Category: Adults

Communication Is Key

Communication is both verbal and non-verbal. We have all rolled our eyes, sighed, or had to walk away from someone in a moment of frustration. Think about the last time that happened, and think about what was really going on inside of you as that person spoke. Chances are you were frustrated and felt you were standing in front of brick wall. If you thought you could change the situation, you would have changed the situation. So the question becomes: What aspects could you not change that solidified the irrelevance of your voice? Why could you not change the situation? And most importantly, how high was your frustration that it seeped out into a behavior?

The point here is that frustration can lead to the non-verbal behaviors we would not normally exhibit in a discussion. When the discussion heats into an argument, we are then more likely to exhibit verbal disdain in our communication. It easily flows from our lips, yet brands the heart of the other person, and we fall swiftly into the Rule of Irreversibility However, there is one thing you have as a weapon against yourself… KNOWLEDGE. Knowledge is power, and if you know you are prone to hurtful words when angry and arguing, then you have the ability to stop it before it happens. Communication is key.

The first rule of verbal communication is your tone of voice. If you want to have honest and productive communication, you have to control your tone of voice. Many of us, incuding myself, wear our heart on our sleeve. Our upset comes out in our tone of voice, facial expressions, and even our eyes. Consciously add a softness to your voice. Our tone of voice can easily ignite the protective wall in our partner. Manipulating our tone of voice despite our true feelings can be the difference between a conversation and a fight. With this manipulated tone of voice, you can begin a conversation, avoiding an argument.

How can I change my tone when I am annoyed, frustrated, angry, or just straight pissed off? Take a minute and compose yourself. Think about what you want to say and how you are going to say it. Prepare yourself. With a plan in place, your emotions are less likely to take over your delivery.

The next is looking at the words you use. Are you using I statements or You statements. You statements place blame on the other person. For example, “You did…”, “You said…”, etc is putting all of the responsibility for your problem on the other person. If you change your statement to “I think…” or “I feel..”, you can also take responsibility for your emotions, your anger. With I statements, you can change from blame to taking responsibility for the possibility of miscommunication, misinterpretation, or a skewed perception.

We have all been in a situation that got out of hand simply because we needed to take a step back. It is easy to be on the outside looking in, but it is much more difficult to be on the inside and see a 360 degree view of the situation. Add on personal emotional ties to the situation, and your line of sight becomes even more narrow. Listening to hear instead of listening to give a response will greatly help you see the 360 degree view. You cannot understand someone if you do not listen to what they are saying. Listen to how they feel, what they think, and what they want. Make a plan, do your best, and if you fail, try again.

8 Rules of Relationships

The Rule of Personal Responsibility

Couples have to not only take responsibility for their actions, but also for their thoughts pertaining to their spouse. When couples simply blame their partner without taking responsibility for their own actions, wounds begin to form.  However, once we take responsibility for our own part in the problem, we can begin to see the process outside of the content.  The process is what the actual problem is, not the outcome that came from the process.  For example, partner A places blame on partner B, then retreats.  As partner B retreats, partner A places blame on partner B, and pursues.  The blame builds because neither partner understands the cycle they have entered.  Partner A cannot understand why partner B will not leave them alone to think, and partner B cannot understand why partner A does not want to talk to them about the issue.  It is an endless cycle until we begin to understand the process we prefer, while also understanding the preference of their partner.  Once we can take responsibility for our preferred process and our partner’s preferred process, compromise and integration of both preferences can begin.

The I’ll Change First Rule

Relationships are a partnership, but also include two individuals.  Each individual has to put effort into the process of change.  However, if both partners wait for the other to make the first move, both partners will be waiting indefinitely.  The “I’ll Change First” rule is simply breaking the cycle of waiting, taking responsibility for their own actions, and deciding to make changes without the caveat of equal action of both at the same exact time.  This rule is about taking control of our decisions, and eliminating the control of others over our personal decisions to make changes in our quest for happiness.

The Baby Steps Rule

It is not always about huge, major changes to our daily lives.  By making a small tweak to our actions, behaviors, and/or thoughts, we can begin the process of change.  As we repeat behaviors and actions, we strengthen that neural pathway in our brains, and over time it becomes second nature; action A always leads to action B, thought A always leads to thought B, behavior A always leads to behavior B.  With a small shift, we can disrupt the system inside of us.  Imagine millions of drops of water running through a pipe, and a small shift to the drops of water that run along the right side of the pipe creates a small puncture hole to the pipe.  Slowly drops of water on the right side of the pipe decide to take the path through that small puncture hole.  Over time, those drops of water widen the hole, and more drops are allowed to change directions.  Within a system, any shift whether big or small, will ripple through the system.  Each time that small shift repeats, a longer and larger ripple begins to build.  After a while, the end of that ripple is a big shift into change.  In the example of the water flowing through a pipe, the big shift is two paths the millions of drops of water could take instead of only one path.  By taking small baby steps, big changes will eventually take root.

