Tag Archive | divorce

Eliminate the Number One Relationship Killer

Communication is an important part, if not the most important part, of any relationship. The way you communicate has a major impact on your ability to get along with the various people in your life – spouses, children, coworkers, friends, and neighbors. When communication breaks down, relationships suffer. According to recent research, poor communication is the number one reason why couples (and friendships) break up.

Any relationship worth having experiences conflict at some point. The conflict isn’t the problem (conflict is a natural part of intimacy), how the situation is handled is the determining factor in whether the relationship will deepen or be torn apart.

Interpersonal communication styles are developed from life experiences. Your responses are often so automatic that it’s easy to fall into the trap of using ineffective communication. Being an effective communicator requires some work; it requires being mindful about your style and being honest about your role in the conversation. As George Bernard Shaw stated, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

While there is a long list of behaviors that lead to ineffective communication, below are a few that may be the biggest culprits. Do you see yourself in any of these scenarios?

Making Assumptions
A big mistake that can shut down communication is when one person makes an assumption about what another person has said or done. You’ve heard the old saying, when you assume, you make an “ass” out of “u” and “me”. While corny, the saying holds true. Assuming is a prescription for trouble.

Recently, I heard a story about one friend who blocked another friend on Facebook because she assumed the person made a post about her. Without discussing it, making her feelings known, and hearing what the other person had to say, she accused, tried and convicted the person, all the time the accused had no idea why she was being sentenced. This person offers more courtesy to someone in the judicial system (innocent until proven guilty) than she did to someone she “cared” about. This is an example of what happens when we assume to know a situation or create our own version of it instead of finding out the truth.

As Miguel Ruiz wrote in The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom, “If others tell us something we make assumptions, and if they don’t tell us something we make assumptions to fulfill our need to know and to replace the need to communicate. Even if we hear something and we don’t understand we make assumptions about what it means and then believe the assumptions. We make all sorts of assumptions because we don’t have the courage to ask questions.”

More times than not, nothing people say or do is about you. When you remove the assumption that something is about you, you stop taking it personally and open the door for honest communication.

Projecting
Projection involves projecting undesirable feelings or emotions onto someone else, rather than admitting to or dealing with the unwanted feelings. When you project your feelings onto another person, you give your voice to the other person and create a scenario that may not actually exist.

For example, if you have done something to a friend for which you feel guilty, your friend may not agree with your feelings or be upset with you, but you project your guilt onto that person and then believe he or she is angry at you. Anything that person says or does leads you to believe he or she is acting from a place of anger and you respond to the imaginary situation. This is a distorted vision of reality that will undoubtedly create a communication issue.

Mental Telepathy
How often do you believe someone should know what you are thinking or what you want or need without telling him or her? This is a common complaint when discussing communication issues – the expectation that he should have known. How could someone know what you want if you don’t tell her? Stop expecting and start stating!

Keeping Feelings to Yourself
Do you believe that it is better to keep your mouth shut and avoid conflict? Keeping things bottled up inside is not the way to develop or sustain a loving relationship. If you have something to say, say it. Effective communicating means just that … to communicate. I pride myself on my ability to let people know how I feel. Friends and loved ones may not necessarily like to hear my expressions, but like it or not, no one can ever say that I didn’t communicate my feelings. Open communication also shows that you love and respect someone enough to trust them with your deepest thoughts.

Just as important, if you have something good to say about your partner, say it often. Praise and appreciation are usually unspoken and they go a long way in cultivating a relationship.

Good Listening
In addition to discussing your feelings, you must have the ability to enable others to talk about theirs. Stop worrying about what you are going to say next and listen to what is being said to you. Listening, empathizing and sympathizing are skills that can strengthen a relationship. Really hearing what someone says and then being able to put yourself in his or her shoes may create an understanding that can diffuse any situation.

Own Up to Your Part
Two of the most powerful words are “I’m sorry” and yet so many people have trouble saying them. Admitting the error of your ways does not make you weak, to the contrary, it shows your strength. People twist stories, shout louder, and reject others simply because they can’t admit they are wrong. Don’t be one of those people.

The importance of effective communication becomes obvious when you see all the ways ineffective communication can harm a relationship. Taking the time to recognize your style and improve your interpersonal skills is definitely worth the effort. As Anthony Robbins said, “The way we communicate with others and with ourselves ultimately determines the quality of our lives.”

The Heart of a Friendship

To have a friend and be a friend is what makes life worthwhile. ~Unknown

February is the month of the heart, the time when we celebrate love. We buy chocolate, flowers, jewelry, and greeting cards to profess our undying love to that special someone. But, in all the hoopla of the season, perhaps we forget to honor the affection provided by the people that sustain us and enable us to thrive – our friends.

