Helping you discover what works for you.
There are only three possibilities for the future of any relationship
Stay as you are.
That's it, there are no other options. So if you can't stand it the way it is and you don't want to go, your only option is change and to quote the oldest idea in therapy "You can't change others, you can only change yourself". If you can't both agree on change then it's down to you.
Here are some ideas and questions that may.
It is better to feel love than to feel right.
And sometimes that is the choice, facts rarely changes relationships, being right rarely change feelings, so if you want to experience more love, both giving and receiving forget who is right and concentrate on being loving.
What do you bring to this relationship that is unhelpful?
Usually people can write a long list in answer to this question for their partner, but that is not what is being asked. Write down three times "What I bring to this relationship that is unhelpful is" and finish the sentence with three different answers. Then consider if you are willing to make changes.
What else could this mean?
A good question to ask when you feel upset. We are often quick to give a negative meaning to something and voicing our opinion of the 'true' meaning gives it strength. Stop and ask the question above, there is no right answer but you could choose a meaning that makes you feel more at ease with an event or a comment. So often things done or said to us are not about us at all but about the situation of the other person, and, to quote the title of a popular book "What you think of me is none of my business"
Acting as if.
An interesting experiment and a possible way to bring about change in yourself and in others is to act as if life was already just the way you wanted it to be. Since the only thing you can hope to control is your own reaction to a situation (and some of us have great difficulty even doing that), it's worth testing this out for a day or two to see if it makes a real difference.
Who is responsible for this relationship?
No, the answer is not "You are", this is a relationship, the answer is "You both are" but does that make it 50 : 50. The best way to make a relationship thrive is for you both to take 100% responsibility for it. That means you cannot hold back because your partner is giving less than you because you regard yourself as 100% responsible for everything. It may not be fair, it is not good maths but it does seem to work.
The greatest love.
The greatest love you can show others may sometimes be to leave them alone. This can be the most difficult thing to do for those we care about, particularly when they are going through difficult times and of course it's not always the right approach. It's particularly difficult with children but sometimes the best way to help is just to do nothing.
Snap shots and video.
We have all seen photographs of ourselves that do not do us justice. Usually these are the ones we throw away, we don't see them as being "us". On the other hand a video is more likely to give a more accurate impression of who we are, it is taken over a period of time. Why then do we so often hang on to the snapshot of the careless comment from others, the unintended insult and the harsh word later taken back? So throw these away along with the bad photos. If the words do not fit the usual attitude of the other person then discard them, don't keep the worst, keep the best.
No matter how thin you slice it.
No matter how thin you slice it there are always two sides. It's a good test of your understanding to see if you can explain the position of someone with whom you disagree so they confirm that is how they feel. Try it out and ask the other person to coach you until you get it right. Understanding is not the same as agreement but it is a big step towards resolving differences.
More of the same.
If you have a problem in your relationship there is little point in doing more of what has not worked in the past. More of the same action almost always produces more of the same result. So it is time to try something different, change creates change. Notice what tends to make things better and do more of it, notice what tends to make things worse and do less of it.
Simple advice but over time it can transform a relationship.
"The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results." (Albert Einstein)
Limit you relationships.
Limit your relationships to what you have in common. No relationship, however strong, can provide each party with all that they need. Most relationships require new input from outside experiences and these do not always have to be shared. There is a danger that in stretching the relationship to involve everything the parties end up doing things they neither like nor enjoy. This can be the breeding ground for resentment, a major relationship killer.
The miracle question.
If you were to wake up tomorrow morning and your relationship was exactly the way you wanted it, and that includes your contribution to it, and yet you had no memory of how it was before, what would be different about you? What would you be feeling? How would you act? How would others react to you?
How to have a bad relationship.
Try lectures and advice, especially "for your own good"
Say "Why don't you just try to.....?
Try hints, pleading and begging.
Use long silences as in "Just see how you have made me feel"
Try a sentence that starts with any of the following
Put your life on hold waiting for your partner to change.
Best of all, compare your relationship with that of another couple.
Just because you experience a problem in your relationship it does not mean your relationship is the problem.
No one comes to any relationship without a history and while that history may not belong to the relationship it usually affects it. When two histories meet each other the problems that arise get complicated. If you find the same problem in a number of your relationships then you can be fairly sure the problem is you and not the relationship so work on yourself and leave the relationship alone to sort itself out.
Relationships can't provide everything.
It must be fantastic to have a relationship that provides all your wants and needs, everything you require, in one warm, secure, permanent liaison. It must be like having a home that gives you all you desire, so much so that you never need to leave it....!
