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Respect is the Minimum of Love

Live Respectfully! While you cannot arrange to always feel loving toward your partner, you can make a commitment to never treat anyone, including yourself, with less than respect and to never allow others’ behavior towards you to drop below the level of respect. For instance, consider the difference between saying “That’s not true!” and “I see that differently from you.” The first respects only my point of view. The second recognizes that people who see the world differently are not necessarily right or wrong. They may be only different. Living with respect means respecting both yourself and the other. It means holding a position of valuing each person’s thoughts, feelings, needs, wants and unique experience of the world, even when these are in conflict.

Respect is the minimum of loveThe question arises, “Who defines what is respectful and what is not?” Most of us know intuitively what constitutes respect or disrespect for us. However, it is also important that you and your partner share with each other your own definitions of respectful or disrespectful behavior. To a great extent, respect is in the eye of the beholder. Respecting each other’s sensitivities around what feels disrespectful, even if you do not perceive it the same way, is a powerful move that puts your relationship on a firm foundation of respectful living.

However, you may find that you and your partner have some intense conflicts over what constitutes “disrespect.” For instance, if your partner grew up in a proper New England family where voices and energy are always kept low and calm, they may feel disrespected when you, who grew up in a boisterous Italian family, raises your voice and energy in a “discussion.” On the other hand, you, as the more high energy partner, may feel disrespected because when your partner refuses to engage with you at this level. So now what?

This is an excellent time to practice respect! Both of you can let go of defining your way as “the respectful way” and work to value the merits of the other’s style. You can work together to find a “middle ground” that incorporates both the “peace and quiet” of the “New England” style and the energy and engagement of the “Italian” style. Develop “our” style – one that fits for both of you.

There are a couple of other important points about living respectfully.

Blatantly disrespectful behavior, e.g. lying, cheating, screaming, name-calling, disregarding agreements, poisons your relationship in several ways. First of all, in behaving in these ways, you move to a position of disregard, even contempt, for your partner. From this position, there can be no love or connection. Secondly, when you treat your partner in these ways, they will inevitably build up resentment at being regarded as unworthy of respect. There also can be no love or connection when one is filled with resentment. So, your chance for loving connection takes a double hit.

Lastly, behaving respectfully towards your partner is a critical piece of maintaining your own self-respect. When you allow yourself to be blatantly disrespectful of your partner and/or your relationship, you cannot feel good about yourself. So, refraining from such behaviors is a great way to support your own sense of being a good human being.

Relationship Tip: How Do You Show Your Love?

We never outgrow our need to feel loved by the people with whom we are in a relationship. The best way to grow a committed loving relationship is by working to help your partner feel loved by you. Love is the grease that allows the wheel of life to rotate smoothly.

How Do You Show Your Love?Being a loving partner takes intention and skill. Intention involves the internal commitment to yourself to be kind, considerate and respectful in all of your actions and communication. Skill means that you have been willing to break old self-defeating habits and have learned some new ways to demonstrate the loving side of your nature.

Here are some skills you can practice:

1. Give your partner a verbal appreciation every day! Remind yourself of your partner’s best traits and behaviors and tell your partner how much you appreciate that aspect of his/her personhood. Be explicit and be concrete. “You are a good Mom” is a nice start. “I really admire the way you took the time to calm Jimmy down before you put him in that time out” is more concrete, specific and personal. If you want to learn how to make your appreciations even more powerful, practice telling your partner how you interpreted his/her excellent behaviors. For example, “I really admire the way you took the time to calm Jimmy down before you put him in that time out. When I saw you do that I realized how you are teaching him self-soothing skills even as you are giving him a consequence for his bad behavior. What a great move!”

2. Give your gifts from your heart. Gifts that have strings attached are likely to blow up in your face. When your partner senses that you are being nice because you want something in return, an alarm goes off in your partner’s survival brain that says, “Danger! Danger!” Instead of closeness, you get distance and wariness. And you wonder, “What did I do wrong?” Gifts, (i.e. both verbal appreciations and material presents) must be given freely with loving kindness and without expectations.

