Making Relationships Last – Part 1

Making Relationships Last – Part 1

I was reading research on relationships by Prof John Gottman, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Washington. Gottman was recognized in 2007 as one of the 10 most influential therapists of the past quarter century. Research at the Gottman Institute in Seattle USA has focused on why some couples stay together while others fall apart. Their research shows that to make a relationship last, couples must become better friends, learn to manage conflict, and create ways to support each other’s hopes for the future. This blog is focusing on what it takes to become better friends. Gottman’s research shows that three things make up such friendship: The first thing is building what he calls “love maps”. This means really striving to understand your partner’s inner world and that which inspires, shapes and moves them. Asking open curious questions of your partner (those that need more than a yes or a no for an answer) is a way to do this. Questions like, “So how are feeling about that project at work at the moment?” or, “Now that the children have left home, what are your dreams for the foreseeable future?” Questions like these try to get a deep understanding of the other person and what is important to them. The second thing Gottman says makes a good friendship, is building a “fondness and admiration system” of respect, appreciation and affection. Looking for where your partner does things right and not being on the lookout for where they are screwing up, and expressing your appreciation. The third ingredient of such friendship he calls “Turning toward”. This aspect is crucial as the essential ingredient that builds Trust in a relationship, and without trust there can’t be a relationship. “Turning toward”, is when one person makes a “bid” towards the other person – sometimes subtle, sometimes not – expressing a need for affection, conversation (connection), interest or emotional support – and the other person responds and acknowledges this, even if only in a really tiny way. If they don’t respond to the bid at all and ignore it, Gottman calls this “turning away”. Or if they respond with hostility, this is called “turning against”. By employing these three techniques, all close and important relationships can be improved. It works for parent-child relationships and for friendships too. The next blog will be on Managing conflict within...

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What makes a good life?

What makes a good life?

This Harvard University longitudinal study on Happiness landed in my inbox this week. I found it riveting and profound. Besides adding to your quality of life in the here and now, happiness is a protective factor into old age of both your health and your intellectual sharpness, and even your ability to cope with physical pain. I hope you find value in the findings of this unique study that was begun during the Second World War and is still continuing today. It reveals the most productive area of your life where you should invest your time and energy in order to live a good life. I hope you enjoy this twelve and a half minute TED Talk :)....

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When things fall apart.

When things fall apart.

In the film The Best Marigold Hotel, Evelyn says, Initially you’re overwhelmed. But gradually you realize it’s like a wave. Resist, and you’ll be knocked over. Dive into it, and you’ll swim out the other side. Sometimes life falls apart on multiple levels all at once. Perhaps bereavement or a divorce, coupled with resultant emotional adjustments, family relationship strains, moving home and some financial chaos – all happening concurrently! I had such a year in 2013 when my life seemed to go over a cliff on multiple fronts at once and I was buffeted by one severe thing after another, so rapidly in succession, my head was spinning! I felt paralyzed by fear and pain, and literally suffered from inertia, an inability to take action on any level. It was terrifying. While I sat like a rabbit in a spotlight, mesmerized and unable to move, fortunately I had two people in my life who were willing to take over the reigns of my life and to whom I was very happy to give over my power. I don’t know how I would have survived without them and will always be grateful for the practical and emotional support they gave me. But as I emerged from the shock and paralysis and began to regain my strength and equilibrium, it became very important to me to take back my life from these people. To become my own person once more – someone able to act powerfully and once again to be in control of my own life. And now, from a position of regained strength and calm, I am able to take stock, and evaluate the lessons I learnt from that frightening time. On looking back, the first thing I notice is that while I was in the middle of my storm, it sometimes felt there was no way out, that it would go on forever, and that this would be the shape of my life to come. Well, this isn’t true. All things pass. So if you now are in the middle of a storm, breathe, and be kind to yourself. Sometimes at the very worst of times, doing nothing is just the very best you can do. The second thing I notice, is the importance of practical and emotional support during that time our brains are frozen. Who do you have around you who can be a support? The third thing that was very meaningful for me, was to establish a safe and stable home – a safe base from which to kick off. This is what I call my port in a storm. A safe little nest where one can lick one’s wounds in privacy and calm, and...