Relationships can give us great joy and satisfaction but they can't provide everything and ultimately we and not our relationship are responsible for our happiness. A relationship also needs the stimulation of new, external experiences or it will stultify and decay.
Love never dies a natural death.
Being "in love" can settle down over the years but love itself, if nurtured, need never die.
What can kill love is a diet of negativity, particularly negative comments. Communication either builds or destroys, the choice is ours.
How can you ruin a relationship and grow old quickly?
The answer, have too many rules.
It is said that every cigarette you smoke costs you five minutes off your life. Well there is a good chance that every rule you have about how things should or should not be costs you many times more than that and such rules can damage and destroy your relationships as well.
Relationships, and life, need to flow and the more blocks we put in the way the more likely we are to prevent the flow. Things that don't flow tend to decay.
Let go of the past or let go of the future.
Amazingly, some people keep a list in their head of times they were let down by their friends or partners, a list of various slights and transgressions. These same people have the ability to choose items from their list to throw into situations at a time when they can create the maximum damage.
Of course these are "other people" and you and I have never done anything like that. But just in case we are tempted down this path let's remember it's our choice, we either let go of the past or the future.
Sometimes the worst thing.
Sometimes the worst thing you can do for those you love are the things they could or should do for themselves.
This is only true sometimes because it's great to offer help to others and it makes us feel good when we have supported those we love. But it's a thin line between supporting and undermining however well intentioned we may be. It's good to check this out sometimes.
Notice what works best, and do more of it.
Take a few moments to review your relationship, or your life, and notice what works best for you. What's different about what works compared with what does not?
Suppose nothing works? Try doing something different and notice if it improves things or makes them worse. If it's an improvement, do more of it, if not, try doing something else.
Loving someone can be a decision you make.
In the early years love can be a heady mixture of passion and desire, it's exciting, stimulating and for some people this can last for a lifetime.
For others such intensity can become too dominating. It's just as valid to make a decision to love someone as it is to be head over heels 'in love'. People are different and there is no right or wrong way to conduct a relationship.
Strike when the iron is cold.
When is the worst time to deal with anger? When you're angry. Same is true of jealousy and many other emotions.
The trouble is if we don't feel it we don't feel we need to deal with it. Yet when we are in the grip of an emotion is when we have the least resources to deal with that emotion. It's a skill to learn, to return to problem areas when the strong feelings have gone. Look at or discuss with someone else how such difficulties might be dealt with if they arise in the future. Not easy but better than trying to deal with anger when you are angry.
Loving being in love.
Some people just love to be in love, and who can blame them. It's a great state, emotions run high, it's so easy to feel fully alive.
It's worth remembering there is a difference between loving being in love and loving the person you are in love with. If you don't make the distinction the chances are your relationship won't last.
Relationships are a mirror.
Relationships can reflect back to us aspects of ourselves we don't much care for, and then it's easy to blame our partner for how we end up feeling.
Learn to play Mastermind.
It's the game where one player sets out coloured pegs behind a screen and the other player tries to reproduce the colour and the order, at first by guessing and then based on clues. White pegs for a correct colour in the wrong place, black pegs for a correct colour in the right place. Without the clues the player would just go on guessing and the game could take a lifetime.
There are clues in our relationships, responses to things that work and different responses to things that don't. If we notice the clues we are more likely to get the result we seek, if we don't it could take a lifetime.
The sign in the zoo reads, "This animal is dangerous, it defends itself if attacked."
There's usually a reason for the aggression of other people and it's good to ask the question "Why do they/I feel attacked in this situation?" There are insights here and we can choose to modify either our behaviour or our reactions.
Relationship exercise 1.
This won't work for every couple but a 1 -10 scale can be of help in enhancing relationships.
You can take your relationship as a whole or just one aspect, eg communication, love life etc. Think about your current level of satisfaction on the 1 -10 scale with 1 as the lowest possible score. Let’s say your result for your chosen area is a 5/10. The question to be asked is not "Why am I not at a 10/10?" but "What would a 5.5/10 or a 6/10 look like?"
A maximum score may not be available right now but that doesn't mean improvement is not possible.
Relationship exercise 2.
For couples who find conversations difficult, perhaps they often end in an argument, here's a way that might break the pattern.
Agree a length of time for this exercise. If you can't agree make it 30 mins, and then toss a coin to see who goes first. That person holds the coin and can speak for as long as they wish and can say whatever is on their mind. They can pause for thought but the other person is not allowed to comment until they hold the coin themselves. The coin is then handed over and the process repeats itself until the 30 mins is up. It's a good idea immediately afterwards to have a further 15 mins apart.