3. Use the Platinum Rule. The Golden Rule says, “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” This is an excellent principal for treating others with consideration and respect. It is often referred to as the ethic of reciprocity. However, it can backfire in relationships. If you use your behavior in the relationship to attempt to signal to your partner what you secretly want given back to you, miscommunication often results. Take, for example, the anniversary where the husband (who wants more touching in the relationship) gives his wife a fancy electric massage machine. At the same time, the wife (who privately wishes they would spend intimate time reading aloud to each other) gives her husband a book of love poems. They pretend to appreciate what they received from the partner, but secretly feel disappointed and misunderstood.

In place of the Golden Rule, we suggest an updated version for love relationships. Harville Hendrix has called this the Platinum Rule. The Platinum Rule says, “Do unto your partner as your partner would have you do unto them.” Take the time to learn and to remember what your partner likes to receive. Gary Chapman’s book, The Five Love Languages, can help you and your partner understand each other’s primary and secondary love receptors. To become the best lover you can be, you need to give your partner what they most long for, not what you think they ought to appreciate.

Relationship Tip: Turn Towards Your Partner

You begin the journey to a better relationship by learning to TURN TOWARDS ONE ANOTHER.

This is not as easy as it sounds. You have learned to protect yourself in times of strife with a variety of healthy psychological defenses. These are your basic survival mechanisms. In the animal kingdom, this is often referred to as “fight or flight.”

In the relationship world, it is called “the distancer-pursuer dance.”

Turning towards your partner involves the creation of different behavioral steps depending on whether you are a pursuer (i.e. emotional, excitable, easily hurt, moving into your partner’s personal space to pursue an argument, etc.) or a distancer (i.e. pulling back, saying very little, shutting down, feeling overwhelmed, etc.)

To understand the differences, look at the following diagrams:
(Two diagrams: Pursuer/Distancer on left and Two Healthy Adults on the right)

relationship tip 2 Turn Towards Your Partner

This drawing indicates that there is an imaginary line or boundary between you and your partner. Honoring this boundary is a very important thing to learn to do. As a pursuer, you have a pattern of barging across this line when you are upset as if to say, “I am angry, and we are going to talk about this right now.”

Withdrawers tend to respond to that behavior as creating a feeling of danger; therefore, as a withdrawer, you pull back a great distance and say, “We can talk about this when you have calmed down, and we can both be civil.” Unfortunately, both of these behaviors are misinterpreted by the partners, and your behavior elicits the exact opposite of what you really want. The distancing inflames the pursuer into more forward action, and the forward action scares the distancer deeper into his/her personal space.

Understanding this dynamic with hopefully allow you to meet in the middle. That meeting constitutes the first step. The pursuer must move up to, but not over, the boundary line and must modulate his/her voice, tone and posture. The distancer must move forward, up to the boundary line, and show his/her partner through eye contact, voice and posture that you are available for a discussion and not going to run away.

The reason this works to calm the situation down is that your new behavior is speaking to the underlying fear of your partner. The modulated pursuer is saying, “I do not want to overwhelm you with my emotions and energy.” At the same time, the emotionally available distancer is communicating, “I do not want you to feel abandoned by me.”

This is the beginning of the joint creation of SAFETY in the relationship. When you change your behavior while your partner is changing his/her behavior, a deeper sense of comfort and connection will begin to grow. Both of you will benefit from the renewed intimacy that follows.

Click to read Relationship Tip: Presume Sanity

Our Evolutionary Journey: A Sacred Space Necessary for Fostering Conscious Community

I am grateful to Harville and Helen Hendrix for their guidance over many years, and their reflections on our evolutionary journey as we wake up and grow up in our lives.

They were focusing on couples in relationship when they stated that the unconscious agenda of each person in a committed adult relationship was to finish childhood and attain full aliveness. The more each one began to consciously cooperate with this unconscious evolutionary agenda, the more they could have the relationship of their dreams rather than their nightmares. Wow! That’s quite a mouthful!

we spaceIn the Salon of the Happy Misfits, we move beyond the committed couple evolutionary journey and look more broadly at what can evolve when adults come together intentionally in larger groups in what we are calling, following Ken Wilbur, an “integral we space.” The Integral Living Room gatherings, which I have helped co-create in Boulder, have been pioneering this investigation for several years now. I would like to re-frame Harville’s statement above with respect to an “integral we space.”