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Anthem – Sadness and Regret

Anthem – Sadness and Regret

A friend of mine in her fifties wrote to me with sadness about how she felt she had not reached her potential nor achieved the life she had imagined for herself when she felt so powerful at the age of 22. She said, “I think I was really smart!!! My life has been a mess! Never turned out the way I imagined it!” I think she is not alone in her experience, and so I would like to share in this Blog my reply to her, in case you may find something helpful if you too are feeling this way: One of the wisest things I ever learnt was at the age of 21. In my HDE year at university I had a Psychology of Education lecturer called Dr Gordon Bauer who made us date all of our submissions and add the word AMPLOS next to the date. It stood for, At My Present Level Of Sophistication. Just so we needn’t be held accountable in 5 years time for the rubbish we wrote today. There is a quote, which regrettably I can’t locate right now – by I think Marilyn Monroe – who was a sensitive and conscious human being despite the alternate hype, which goes something along the lines of, No-one consciously makes a bad decision. We all make choices based on what feels wise at the time. That with hindsight some choices work out to have been not the best, is the curve ball that life throws at us, and I think we need to deal compassionately with ourselves. We are human and not infallible. We do the best we can. There must be those people, but I have yet to meet someone who isn’t trying their best within their situation and their emotional, intellectual, psychological and physical resources. My instincts are, if things have not turned out the way you imagined it, make peace with that. Certainly don’t waste energy on regret and self-recrimination. That’s counter productive – punishing yourself, but not serving any generative purpose. Feeling bad actually reduces our ability to be powerful in our lives. Breathe. Love yourself. Honour the wonderful human being that you are – right now – because it is important to see the wonder in yourself. Take stock. Scan the landscape. See what dreams you can dream for yourself going forward. And start a new page. What is it that can be meaningful for you from this point onwards? What does it need in order to action it? What do you need to harness in service of it? And after breathing and taking stock, go for it! You still have within you your 22-year-old potential. I know you feel...

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Part 5 of a series on weight loss – The worst kind of eating: don’t let yourself do this!

Part 5 of a series on weight loss – The worst kind of eating: don’t let yourself do this!

I’m not speaking about people who have genuine and deeply psychological eating disorders like bulimia or anorexia. I’m referring to people who have a mildly dysfunctional relationship with food caused by the diet industry and the messages we get from the media about the shoulds and musts of eating. If you were to ask most of these people what the worst kind of eating is, they would probably speak about binge eating – you know, the classic Hollywood scene of the girl who gets dumped by her boyfriend: cut to a week later, and the apartment is littered with pizza boxes, ice-cream containers and chocolate wrappers as she soothes her misery with food. We’ve all been there and done that. Be gentle with yourself.. This is not the most iniquitous form of eating. If you find yourself here, take note of the storm you are in, notice what you’re doing, and treat yourself compassionately. Once the storm is over, your equilibrium will return and those kilograms you picked up will drop off once more. No. The most iniquitous form of eating, the form that packs on kilograms silently over the years, is unconscious eating. When you sit in front of the TV with that jumbo packet of crisps on your lap, and when you next look, the bag is empty and you don’t even remember what they tasted like, because you were so engrossed in the movie. The eating on automatic pilot. It has traumatised your body yet not nourished your soul. By all means eat crisps. But tune in while you eat them. Taste and enjoy every bite. Truly feed your emotions while you eat. Tune into your body and your soul. Be curious: at what point are your body and soul satisfied? At what point don’t you need any more? Then...

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Part 3 of a series on parenting – Yes, you will tidy your room!

Part 3 of a series on parenting – Yes, you will tidy your room!

