may not know how to communicate those things yet.

Each person brings their habits from their singlehood; how they took care of themselves, how they communicated with others, how they feed themselves and clean up after themselves.  These are habits people bring into a relationship that were most likely formed in their childhood.  Each person in a couple brings their own set of comforts around these issues.

When we are in a blissful state of loving our partner, no one thinks about the socks left on the floor.  Such a little detail would be meaningless and laughable in this state of love.  But just wait a few years after one of the partners has been picking up dirty socks for the other and is so tired of doing it they will scream if they have to pick up one more dirty sock from the floor.

Then the couple comes in to counseling and tells me they just fell out of love with their mate and they don’t know why.

It is my belief as a Marriage and Family Counselor that couples have more  to become good at a lot of jobs in order to have a successful relationship.

In no particular order except that they are all equally important, each person in the relationship has to become aware of their own feelings and reactions to their mate.  Each person must also become an expert in their partner’s feelings and learn how to attend them.  Both people in a relationship have to be conscious of how they communicate with their beloved.

If you were talking to a hurt child you would be kind, caring and compassionate.  Regardless of how mad you may get at your mate, you can not throw up your anger on them.  Unless you are truly with a terrible person, it’s almost always the case that what ever the perceived hurt you may have felt, it was not done intentionally.

You picked a good person.  You picked the right person.  Your job is to learn how to be the best mate you can be and to take care of the person you are sharing your life with as your partner will do for you.  Now that is a great relationship, where no one gets blindsided.

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Make The Coffee For Someone You Love

I was making the coffee this morning for my mate and I thought about how I have been doing this for years.  I get up earlier then him and while making my tea I just make a pot of coffee for my husband.  It is a routine, and it’s nice.  I don’t do it because I want to earn his praise.  I do it because it feels good to know he will be pleased to pour himself a cup of fresh coffee the minute he walks into the kitchen.  In other words, I am doing an act of kindness for someone I love.

I guess there is some selfishness going on too, I get to know that he feels pleased with this routine and that makes me feel good.  It’s a small act of kindness that I am using to illustrate how it’s possible to bring a little joy into a relationship.  Most people I counsel as a Marriage and Family Therapist come in to the office to tell me why their relationship isn’t working.  I hear many difficult issues that keep couples apart.  I get how hard it is living with someone who does not understand you.  In fact I think this is the most difficult part of being in a relationship… not being understood.

So I know it’s hard to perform an act of kindness when you are feeling so hurt and isolated from your mate.  People just want to feel appreciated by their partner, in any relationship this is the hallmark.  I get that you may be disappointed.  I understand that you may have been mad at him or her for a long time.  I can see that feeling misunderstood by your partner has kept you feeling alone.  AND  having said all that I have a challenge for you.

Just because you love your partner, or maybe because you used to love him or her, for what ever reason, do a selfless act of love for them.  Do something that you think they will like.  Do something because you can, and do it not expecting anything in return, not even a thank you.  Do it because you care about your partner.  Do it because you want to give your mate something intangible, you want to give them the feeling of being thought of.

And that’s really what we all crave; Are we thought of? Do we matter to the other? Are we important?  We all want to feel special.  Do your part to help your partner feel that way.  Clean the bathroom.  Fix a meal.  Walk the dog.  Bring home dinner.  Go shopping for them.  You don’t need my help thinking of what you could do to make your partner smile.  Just do it.  Just do it because it would give them a good feeling.  That’s love.

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Always Wearing a Happy Face

Every one in a relationship wants to feel loved by their partner.  To feel loved, many individuals will put on a happy face and maintain a persona that everything is fine, even when it isn’t.  Often people are so good at acting like they are happy that the partner has no idea anything could be wrong.

Unfortunately, if you are projecting a happy demeanor when communicating with your partner, you may feel stuck in one place and very much alone.  That’s because a lot of other feelings; sad, disappointed, mad, irritated, frustrated, fed up, discouraged, disheartened, worried, nervous, unsafe etc. NEVER GET EXPRESSED.

You may be an expert at delivering the happy feelings, but mum on anything else. If you always show a good face to your mate, how can you maintain that happy face when expressing sadness?  You can’t. So, no unhappy face ever gets shown to the partner.  Nope, just pretend everything is OK, always.

Oh, distressful feelings are felt, but the person experiencing them doesn’t share them, and the partner never hears them.  This leads both people feeling disconnected in the relationship.  He doesn’t know what’s going on with her; she doesn’t know what’s going on with him.  Both feel apart from the other.  The one who doesn’t share feelings might begin to think their partner just doesn’t understand them.  The partner who is left in the dark might start to feel unimportant to his mate.  Usually they can sense that their partner is withholding something, and they might even inquire, and it might sound something like this; “Is everything all right?”  “Are you OK?”  “Is anything wrong?”

The answer is probably always the same, and it’s likely that it’s a denial that sounds something like, “No, everything is fine.”  Oh, there definitely is something wrong, but the person who always shows a sunny disposition hasn’t a clue on how to tell the partner what it is.  Part of the reason is because he or she isn’t quite sure how to explain it.  All they know is that they feel something like emptiness, or not feeling loved, or not being understood, or longing for something more.  It’s usually a mixture of feelings that don’t have words attached to it. But the person feels it.  It’s heavy and lives in the pit of the stomach and doesn’t go away.

This partner might even be able to talk about his or her feelings with another person.  They might be able to explain these feelings in great detail.  “I feel so alone.”  “He or she just doesn’t understand me.”  And while they come easily pouring out to someone else they can’t fathom how to share them with their partner.  No, they don’t want to hurt their partner’s feelings. They are sure they are unhappy, but they can’t figure out what to do about it.