We hear so much about marriages, committed relationships, and romantic breakups, but I believe we neglect to truly understand the dynamics of what may be the most important relationships in our life – friendships.

Boyfriends come and go, spouses are replaced, children grow up and leave the nest, but our friends will be by our side through it all. If we are blessed, some of them will be with us from childhood until death; and these people know us better than anyone else.

We all have friends. Fate brings friend to friend, then leaves the rest to human nature. We have best friends that stick with us forever, and we have friends that come into our life for a brief period and then go on their way. Whichever role they play, you can be sure they serve a purpose.

According to experts, friendships have a major impact on our health and well-being. Friends help us celebrate good times and provide support during the bad times. As philosopher Aristotle said, “In poverty and other misfortunes of life, true friends are a sure refuge.”

Friends prevent loneliness and increase our sense of belonging and purpose. They boost our happiness and improve our self-confidence. They help us deal with our mistakes.

So … if friendships are so great, why do they cause so much pain?

The word friend is defined as “a relationship of mutual affection between two or more people; a person whom one knows, likes, and trusts.”

We all have a preconceived notion of what a friend should be; we place expectations on relationships based on our needs. But sometimes we use the word “friend” to describe anyone with whom we have contact. We project the intimate bond we desire onto a person where no deep bond exists.

To avoid the pain of an unrequited friendship, it is important to recognize that there are different kinds of relationships and varying degrees of affection attached. When it comes to friendships it’s not one size fits all. Some people are great for Friday night outings. Others are partners for work events. Some people are not willing and/or able to commit to a relationship on a deeper level. And then there are the people who offer unconditional love and trust – they are always there, no matter what. They are the ones by which we set the standards for everyone else. But, they are a rare gift, not the norm.

Each of these relationships has a unique purpose for our life and as such should be valued. Just as a financial expert advises to diversify investments, the same is true in friendships. Invite people into your life that bring different personalities and skills to the table – they will broaden your horizon and enrich your existence. But, to avoid heart break, see each relationship for what it is. Just as you wouldn’t rush into a romantic encounter without some courting, don’t place too many expectations on a friendship without getting to know the person. When you take it slow, you will be able to objectively evaluate the relationship and the role a person will play in your life so you won’t be disappointed.

Even if a friendship doesn’t develop the way you want, acknowledge that you simply have different needs. Treasure the relationship for what it is and release your expectations; value the gifts it offers.

Through the pain and through the triumphs, friendships are the treasure of a life well lived. As Emily Dickinson said, “My friends are my estate,” and I couldn’t agree more.

 

For Big Change, Think Small

It’s the end of another year (how is that possible?). The time when we reflect on the past 365 days, take stock of where we are, and decide the path of our life moving forward. We make a list of things we want to change and create resolutions to get the job done. We start the year off with a bang moving full force in the new direction, and then boom… a different bang, we hit a wall. Everything we strive to accomplish with such passion slides to the side and we fall back into the routine of the behavior we know so well.

There’s a familiarity about the promises we make to ourselves each year. You can easily ask yourself: Didn’t I make those self-same promises last year? And maybe even the year before?

So why, if we are so determined to make change, do we fall short of our goals?

According to experts, one of the main reasons New Year’s resolutions are so hard to maintain is because the thing we want to change is a habit – behavior that comes from the subconscious part of our brain that is done automatically, without conscious thought.

Typical resolutions like eating healthy, quitting smoking or drinking, increasing physical activity, or spending more time with loved ones, are designed to change routines that have been around for many years. While it’s easy to assume that we should be able to willfully make long-term changes to established patterns, desire alone is usually not enough.

According to Charles Duhigg, in his book, The Power of Habit, there is a three step loop that occurs: A cue or trigger, which tells your brain to go into automatic mode. The routine, which can be physical, mental or emotional. And the reward, which helps your brain determine if this loop is worth remembering for the future. Over time, this loop becomes more and more automatic.

While wanting to change is the first step, experts say that the key to enacting lasting change is understanding the process and identifying your triggers. For example, if you want to quit smoking, you can quit cold turkey, but understanding what triggered your smoking will give you a greater chance of success. When you recognize what situations trigger your current habit – having a morning cup of coffee, stress, drinking alcohol, going out with friends, driving, etc. – you can create a positive habit that you are going to do instead.

So, when you wake in the morning and have coffee, instead of smoking, what will you do? If you’re stressed or out with friends, what will you do? Replace the old habit with a positive one. Be mindful and consistent. Create the new routine that results from the trigger and your brain learns the new reward.

