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RELATIONSHIP REFLECTIONS
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Relationship Tip: Who’s on Top?

The most destructive dynamic in a relationship is the “one-up/one-down” battle. In our competitive society, we are unconsciously programmed to see relationships as a competition. Especially when there is conflict, we automatically seek to determine who is more important, more valuable, better, or right. Of course, no one wants to be “a loser,” so each person battles to establish that they are in the more important/better position.

Relationship StruggleThis is a BIG problem because as soon as you assert that you are right, better, or more valuable, you put your partner in the position of being wrong, and less valuable. No matter who “wins” this competition, the relationship loses. This is unavoidable because when you take the one-up stance, you lose empathy for your partner. Your position of power becomes more important to you than respecting your partner’s feelings! On the other hand, if you try to keep the peace by accepting the one-down position, you cannot help but feel resentful. Human beings cannot experience humiliation without resenting it.

To put it another way, the one-up person assumes an entitled position. It looks and sounds like this: “Because I’m right/smarter/more important than you, I have the right to get my way/do what I want, AND you have no right to protest!” The last piece is the real “kicker!” That attitude is the part that fuels resentment in your partner. You act as if he/she should not protest your proclamation or behavior. It implies that your partner does not have the right to negotiate to get his/her wants and needs included in the outcome. Thus you end up with one person feeling entitled and not caring about the other’s feelings. Quite naturally the other person is fuming with resentment – a “dance of entitlement and resentment.” Not exactly a recipe for a loving, harmonious relationship!

As you delve deeper into your mind when you are in the “one-up” entitled position, you find that not only are you acting pompous and conceited, but that you actually BELIEVE that you are better than the other person. You are sure of your facts and your analysis of the situation, and you are convinced of your inherent rightness. That is why it is difficult to give up the perceived power that comes with the grandiosity of being one-up. The sense of power is addictive. This cycle must be broken for relational harmony to be re-achieved.

The antidote to this power struggle is to work to create a world of “same as.”

What is this, you ask?

Bill Russell (a former NBA star) quotes his mother’s succinct description of the “same as” position. After he had become famous, she told him: “You ain’t no better or no worse than anyone else out there!”

Another way to understand this idea is to recognize that the one-up position has lots of power for the self, but no empathy for the other; the one-down stance has lots of empathy for the other, but no power for the self. The “same as” position is one in which you have both power (to do what you need to do and say what you need to say) AND empathy (for how this is going to impact the other person.) Of course, empathy needs to lead you to a willingness to consider the other person’s needs and feelings to be just as important as your own.

In the world of “Same As,” each person’s needs, feelings, ideas and opinions are seen as worthy of respect and consideration, especially when they are different from yours. So, when you and your partner disagree, you assume that both your perspectives are valid. You make an effort to present your view calmly and confidently and to listen to and understand your partner’s view respectfully. Then you look for ways to proceed in the situation that take both of you into account;you look for a “win/win” solution. Ultimately, this is the only way your relationship can deepen and thrive.

Elderhood and Community

I think it is at the stage of Elderhood that the paucity of community in our lives is felt the strongest. Elders know that we cannot fully live alone, and that the nuclear family structure as “the realm of the sacred” as one writer referred to it, is an emotionally impoverished holdover from the relatively recent past. It is a product of the great experiment of modernity and was not supplanted by the variety of postmodern experiments from the 1960s onward. “Unrelated people living together” was mostly zoned out of existence by neighborhood groups and zoning boards with a decided preference for two adults with or without children occupying thousands of square feet in single family dwellings! The nuclear family, invented to serve the needs of all-consuming capitalism, has succeeded admirably in eradicating or severely weakening traditional bulwarks of community, including the extended family and church communities as well as many secular forms of association that people enjoyed in the slightly more distant past.

integration

The reality is that neither traditionals nor the modernists nor the hippies could successfully evolve the communities that are needed today, although each of these earlier stages of consciousness has something to offer, especially with regard to their core values. Traditional cultures knew that we cannot survive without depending on one another. They could not see that the tribal proscriptions against outsiders unfortunately locked people in and out from the wider world. The modern nuclear family offered more flexibility of movement for small families as well as the ability to take a world-centric view of the needs of others. Unfortunately, the unbridled capitalism of modernity sanctioned extreme competitiveness and inequality. Post-modern consciousness went even further in valuing diversity and inclusiveness, but did not have the “chicken wire,” the scaffolding, the natural hierarchy necessary for community to develop beyond isolated experiments.
Thus, elders today see the need to develop new “integral” forms of community that include the positive elements offered by each of the preceding worldview’s forms of community and offer wider, higher and deeper perspectives that can enable communities and the individuals who participate in them to thrive and grow at ever-expanding levels.

By John Mariner,
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

Respect is the Minimum of Love

Live Respectfully!

Live RespectfullyWhile 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 the behavior of others 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 only be different. Living with respect means respecting both yourself and the other person. 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.

The 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.

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 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 (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 relationship.  The best way to lubricate the central axis of 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.