The Feelings Follow Behaviors Rule

Behaviors and feelings are correlated, but we can choose to change our behaviors in order to change the feelings of another, which ultimately affects the outcome of the response behavior.  For example, when you feel unappreciated and unloved, you are much less likely to behave in a loving manner towards another.  Instead, you are more likely to enact your defense mechanisms within your behavior.  You make a choice to protect yourself, and act accordingly.  If we can decrease the defensiveness and choose behaviors that are in line with feeling loved, the reciprocal behaviors will bring those feelings of love.  This rule is an extension, and explanation of, the “I’ll Change First” rule.  Change your behavior to change the behavior of your spouse, which then transforms your reactionary feelings from their behavior.  For example, every morning partner A goes to work angry and frustrated because they fight with their spouse.  One morning, once again, partner B made a pot of coffee and drank it all by the time partner A goes to the kitchen to get a cup of coffee.  Instead of choosing to speak negatively to partner B, they simply choose to refrain from negative talk, start a fresh pot, and offer partner A the first cup of the fresh pot.  By the time they both leave for work, partner B has found things to do that were helpful to partner A, the negative interactions that usually plagued the beginning of the day were eliminated, and each spouse started their day with peaceful feelings as a result from the morning interactions.  At the end of the work day, each partner returns home without the negative feelings that lingered from the morning interaction.   

The Fear of Change Rule

As we age, we gain insight and intuition into the world around us.  We learn to gauge and predict the responses of others, especially those intertwined in our lives.  Spouses know their partners.  They know when they will be upset and when they will be happy by our actions.  It is the unknown that creates the crippling type of fear that prevents us from making changes.  It is easy to know what to expect.  It is easy to accept crippled areas of life in order to avoid the possibility of something worse happening.  The problem is the fear.  The fear prevents positive growth by blocking change because of the possibility of something worse than the usual behavior.  At first, it will feel unnatural because the conditioned behavior/response has become the norm.  It takes time to rid ourselves of preconceived notions of change, but in the end, both parties will be able to walk upright with comfort and ease instead of fear and discomfort.

The Present Rule

Being present is difficult when we are hurt, especially when we expect negativity.  It is easier to do everything possible to get through the day, only to start a new day the same way we left the previous one.  The Present Rule is about being present in the situation, avoiding our desire to avoid unpleasant situations, unpleasant emotions, and unpleasant truths of others.  However, the only way to create positive change is to be present in the moment, to make choices, and to live through it.  Doing everything in our power to illicit change revitalizes our power over our own lives.

The Rule of Irreversibility

We all have an alter ego that we generally can keep under control.  However, when emotions are running high, we are less in control and more irrational.  That is when our “shadow” is likely to emerge.  In the heat of the moment, we may say things that we would not usually say, yet hold some truth that is undeniable.  You can apologize and hope for forgiveness, but it is impossible to take back the words, and reverse the situation.  What’s done is done, and the spouse has to find a way to move past the hurtful words. It is important that we think before we speak, especially when emotions are running high, and try to be productive with our words. Compromise can generally get both parties what they want without anyone getting upset.

The Rule of Recall and Attribution

As we experience life, our memories can be categorized using a bell curve.  The middle and largest region of the curve is neutral where the majority of our interactions fall.  On the far right are the positive memories and experiences, and the far left are the negative ones. Unfortunately, we recall more of the bad experiences than the good ones.  As we recall those events, attributions from that experience are then attached to the spouse, establishing a negative view of the spouse.  It is important to understand where are negative feelings towards our spouse are coming from, increase the presence of positive memories, and work to change our perception of who we married.

Commitment Building in Relationships

In order to build commitment, first you need to understand how your behaviors have been interpreted by your partner.  Second, you should talk to your partner about which behaviors your partner interprets as loving actions.  Third, you must work to increase the frequency of the loving actions.  In the Commitment Building Model, we use two axis to rate the behavior.  On the X axis, we determine the frequency in which the behavior occurs.  On the Y axis, we determine the value of that behavior, which is set by the partner.

The two axis are perpendicular, and cross in the middle of each axis.  Where the two axis meet is equivalent to a neutral feeling, which creates a negative and positive section on each axis and depicts four quadrants.  We can place each of our behaviors into one of the four quadrants.  The top two quadrants are behaviors that our spouse finds to be positive and loving.  The top left quadrant are behaviors that do not happen often, but are pleasing to the partner.  The top right quadrant holds the behaviors that the partner views as loving and occur with a high frequency.  The bottom two quadrants are behaviors that the partner does not value, and finds to be unloving.  The bottom left quadrant are the negative behaviors that do not happen regularly, and are easily ignored or brushed off.  The bottom right quadrant are behaviors that happen regularly, yet are undesirable to the partner. 