Relationship exercise 3.
This is a very challenging exercise, just try it and you'll see why. It's certainly not for everyone.
Sit opposite each other with knees almost touching and for an agreed period, at first perhaps no more than 5 mins. Just make and hold eye contact without talking or moving, just being together. Note what thoughts and feelings come up, try not to dwell on them but let them go to see what comes up next. Again, take 15 mins apart before discussing, or perhaps agree not to discuss at all. (There is a version to do on your own with just a mirror.)
Relationships don't solve personal problems.
Although they can do a very good job at helping people avoid looking at them.
The solution to whatever issues we have to face is our responsibility not that of our partners. We can easily adversely affect our relationship when we expect our partners to sort out the problems that don't belong there. It's a simple question to ask; "Did I feel like this before I started this relationship?" The answer will help you to distinguish between personal problems and relationship problems.
Don't give up being you in order to be with someone else.
Do you look in the mirror and no longer recognise the person you see looking back?
Do you find you've given up on your friends. your interests, your beliefs in order to stay in a relationship?
Then it's time to either create significant changes or give serious consideration to getting out.
Forget the potential.
Here's another good relationship question.
"If I knew my partner or proposed partner was never going to change, would I be happy to spend the rest of my life with them?"
If the honest answer, warts and all, is YES then go ahead and have fun. If the answer is NO then you owe it to yourself to stop and consider if this is the right person for you.
Commitment and compatibility.
Both these things are essential for a successful relationship, it's not an either or situation.
Change can either be an event or a process.
Sometimes change occurs in an instant; eg, a major event, a sudden occurrence and life never seems the same again. Yet often the change has been going on for some time unnoticed, it's the realisation of the change that is sudden.
Some things have to be
Some things have to be understood. It can help to have reasons even if nothing changes. Inquiry and exploration are useful tools for understanding and are important in a relationship.
Some things have to be accepted they are just are not going to change and it's good to recognise this and stop wasting your life waiting for something that won't happen. It may be useful to understand and let go.
Some things have to be forgiven. It may not be enough just to understand, it may not be enough just to accept. You may have to forgive in order to move on. Not so much for the sake of the other party but for your own sake.
Every relationship is unique.
Wherever you read or are told about relationships, and that certainly applies to the ideas on this site, please remember it may not apply to you. If you think about your complexity as an individual and then add another party to the equation the possibilities are beyond comprehension. So don't try and fit your relationship into someone else's understanding. Ask the simple question, "Does this apply to me?" If not, move on.
We teach people how to treat us.
Other people can be so unfair, so judgemental so critical and it's easy to put all responsibility on to others and not look at our own role.
Would you live with you?
It's a tough question, would you live with you? It's not meant as a "beat yourself up" question but as a way of honestly looking at your role in whatever relationship is causing you trouble. Here are some possible answers:-
Yes, I'd be very happy to live with me; so look at what your partner brings or doesn't bring to the relationship or how you spark each other off.
Yes, I'd live with me but I would find a few things difficult; a chance to see what you bring that is unhelpful and decide if you want to make changes.
No, I would not want to live with me; well what changes would you have to make to come up with a different answer? Are these changes you can make for yourself? Are you willing to seek help outside?
"Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself." ( Leo Tolstoy)
There are worse things than having a relationship end.
And here are some of them:-
Wasting your life waiting for someone else to change.
Living with violence or emotional abuse.
Watching your children being damaged.
Losing your own identity, friends, interests.
Its not easy to move on but sometimes it's what life asks of you.
"You gain strength courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stopped to look fear in the face." (Eleanor Roosevelt.)
What you resist persists.
We have all experienced repeating unhelpful patterns in our lives, not just in relationships but in the way we deal with our finances, our eating habits etc. Each time we make up our minds next time it's going to be different, and then next time it's just the same.
When that is the pattern the chances are that there is something we are resisting, some underlying cause we are not looking at, some deeper reason we need to examine. You can't change things you don't own up to so here's something you can do right now:-
Take an issue where you repeat patterns despite all your efforts and ask yourself what it is you are resisting, ask two or three times and write down the answers. If nothing comes up ask yourself what you would write down if you were going to write something and then write that down.
OK, this does not solve the problem but it might well tell you where to start looking for a solution.
It's almost impossible to argue with someone who is not concerned about being right. An argument is a process that relies on the parties being attached to different outcomes. If one, or both parties are happy to enjoy an exploration without attachment to the outcome then no argument can take place. So, it's a choice; sometimes it's good to stand firm and live with the disagreement; sometimes it's fine to give way; often it's time to respect differences and move on to other areas.