First of all, we are not talking about intimate couples. We are talking about a group space where seekers who have done a lot of their own work and have healed most of their childhood wounds come together to support one another in their ongoing conscious evolution and participate, in some almost infinitesimal way, in the ongoing evolution of the universe. Second, couples can participate in this larger space. They may add their perspectives to the gathering, especially as they are evolving toward an integral relationship among themselves and are open to an expanding evolutionary setting and process in the larger “we space” being co-created by all of the participants.

In our culture, committed couple hood is often considered, consciously or not, to be THE realm of the sacred. In reality, it is only ONE realm of the sacred, the one probably best suited for growing an intimate couple relationship and raising children. An “integral we space” is also a sacred space necessary for fostering conscious community and evolving structures of consciousness that will be the underpinnings, and the foundation of a better future for humanity and all sentient beings. We invite you to join us in the Salon of the Happy Misfits as we continue to evolve together.

By John Mariner,
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

The Duality of Intimacy – Separateness and Closeness

I wear two wedding rings. No, I am not a bigamist, and I don’t practice Big Love. They snuggle up nicely together on my ring finger. The inner ring is a plain gold band, and the one next to it is more ornate, Black Hills gold with a leafy design. The first ring represents me and the second Suzanne, my lovely wife. They signify our togetherness and our separateness. They remind me that in this world of forms we are two, not one, even when we are deeply connected.

duality of intimacy

Intimacy is a dance of separateness and closeness. My rings remind me that both are necessary for a loving relationship to work well. Even though one partner is usually comfortable with more closeness and the other with more distance, each person needs what the other prefers. You may not choose to wear two wedding rings. I like how they fit – together and separately!

By John Mariner,
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

Holding on for Dear Life: Responsibility for the Heart Connection

There are times when men in particular need to hold on to their partners for dear life.

holding your partner's heartWhat I mean is that men need to step out of their programming and hold the heart connection with their partner, and let them know by word and deed that they are doing this.

Most women learn from the time they are young girls that they are the ones who are responsible for the relationship connection, even sometimes to their detriment. Look at how many more books they read about relationships then most men do! They need to be able to let some of this responsibility go, and know that the men they love will hold the heart strings as well as them.

And guys, not only hold these lines, these connections, but let your partner KNOW that you are doing this consciously. Tell her: “I want you to know that I am always holding you and our relationship in my heart, and that I will hold us no matter what.” Then, follow through, like with your golf swing.

You are on target for a hole-in-one!

By John Mariner,
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

Worlds Apart: When We Are Not in Curiosity, We Probably Are in Judgment

A few months ago, our daughter Danielle left her new cell phone in a dressing room, and it was stolen.

Adios, phone. Fugetaboutit. We’ll never see that again.

But Suzanne decides she wants to go to the police and report a stolen phone. So I tell her, “are you kidding?” Furthermore, she wants me to go with her to make the report. I can not imagine a bigger waste of time, as I am certain the police will do absolutely nothing after taking her report. So she hijacks me on our way home from a movie and drives Danielle and me to a police station, totally against my will and me complaining all the way, refusing to be of any help at all to her as she reports a stolen cell phone to the Denver police.

We were worlds apart on this one.

She was really angry with me the rest of that night until we talked the next day. She felt unsupported and deserted by me, and I felt dismissed and ignored by her. Finally, out of curiosity, I asked her why was it important to go to the police when they probably would not do anything except take a report and file it away? She said she didn’t know whether they would do anything or not, but it was important to her to go with Danielle and me to file a report so that Danielle could experience us taking what action we could rather than doing nothing. Danielle completely agreed with her and shared that it was also important to her that we went to the police.

Fotolia_66748363_XSThank God for curiosity. Someone said to me recently “when we are not in curiosity, we probably are in judgment.” It finally made sense to me why it was important to Suzanne to go to the police.

Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it has the power to heal relationships. And as it turns out – a month after we filed the police report, Danielle got her phone back!

By John Mariner,
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

How We Inadvertently Project Our Feelings On Our Significant Other

Not too long ago, a friend called us and kindly offered us cuttings and plants from her garden. She said just come, pick them up and take all you want; they are sitting on my front porch.

So I went over and gratefully took a big bunch. I took them home, happy as a clam. I proudly showed them to my wife who proceeded to tell me: “You were a little piggy, weren’t you?” Crestfallen, I went out to the garden with my plants, now beating myself up with “You were a little piggy, a little piggy.”

Suddenly, I stopped myself.

two people facing each otherWait a minute! I remembered that I’M ENOUGH AND I MATTER, even if I was a little piggy (which I wasn’t). I felt much better.

I went back to the house and reminded Suzanne that our friend said we could take all the plants we wanted, and I didn’t like being called a little piggy. She apologized and said,”Maybe just a little, little piggy,” and I chased her around the house, both of us laughing.

Later she admitted that if she had taken the plants, she would have maybe felt like a piggy, and maybe, just maybe, she was projecting on me.

Hallelujah!

By John Mariner,
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

Loving Impermanence: Witness What is Going on Both Within and Around us

The reality of the impermanence of things is challenging for most of us.

I came home from a walk the other day and found myself very happy and delighted going from room to room in our home. Truly, beauty is in the eye of the beholder because our house is aging and many parts of it are in need of repair. Come to think of it, not unlike myself.

Part of me definitely wants to keep things the way they are, even if they are in reality changing all the time.

individual observing surroundingsIn order to love impermanence and not just be freaked out by the impermanence of things, I think we need to be able to at least step back from time to time and just witness what is going on around us. Witnessing our lives, our home, our possessions and the world around us allows us to become a little more detached from that which we have no control over anyway. Being detached doesn’t mean we have to become indifferent. I was able to be detached and delighted by my surroundings at the same time.

We can practice and develop our ability to witness what is going on both within and around us and in doing so hopefully increase our peace of mind.

By John Mariner,
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

Resentful Men: Power Dynamics in a Relationship

If, as I discussed in an earlier article, men are trained to be entitled (one-up) and women are generally trained to be (one-down) in this culture, why are men so often resentful in their intimate relationships?

This question addresses an insidious dimension of the state of intimate relationships in this culture.

Men, most often in the one-up position in this culture, are trained not to SEE the power dynamics in an intimate relationship, and women are trained not to SAY anything about the power dynamics in their relationships. When an individual’s entitlements (usually the man’s) are finally challenged, they often become angry and then RESENTFUL. “You’re crazy!” or “How dare you criticize me!” is often the initial reaction to an entitlement challenge. Part of the upset may be that the woman went along with her partner’s entitlements without challenging them for a long time. The unequal power arrangement was the “normal” state of things, even if the woman was resentful and unhappy. The traditional marriage contract was often we are one (and I am the one for the man) and yes, we are one (and you are the one, for the woman). This agreement is usually unconscious until the “we are one” myth is challenged and debunked!

coupleIf the woman begins to find her voice and starts complaining about her partner’s entitlements (sometimes louder and louder) and moves to blaming her partner, he is likely to become more and more resentful as well as entitled. Men often feel entitled to leave energetically and emotionally if they don’t like what’s going on, rather than talking about problems in relationships. Sadly, men are usually more unconsciously accepting of being lonely and disconnected in relationships than are most women. And then they wonder why a woman chooses to divorce them rather than stay in a situation where she is more lonely in the relationship than out of it.

So, in summary, many men get angry and resentful at the point where a woman begins to confront their unconscious entitlements. He may truly believe she has no right to do that or she has no right to do so in the WAY she is doing it, which is by yelling, complaining or blaming him. He has a point. Her complaining is not an effective way to bring about the change she wants in the relationship. Instead of complaining, she needs to find out if she has leverage with him meaning finding out whether he cares enough about her to make some changes in his behavior that she requests or, in some instances, demands.

By John Mariner,
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

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