Don’t try to change your life all at once. Some people decide that they are going to lose weight, exercise every day, quit smoking, get a new job, and spend more time with family. A complete overhaul will lead to overload and you will give up. Work on one habit at a time and take baby steps. Lean in gently. If you usually leave work at 7 pm and want to spend more time with family, go home at 6:30 pm for a few weeks or even months. Then gradually make it earlier. Once that becomes a new habit, work on something else.

Lasting change won’t happen overnight. But with mindfulness, determination, consistency, and patience, you can achieve any goal you desire. Remember for big change, think small. As Mark Twain said, “Habit is habit, and not to be flung out of the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs a step at a time.”

Out with the Old and In with the New

Recently, I was in a round table discussion in which we talked about interpersonal relationships. A repeating theme of the conversation was that people felt like they were replaceable, that there was no value given to them and/or a relationship by a friend, partner, family member, or employer.

Hearing so many people express the same feeling made me start to wonder if we have become a society of disposables. It reminded me of an expression my mother used to say: “Out with the old and in with the new.”

It seems like just about every aspect of our life today is disposable. We throw away televisions, computers, clothing, phones, food, furniture, and so much more.

By contrast, when I was growing up, we fixed everything. There was a neighborhood television repairman. We ate leftovers for dinner. We took our shoes to the local shoemaker for new heels. Baby diapers were cloth and appliances were kept until they could no longer be repaired. We drove the same car until it died on the road. And most marriages lasted “until death do us part.”

While it is true that we have more conveniences and opportunities than our parents and grandparents, I believe our ancestors had something that many of us lack – the ability to attach to and appreciate what they had.

Today, we want immediate gratification. If it’s broken, an old model, or not working the way we want, we simply throw it out and replace it with something new, something upgraded. Is it possible that we are carrying our new disposable/replaceable mentality into our relationships?

How many people do you know that “cut off” contact with someone with whom they had a disagreement? They end the relationship and find someone new to fill the void.

How many marriages suffer from infidelity because of boredom or not having particular needs met? One spouse moves on to someone new, often breaking ties with their old partner and even their children, and creates a new family.

How many employers replace or demote an employee for a minor infraction without giving the person a second chance? They hire a replacement.

If any of these scenarios sound familiar to you (I know they do to me), perhaps it’s time to examine how we interact with others. Are we looking for a quick fix? Would we be willing to cut someone out of our life because we are angry? Are we considering replacing a spouse (or have already done so) before exploring every avenue to repair the relationship? Would we fire an employee without giving it a second thought?

If you believe that you may have adopted a disposable mentality, now’s the time to make a change. Start nurturing your relationships – put in the time and do the necessary work. Appreciate and value what you have (material items and relationships) and stop keeping one eye open looking for something better. Empathize with others before taking action. Repair something before tossing it in the trash.

If you feel like someone who has been replaced, remember that we can’t change or control other people and how they behave, but we can change our behavior. We can change the way we respond and the way we treat others. And, little by little, perhaps our treatment of others may just start a movement in a more positive direction.

As Michael Jackson so eloquently stated in the song, Man in the Mirror, “If you want to make the world a better place take a look at yourself and then make a change.” Who knows, one day we may all learn to treasure the “old” and forget the new.

Are You Still Looking At A Closed Door?

The past two months have been excruciatingly painful for me on a personal level. An event occurred that led me to believe that I could salvage an important relationship and I spent most of my summer trying to do just that. I did everything humanly possible to put the broken pieces back together and to try to create something new out of it. A relationship that I believed could be wonderful.

In my mind everything was perfectly clear. There was no reason why it couldn’t work out. I had a logical argument and strong feelings so everything made perfect sense. At least to me.

But, sometimes, even with the clearest vision, things don’t go as you plan or as you would like. By hanging on, I set myself up to be hurt on a daily basis, to the point where I could no longer tolerate the pain.

I finally came to the realization that in order for me to survive, thrive, and find peace, I must accept the situation, let it go, surrender, and move on. And while this may be a decision I didn’t want to make, and is perhaps the most difficult thing I will ever do, it will be the most self-loving.

The let it go and move on cycle applies to many areas of life. You may have to let go of a relationship or significant person. Or you may have to release a painful experience like losing a job, a financial loss, or the death of a loved one. Beginning the cycle is difficult because we tend to hang on to what we know – what is comfortable – even if it is pain.

According to spiritual leader, Thich Nhat Hanh, “People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.”

But holding on to the familiar, painful past keeps you stuck and creates an environment in which you can become physically and emotionally sick. You feel the pain day in and day out and that’s no way to live.

Usually we do not decide to release people or events until the pain of holding on is so unbearable that we feel we have no other choice. We are forced to accept the situation and mourn an important part of our life. And this acceptance and mourning is vital in order to thrive; we must let go of the past.