As a couples counselor I see this situation often.  Both people will eventually feel that the relationship is on the brink of breaking and then the couple will make an appointment to see someone like me.  Both are stuck in some sort of misery and they are hoping I can figure it out and help get them back on track.  That’s the best case scenario.  Sometimes though, a couple has been feeling so distant from each other in the relationship for such a long time that one of the partners may have already moved on to another person. Therapy at this stage requires a whole different level of understanding and repair.

This is what I know about couples counseling:  If a couple is willing, there’s always room to learn more about yourself and your partner in a relationship.  There’s always a way to understand your own behavior and see how it affects your mate.  There’s always room to try something new, to risk showing your feelings and not holding them inside.  Sometimes couples are able to change how they relate to each other and improve their relationship, making it something better than either ever dreamed.

It’s possible to build something true for each of you.  It’s possible to create a safe place for you both to show all your parts, not just the happy ones.  This creates true depth between two people, something that all couples are looking for.

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Looking Underneath

There are many reasons why people seek counseling.  One of the most common is that they are unhappy in their lives.  They know something doesn’t feel right, and they long for a time, place, and feeling of something better.  They can’t really describe this place but they know they want it.

These clients I’m describing are all successful.  They’ve built something with their lives; careers, relationships, families.  They are rooted in what they do and their responsibilities. They may be proud of their accomplishments too. Yet sometimes they say they feel like a fraud because of a hollow place inside.

I know, having changed careers to become a therapist, I’ve gone through my own challenges trying to find that better, more peaceful place that many of my clients seek.  I know it’s hard to look underneath everything you have constructed and you know to be true and have lived for the last 20, 30, or 40 years.

But unhappiness is a terrific motivator.  When people are unhappy in their lives they will do what they do best, look for a way out of the unhappiness.  Often this search leads to counseling and that path leads to understanding the self.

What does the person want out of life?  What makes the person happy?  What would the person like to change?  These are simple questions.  Yet the answers are sometimes very hard to know, because most people are too busy with their lives to really look. 

So look now at your life.  Are you in a place that feels right?  Are you content?  Notice I’m not asking if you are happy.  I know that this feeling is fleeting.  It’s great to be happy.  Finding what makes you happy is what I am interested in and that journey takes practice.  It starts with you saying yes to you.

If you live in a place where you say to yourself “I should” before everything you do, I’ll bet you feel tired and overworked.  If your way of being consists of saying “no” a lot it’s possible you experience anxiety and stress.  In both these cases “self care” is probably on the back burner.  Self care; I talk about this a lot.  You may be saying to yourself “I don’t have time to be selfish.”

Sometimes we don’t know how to honor ourselves with self care.  We may be experts at helping others, and we may be accustomed to putting our needs last.  By the time we get around to taking care of ourselves we are exhausted, and we might even get mad. 

I like to help people learn to attend to their needs, wants and desires.  That doesn’t mean you have to ignore everything you already do in your life.  It just means you make you a priority to you.  You learn how to take care of yourself in a way that feels good to you.  This is where you grow, like developing a new muscle.  And you know that unhappiness I talked about earlier?  When people find a way to take care of themselves they feel less unhappiness. 

Feeling content, grounded and peaceful, I haven’t met a person yet who doesn’t long for it.

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Why We Suffer

Sometimes when life is too good we wonder if we really deserve it.  If we are used to living a life of struggle this thought might occur to us. You probably believe that you really want to be happy, but your experiences show you that happiness is not possible; your history reveals more experiences of struggle and suffering.

The things we want most; happiness, freedom, ease, all seem to get pushed aside for the more familiar feeling of suffering.  We don’t do this on purpose.  We do this out of habit.

So how do we learn to accept the good in our lives?  How do we find a way to just receive the happiness, freedom and ease that has eluded us all these years?

We start by noticing. Notice when you feel the good stuff. Notice when you feel the other, the struggle and the difficulty.  Notice what is happening in your body.  If you are in a good place chances are you are feeling light and full.  If you are
suffering or in a bad place you might use words like dark or negative, or phrases like, “It feels as if I’m under a dark cloud.”

When we notice these things about ourselves we are gaining awareness.  So why is awareness important?  Because we ultimately want to understand ourselves so we can notice how often we go into the dark place and how seldom we allow the good place in.

Sometimes it feels like things just happen to us, and they do.  But we can begin to understand how we react to things when they happen and begin to become aware of how we automatically, unconsciously play out the same old reaction.

Do we tense up when we feel threatened, angry or in danger?  Do we relax when we feel safe?  These are good things to learn about you.  Once you understand your own reaction to situations then you can begin to explore your patterns.  You might learn that you tense up when you feel unsafe and you freeze.  This is good to know because when you understand your reaction you may want to try something else to see what could happen.  Maybe you want to have a conversation with yourself and ask, “What am I afraid of?  Is there really danger or am I just following a pattern?”  If you observe there is
nothing to be afraid of maybe you can tell yourself the next time, “I am going to (take the action) because there is nothing to be afraid of.”

Many people want to make changes in their lives.  They want to be happy and peaceful.  The first step starts with you observing and understanding you.  Once you become an expert on your patterns and reactions to life you will be able to make the right changes for you. 

How do you know what the right change will be?  You already know.  When the right changes occur, you feel good; your body feels in alignment with the rest of you.  That’s how you know you have made the right decision for you.  Take a moment to understand what good feels like in your body.  Then when you feel it you will know. The right answer and action will send all the right messages to your body.  To know this about yourself you have to study yourself.

But isn’t that something you do already?  Don’t you know more about yourself than anyone?  Why not take the next step for you by taking a stand and telling yourself this, “I want to live a life free from suffering, and I’m willing to learn more about myself in order to do that.”

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