Parenting can often be a battle of wills – a standoff between adversaries that can degenerate into aggression and negative feelings, which if repeated often enough, can tarnish a very important life-long relationship. So how does one constructively handle these difficult situations? I first learnt about this technique when my first baby was a year old, and it has been one of the most powerful lessons I have ever learnt – with profoundly positive long term benefits for my relationship with both my children! The first thing to watch is your language! How dripping in judgment is it? Keeping the example of tidying the bedroom in mind, are you using words like “pigsty”, “cesspit” or anything of that ilk??? Shaming your child in this way is very destructive to their self-esteem and your long-term relationship. Try to keep your words neutral by simply sticking to the facts. Rather talk about the clothes and books on the floor. Avoid blame by owning the problem yourself. Talk about your own response to it. “I don’t like your clothes and books on the floor. I feel much happier when the place is tidy,” is better than saying “You always leave your clothes and books on the floor.” Ask for what you want respectfully but firmly. “I want you to put the books on the shelf and your clothes in the laundry basket now please. What are you going to start with?” Reward good behavior like crazy, with lots of praise as well as perks if appropriate. “If your bedroom is nice and tidy you can watch TV / have pudding tonight / go to movies on Saturday.” But don’t underrate how powerful a motivator simple praise is. So make sure you acknowledge to your child how beautiful you think the tidied room looks. A great rule of thumb: focus on the good and downplay the bad. Try to catch your children out doing things right rather than on their mistakes. To follow: Part 4 of a series on parenting Stop being...

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Duchesses and Flower Girls

Duchesses and Flower Girls

Do you find that your relationships at work or in your family are less than ideal? Perhaps characterized by conflict, or worse – distant and cut off – as though people have stopped trying to bridge the gap with you, they’ve just given up? We can never change other people, only ourselves, so it may be a good idea to quickly do a personal check-in with regard to how we are relating to other people. Basically, it’s in our attitude to others, which shows up very, very strongly in the quality of our listening. There are two kinds of listening, one of which alienates others, and the other, which deepens our bonds of co-operation and understanding. The first is competitive listening. We pretend to pay attention while we wait for an opening to promote our own point of view, without really caring about the view of the other person. We listen for weak points in their argument where we can shoot them down, or formulate our points of rebuttal even while they are speaking. Sometimes we even plan that crushing comeback. We are in it to win it. The second is active listening. Here, we genuinely want to understand what the other person is thinking, feeling and wanting. We check that we have understood both the meaning of their words but, importantly, also the feelings and any meaning below the words. We check out that we have correctly understood them, by reflecting back to them what we understood them to say. Perhaps we didn’t understand accurately and they can then correct us and we can recalibrate our understanding. When people feel genuinely heard, this deepens the quality of their relationship with us, and builds bridges. It comes down to whether we view the other as our adversary, our inferior, or someone equally worthy of respect. When people feel respected by us, they become our allies. We should treat all people well, irrespective of their status relative to ours. Here is a beautiful illustration of the value of respectful human interaction from George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, made into the famous film, My Fair Lady. LIZA [stopping her work for a moment] Your calling me Miss Doolittle that day when I first came to Wimpole Street. That was the beginning of self-respect for me. [She resumes her stitching]. And there were a hundred little things you never noticed, because they came naturally to you. Things about standing up and taking off your hat and opening door— PICKERING. Oh, that was nothing. LIZA. Yes: things that shewed you thought and felt about me as if I were something better than a scullery-maid; though of course I know you would have been just...

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Making music out of Life.

Making music out of Life.