The goal of the Commitment Building Model is to take a look at how our actions and behaviors are affecting our relationship in the eyes of our partner.  Once we know what falls into which quadrant, we can begin to make changes to our actions and behaviors in order to move them into the more desirable quadrants.  For example, the actions and behaviors that fall into the top left quadrant can be increased in frequency, allowing them to shift into the top right quadrant.  The behaviors in the bottom right quadrant can be decreased in frequency to move them into the bottom left quadrant.  Couples need to understand that the top right quadrant builds love, commitment, and happiness.  The strongest relationships are ones that reside mostly in the top right quadrant. 

The weakest relationships reside in the bottom right quadrant.  These actions and behaviors are not valued highly, and occur on a regular basis.  These actions are similar to a grain of sand in our shoe.  Each time they occur, another grain of sand is dropped into our shoe.  At first, it seems irrelevant and easily dismissed.  However, as time goes on and the grains of sand multiply, that shoe becomes increasingly more uncomfortable and frustrating. Eventually it gets to a point where you cannot walk normally, and a limp takes over our previously smooth stride.  The only way to walk normally again is to dump out the sand from that shoe.  For many couples, when someone needs to empty the sand from their shoe, divorce becomes an option as a means to a shoe without sand.  It is important for couples to identify the actions and behaviors in the bottom right quadrant to either eliminate those behaviors or decrease the frequency so those behaviors can move into the bottom left quadrant.

One way to build up the actions and behaviors in the top right quadrant, which is our strongest and most effective quadrant, is with the Caring Days Procedure.  This exercise can be used at any stage of a relationship to build commitment and strength.   The first step is for each partner to write down five actions that make them feel loved.  These actions have no monetary value, meaning “buy me flowers” is not an acceptable action to be included in the five.  The list needs to focus on small, very specific actions, but void of anything that has been the topic of a recent argument.  For example, if the couple has recently fought over taking out the trash, then neither should include taking out the trash as one of their action items on the list.  Clients may need to be encouraged to think back to the beginning, and remember what the other did for them as they were falling in love.  Examples of these actions could include a text message during the day to say they are thinking of the other, picking up the dishes from the table after dinner while the other gets a few minutes to relax on the couch, or simply asking their partner if they need anything when they stand while the other is still sitting.  Once each partner has their list of 5 actions they would like for their partner to do, they should exchange their lists for review to ensure they can accomplish them with grace instead of resistance.  The last thing you want is for your partner to feel like the tasks are a grain of sand in their shoe. Once you both agree on what makes each person feel loved, begin implementing the requests at an interval of two actions per day.  After a week of working with those five actions, each partner should add two more to the list of requests, followed by review before implementation.  Every week following, two more actions are added.  Eventually, each partner will have a strong list of actionable tasks that they can do to show their love for the other.  The more love being exchanged, the stronger their commitment is to each other.

If you want to increase feelings of love and commitment in your relationship, think about the diagram, think about your actions, and have a conversation with your partner. The most important and strongest tool you have is communication. If communication is difficult in your relationship, we have some tools to help! Learn more…

The Freedom Within

Life is messy.  We will be hurt, taken advantage of, and pushed to our limits many times throughout our life.  We can either choose to be a victim or we can choose to take back our control.  It’s not about simply having a good attitude. It’s not about eliminating anger and pain because many times those feelings can propel us forward instead of staying in a place of stagnation and helplessness. The freedom I am talking about is the control we have over our own minds and our own decisions. We cannot stop the actions of others that victimize us, but we can choose whether or not to look for solutions. 

We can choose to find peace within ourselves in the midst of chaos. We can choose to focus on the things we can do. We can choose to look forward instead of focusing on the past that cannot be changed. When something bad happens, we cannot go back in time and stop that event from happening. Since we can’t change the past, we can either choose that nothing can be done and be stuck in the never ending cycle of that pain with repeatedly being victimized all over again, or we can choose to take a step forward and create a new future. We can always choose our next step.

The question then becomes, will I take a step forward or will I stand still? When I say take a step forward, I mean do something different, just one thing instead of taking the same steps over and over again, day after day. Take a step forward and walk in a line instead of a circle to get to a new place both mentally, physically, and spiritually. Spiritually isn’t a reference to religion, yet a reference to the spirit within you. 

We always have a choice. The options may not include what you really want, but one choice always leads us to another set of options. With each step, we can get closer to what we want, which does not reside within the circle we continue to walk out of pure necessity.  Make a plan, take a step outside of your circle, revise the plan if needed, and then take another step.