You're supposed to make me happy.
There used to be a cartoon in my counselling room, it showed a couple pointing at each other and sharing the caption "You're supposed to make me happy." It might just be the biggest myth about relationships, that if you are not happy already, having a relationship will change everything. A better approach is to take responsibility for your own happiness and be willing to share this with your partner.
Be satisfied with small changes over a long period.
It's a shared human failing, we want it perfect and we want it now and it's interesting how that urgency can prevent us from achieving our dreams. It's true of many things in life but particularly true of relationships, they rarely change overnight. It probably took you a long time to end up where you are now, so what makes you believe any change will be instant?
You may not be able to change your destination immediately but you can change your direction right now, and a small change which continues will mean you end up in a very different place in the future. You almost certainly overestimate what you can achieve in a month but equally underestimate what you can achieve in a year.
So, look for small, positive changes in your relationship and work to expand them, concentrate on what does work and make more of it rather than always looking at the problems.
Things to avoid in relationships.
Here are some things it's best to avoid:-
Relationships with people who don't make you feel good after a few encounters, its not likely to change.
Relationships where, most of the time, you feel like the parent and the other party like your child, it's not good for either of you.
Relationships where you feel you are having to rescue the other person all the time, it does not breed respect on either side.
Relationships with people who have fatal flaws they are not doing anything about such as, affairs, drugs, alcohol. Fatal flaws are usually just that, fatal.
10 things to know about relationships and sex.
The first thing to know about sex is that it was meant to be fun and if it's not then you need to do something about that.
The second things to know about sex is that it doesn't have to be a big part of your relationship and it's OK if it is.
The third thing to know about sex is that relationships don't last, long term, because of a great sex life, it's not enough.
The fourth thing to know about sex is that there are no external norms, if what you do works for both of you then that's fine.
The fifth thing to know about sex is that it's just as important to please yourself as it is to please your partner.
The fifth, sixth, seventh, eight, ninth and tenth thing to know about sex is that it was meant to be fun, don't make it too serious.
Don't smother each other.
Relationships are very, very important. A great relationship is one of the best experiences life has to offer. But it's not the only experience and relationships benefit from each partner bringing in something new from time to time. If your relationship feels a bit dead it might be time to get out more and not always together. Most things don't grow so well in the shade so let your relationship be important but not everything otherwise it might just die from lack of nutrition.
Every unkind act is a cry for help.
Now I'm not sure this is true every time and it certainly doesn't feel like it when I'm on the receiving end. But when I stop to think about times when I have acted unkindly it has been because I have been feeling bad about myself, so perhaps it is a cry for help. What I do know is that my relationships work better when I assume this to be true, I am less likely to get upset and more likely to meet the needs of the other party and so have a better time with them.
Work can be easier than relationships.
Work, and here I mean any activity- your job, the garden, keeping fit- while good in itself can be a great way of distracting us from dealing with the issues in our lives and nowhere is this more true than in our relationships. So when you are "too busy" to be with someone you care about just stop and ask yourself this: "If I was using this work as a way of avoiding something what would that something be?" You may conclude the work pressure is genuine, and that's often true, but at least check it out and don't necessarily accept the first answer that comes up for you.
Why do we choose to live with suffering?
At first sight this seems a strange idea, that we would choose to live with suffering. One of the attractions of being in a relationship with someone can be the certainty it gives us, even if many of our experiences are not good ones. There are many people who, despite a poor relationship which gives them little, find familiar suffering preferable to the fear of the unknown.
You are more than the drama.
You are more than the drama in your life, you are certainly more than the drama in your relationships. There is a place within you where you can stand back, be distant from the unfolding events and just observe what is happening without actively participating.
Relationships, like life, don't last forever.
Today you could change that.
What is the point of highest agreement?
Almost every area of dispute, be it between individuals or nations, has a point of agreement when the highest principles of each party are explored. Most disagreements are about practice and not principle. Let me illustrate this with some examples.
Parents may disagree over attitudes to child discipline but are unlikely to disagree over wanting the best for their children.
Politicians disagree over the use of prison as a deterrent but rarely disagree over their wish to create a safe society.
Nations disagree over territory but behind that is a shared belief that a nation has a right to know the extent of its boundaries.
Often when we disagree about things, trivial or major, it feels like the gap between the parties cannot be bridged but to seek and find the point of principle on which we can agree seems like a god start in the process of resolution.
When you disagree about the present don't bring up the past.