Reading an old but pertinent article in Vanity Fair on Greece’s economic woes*, I saw the following idea: The smart person accepts; the idiot insists. This got me thinking about the concept of flow, and just how draining resistance is. In his psychological philosophy Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy, Albert Ellis takes this idea further when he speaks about how the shoulds, ought tos and musts in our thinking styles cause us suffering, and how when we subscribe to this mode of interpreting our experiences, we perceive other people and the world as letting us down. If we can instead change these negative and absolute ideas of how projects, the world, and others “should be” into preferences, then we experience the world in a far gentler way and we end up being much happier people. But besides these emotional costs of insisting the world “should be” as we want it to be, there are also great costs to our energy and effort levels. If we stop insisting things must be my way or the high way we can release vast reservoirs of energy that we can then unleash productively both in our work lives and personally. Conflict is exhausting. Jostling for supremacy is exhausting. On the other hand, in any shared activity – at work, or in close relationships, or simply out there interacting in the world – if we can put our pride aside, take what lands on us, and dance with it, we can not only build hugely positive human relationships – but by putting aside the temptation to say No, but.. and instead embracing Yes, and we can also.., we can create great collaborative projects. My own original background is theatre. The notion of Yes, and we can also.. is the essence of improvisation, which actors and jazz musicians use so creatively. So, I challenge you, take whatever lands on you and dance an improvisational dance with it. Go out – use the notes from that person’s trumpet, and add your own drumbeat. Pull together disparate elements, talents and contributions and make some beautiful music and movement in your life. *Beware of Greeks Bearing...

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Who’s the boss?

Who’s the boss?

What are your driving nightmares? Have you ever driven behind a really inconsiderate driver, the kind who on a nice road trip slows down up hills on a barrier line, and then speeds up like crazy just when you have the opportunity to finally overtake, so that you can’t? Or who parks on a red line which clearly means no stopping, let alone no parking, and so holds up all the frantic traffic behind! Or my favourite: the person turning right at the intersection who creeps forward timidly, making space only for himself – which means that when the traffic light finally changes, they are the only car that can cross the road legally, when there was at least space for three cars that could have made it. I’m sure you have many pet peeves of your own! These used to really get to me. Until I had the realisation that after this sort of experience, I was the one left feeling off balance, grumpy and out of sorts. And the angry feelings would stay a while! And the perpetrator of the heinous traffic “crimes” would go on their merry way, either oblivious or unconcerned, continuing to inhabit their happy bubble. So actually, who was I selling out to? I was giving the power to temporarily take away my equanimity and happiness to some inconsiderate and selfish idiot. This makes no sense! So I resolved to take back my Power. I refuse to allow bad drivers be my puppet master pulling my unhappiness strings. I am going to be the one to decide whether I will be happy or not! There’s that tiny moment between stimulus and reaction where we can actually choose to “respond” instead of “react”. And it’s not just about driving. It generalises to many aspects of our lives – to all the things that habitually press our buttons. So I resolved next time I had a button pressed to ask myself: So who IS the boss? This, or me? And I choose me. I’m the boss! Most of the time...

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Good fences make good neighbours

Good fences make good neighbours

Mending Wall, Robert Frost very famously said, Good fences make good neighbors. I say, fences are important even in your relationship with your significant other. Good boundaries, are a sense of where you end and others begin, and are a measure of your self-esteem and your esteem and trust in others. If on some level you doubt yourself, or you doubt your partner’s ability to show up reliably in the world, you may allow your boundaries to become blurred and try either to take responsibility for your partner or allow them to control you. Some red flags are, if you find yourself taking on more than half the responsibility for a relationship and then feeling bad if it isn’t working, the likelihood is that your boundaries are not as defined as they could be. If you find yourself trying to control your partner’s actions, or find your actions being controlled by them – then your boundaries are weak. If you feel responsible for the other person or allow them to be responsible for you, then your boundaries are blurred. Boundaries can be emotional like these, but they can also be mental, material or physical. Good mental boundaries show confidence in holding your own opinions and not needing to echo those of someone else, nor expecting them to necessarily agree with yours. Good material boundaries mean you don’t raid their wallets or read their text messages or have them do that to you. Good physical boundaries will mean that you have healthy negotiations around sex with each other. In short, you are a separate person to your partner and you respect their right to be themselves. After all, that’s why you fell in love with them, isn’t it? To quote Mending Wall: There where it is we do not need the wall: He is all pine and I am apple orchard. My apple trees will never get across And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him. He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors’. Be the boss of yourself, not of your partner – and don’t let your partner be your boss either 🙂 Pine, and apple...

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