Letting go is an act of will, a decision to let go of the person, event and circumstance. It is the choice to move on. To let go you must surrender your control and admit that you are powerless over other people and situations. Once you relinquish control and accept what is, you can begin to embrace the change and get on with your life. You can learn from the experience and allow it to make you stronger and wiser.

Is it always what we want? Hell no!

Is it easy? No!

Is it worth it? More than you will ever know.

Don’t be afraid to seek help. Find a support group, spiritual director, therapist, coach, or trusted friend. And remember to have faith. I chose to relinquish my control and turn it over to God. Once I stopped begging for what I wanted and decided to ask for the strength to follow what He has planned for my life, my entire perspective changed and I found peace. I am now looking forward to the next opportunity.

As Helen Keller so eloquently stated: “When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one, which has been opened for us.” Don’t spend so much time looking at your closed door that you miss the wonderful doors that are opening up for you.

Say What You Mean and Mean What You Say

How many times has someone told you that he or she was going to do something and then it never materialized? How many times have you promised something to another only to let that person down?

Promises are powerful. They are given to fulfill a need of another. When someone makes a promise it is usually made with the best of intentions and in that moment, the person believes that he or she will be able to complete the offer. Then the person goes off like a busy little bee, involved in the tasks of daily life, and his or her words become a distant memory.

The problem is that the recipient of a promise remembers every word said. Often, spoken words are a life jacket to a drowning person and that person clings to them for survival.

After my mother and sister passed away (my last two remaining nuclear family members) and my divorce became final, a few people told me that I would never be alone, that I was a member of their “family”; I was their sister. Surviving unimaginable grief, I clung to those words as a source of comfort. Then, as time passed, holidays came and went, special occasions were celebrated – graduations, birthdays – and no offer of inclusion was made.

My story is just one example of the many letdowns people experience. What about a child who is promised your attendance at a dance recital or sporting event? A boss that is guaranteed a completed task? A friend that is offered help with a problem?

Heartbreak and disappointment are the result of empty words and offers made in haste, even with the best of intentions.

The next time you are about to make a promise think about what you are going to offer. Take time to reflect before you state it. Weigh the pros and cons and examine your life situation to be sure you can fulfill your end of the deal. Think about the long-term ramifications.

Be honest about your capabilities. Stop being a “yes” person or “the big man on campus”. You can’t please everyone and it’s much better to do nothing or say you can’t do something than offer an empty promise.

Examine your motivation for making the offer. Are you trying to make someone feel better for the moment? Do you want to be liked? Are you trying to gain something for yourself?

Remember that your words may only be words to you but to another they can mean the world. If you’re not sure that you can fulfill a promise, then don’t say anything. Adopt the rule in life to say what you mean and mean what you say.

Spend Valentine’s Day with the Love of Your Life

­I was watching television recently when it happened … I saw the first commercial for the Valentine’s Day diamond collection – you know, the gift that every woman will treasure. As I listened to the music and watched as the camera panned the romantic setting, waves of emotion overcame me like a tsunami. At that moment, in my mind, everyone in the world was in a loving, committed relationship and I was going to be the only person sitting home alone on February 14 (most likely eating ice cream).

Realistic assumption? Of course not. But for a few minutes the drama queen in me took over and my emotions ran wild. Fortunately, I was able to reign them in, but the feelings I experienced are very common.

The truth of the matter is that while there are many people in wonderful relationships, there are more people today living life as singles than ever before. So, there are more people sitting home believing that they are less of a person because they are one and not a part of two. Society perpetuates this belief.

When we are little, we are taught that we need someone to complete us. The princess is always in search of her prince. We search high and low for him, trying on every glass slipper looking for the perfect fit. Sometimes we find the right shoe, other times we squeeze a size nine into a seven. Going barefoot is never an option.

We are given the misguided notion that life is a Hallmark commercial. But… guess what? The fairytale doesn’t exist; at least not in the way it’s portrayed. There is no prince or princess that will make any of us live happily ever after – no outside person can do that; it’s an inside job.

Until we rekindle the flame of self-love, there will be failed or unfulfilled relationships and tears at the thought of being alone. The self-love I refer to has nothing to do with being selfish, it’s actually being selfless. It’s putting the time and energy into understanding who we are and what we want. It’s about finding our path and fulfilling our dreams. It’s making ourself whole so we can be in a relationship with another (or not) in a healthy way. When we’re whole, there is no jealousy, resentment or neediness. It enables us to find (or stay with) someone who complements us – not completes us.

What better time than Valentine’s Day to reestablish a relationship with yourself? Let it take root and then share it with your soul mate or your sole mate!