This could be rule No 1 in the book of how to have a constructive argument. It applies to disagreements with your partner, spouse, friend, parent, child etc
We all know the phrase "Forgive and forget" and while there's a lot to be said for the first the second idea is often not possible. So you may not be able to forget past differences but that does no mean you should keep reminding yourself or the other party about them.
Not every argument can be resolved to the satisfaction of each of the people involved but throwing the further fuel of past events makes any solution less likely. Now you don't have control over how the other party behaves but you could have control of your responses and you don't have to play the game of past references if you don't want to.
Don't let a small disagreement ruin a big relationship.
For that matter, don't let a small disagreement ruin a small relationship either.
It's so easy to attach emotional energy to a minor dispute. Our ego gets involved and what, in the greater scheme of things, is truly of no real importance becomes a matter where our very identity is put on the line.
Does this seem an excessive statement? Well sit in a car with an angry driver when someone cuts him (or her) up. Perhaps you have even been that driver.
"If I was observing this happening to someone else would I see them as overreacting?"
Emotional and physical.
Societies have many types of restrictions on the expression of physical aggression. Laws and law enforcement seek protect us all, particularly children, from physical abuse and it's absolutely right that this should be so. However we have very few laws which constrain emotional aggression and yet this can do as much harm, to others and to ourselves.
Here's an interesting challenge.
Think over how you act towards other people, as a friend, partner, parent, business associate or towards someone you don't know well.
1. How do you feel about how you have acted today when viewed in this light?
2. Might you have ended up breaking the law and being arrested?
3. Are their changes you need to make, people you need to say "sorry" to?
While it's true that honesty is important in a relationship it's also true there are some things best not said. When your strong feelings are about your own issues, when sharing them with someone close to you is equivalent to dumping on them then it's best to be silent.
But you are still left with the feelings.
Write your feelings on a piece of paper, it's best to write rather than type but, of course that's up to you. In a ceremony at your own creation set fire to what you have written and while you watch the paper burn let your feelings be released and rise with the smoke. You may need to do this more than once. The technique improved with practice. It can also be used for:-
1. Letting go feelings towards people who are no longer around.
2. Letting go of past damaging experiences that are holding you back.
3. Letting go of your failures, your disappointments, your setbacks
Moving the book.
In my counselling practice I would keep a diary on the table beside my chair. Sometimes, particularly when clients were talking about a row they had had, I would push my diary towards the end of the table a few inches. I would do this a few times until, inevitably, the diary fell off the table onto the floor. "So" I would ask, "What caused by diary to fall on the floor?" "You pushed it" was the usual reply. "Which push?" I would ask and the answer was usually "The last one"
Well, it depends on how you look at it. To my mind each push was necessary for the book to fall on the floor and yet if you only look at the result it would seem like it was just the last push.
Here's the learning.
1. If you only concentrate on the immediate effect, on the drama, you will miss the pattern. The row didn't start without a history.
2. Successful relationships, and unsuccessful relationships, leave clues. It's worth looking back to get a full picture.
3. Cause and effect on not always simple. There is a tendency to think that if change takes place immediately after an action than the action called the change. It may not be so.
The meaning of a communication is the response you get.
Most people think the meaning of a communication is defined by what they want to say. But consider this sentence, "I've explained it to you a dozen times, but you still don't get it". So what's the meaning here? Is it the explanation or the fact that the person communicating doesn't seem to have been understood.
This is particularly true when talking to children and others who are close to you.
If they don't get it you need to explain it again and differently.
The bad news is that saying the same thing again, and saying it louder, rarely works.
I had a client write to me (I have her permission to tell this story) saying she was surprised to find I had right wing political views. I'm always interested in how communication gets misunderstood and since I'm more towards the political left I asked how she had come to that conclusion. She referred to a time when I referred to myself as a republican. Since I'm British being a republican means to me that while I'm an admirer of our Queen I am not a supporter of the institution of monarchy. To my client, as an American, being Republican certainly does imply right wing views. It's a simple confusion, two countries divided by a common language. but it did start me thinking about how often two people are separated by what turns out to be a difference in meaning of words.
If you think your communications with someone, particularly someone you are close to, are becoming confused it's worth checking what they mean by relevant words or phrases, it could be quite different from your meaning. Just ask someone "What does the word "love" mean to you?" and you will see how misunderstandings arise.
The late President Nixon spoke in Beijing saying American and Chinese minds ran on parallel lines. He meant they were going in the same direction, the Chinese thought he meant their minds would never meet.
Most problems aren't caused by relationships.