Holding Heart Shows LoveBeing a loving partner takes intention and skill. “Intention” involves the internal commitment to yourself to be kind, considerate and respectful in all of your 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 them how much you appreciate that aspect of their 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 their 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 their survival/ reptilian 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) give 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 they 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.

A Letter to the Younger Progressives from the Elders

There are three ways to approach the mystery of the divine.
The first practice is prayer.
The second is meditation.
And the third and most important is conversation.”
Rumi

Dear Youngers,

We are so glad, so grateful for all of you and for all that you do! You are deeply inspired by one of us as we are inspired by you. I am Bernie Sanders’s age and went to school in Brooklyn and ran track the same years he did. More importantly, he never gave up on taking action on his deeply held human values; neither did I, and neither did many of us of his generation. And now, more than ever, we need each other, the Elders and the Youngers of this world. Let us begin a powerful, loving and essential conversation about working together for a better world.

A Letter to the Younger Progressives from the Elders
It is not always easy for Youngers and Elders to have meaningful conversations. In many ways, we inhabit different life-worlds. The tasks and challenges we face in our daily lives are “ages” apart. And too often we do not deeply respect one another. Ageism is a reality in our times as is a terrible and callous disregard for the needs of the young. Even though we share progressive values, that in itself is not enough. We need to bring our different skills and different kinds of wisdom together to bring into existence the better world we seek.

We need you, and you need us to bring about a better world! As Elders and not just older people, we are future-oriented and care more about you, our Youngers, than we do about ourselves! In our long lives, some of us have done a lot of work to become Elders and not fossils. We are growing into Elderhood even as you are growing into Adulthood. Elderhood, probably beginning around fifty five or sixty, is an amazing and wonderful place, not at all clearly seen by the culture at this time and gradually being embraced by a small but growing number of older people. It offers great hope not only to those who embark on this journey, but also to a world starving for authentic wisdom. As it is challenging for you to become adults, it is often daunting for us to become elders. But what we have in common is a willingness to keep growing, a concern for the betterment of this world and a realization of the importance of our ongoing conversations across the artificial divide that no longer has the power to separate us.

Thank you.

By John Mariner,
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

The Historical Dismissal of Elders and the Emergence of Integral Elderhood

Traditional cultures valued elders for their wisdom, sometimes attributed to them because of their age, and sometimes because they really were wise.

Modernity, roughly beginning about 500 years ago, challenged this valuing of older people for many reasons. Elders were seen as holding things back and resisting the advances of science as new information and knowledge about the world and its inhabitants replaced the earlier mythical understandings of reality. Modernity had no patience for traditional world views and more often than not, subjected these views to ridicule and dismissal as well as the individuals who held them. Post modernity, beginning to take hold as a recognizable wave of development about 60 years ago, embraced more diversity, but because of its inherent allergy to any kind of hierarchy, including natural hierarchies, could not see the emergence of integral Elderhood, a developmental stage of growth transcending and including adulthood. Elderhood does not become apparent and is not easily recognizable until integral consciousness evolves out of post modernity for more and more individuals in the world. Gratefully, the contours of Elderhood as well as its significance are gradually becoming clearer.

The Historical Dismissal of Elders and the emergence of Integral Elderhood

One of the hallmarks of elders (and Elderhood) is their caring for and commitment to the youngers of this world. The World Elders, called together by Nelson Mandela, are exemplary in this regard. Because of their stature, as former leaders in their respective countries, they command respect for their positions and campaigns for the young people of this world. Senator Bernie Sanders is still attracting young people by the droves. He is an elder who the younger people in this country know in their hearts that he cares about them and they are deeply and widely responding to him. As more and more people like myself are “aging with care,” so to speak, Elderhood becomes more apparent as an evolutionary stage of development that is characterized by caring for others as deeply or even deeper than one cares for oneself. There is a zest for and a new meaning to life as one enters this stage. Unfortunately, it is not accessed by someone merely getting older. Doing your work of waking up, growing up and showing up is both necessary and extremely rewarding as this conscious stage of post-adult development, characterized by wisdom and compassion, becomes more and more visible and attainable!

By John Mariner,
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

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.

 

An Aging Elder: Choose to Enter Conscious Elderhood

I woke up this morning with more aches than a porcupine has quills! My knee, back and shoulder were all seeing who could scream the loudest for my brain’s distracted attention.

Aging and Elderhood, encroaching personal entropy and joyful evolving consciousness!
What a juxtaposition!

While I am extremely grateful for entering conscious Elderhood, I am very aware that my body is slowly running down. I was talking to a friend about running recently and he said, “the older I get, the faster I was.” So true. I was reading recently that the best hope for the world was that more and more people worldwide were living past 50. However, it has also been noted that civilization often advances one death at a time. Enough already – I’m confusing me!

An Aging ElderI think it is no longer enough to just get older, even though it’s true that old age is not for sissies! We also can choose to become Elders, and our journey to Elderhood begins in adulthood. I have written about Signs of Elderhood in an earlier post. If you want to become an elder, you have to begin to wake up, grow up and clean up in adulthood. Briefly, cleaning up, in addition to eating healthier and exercising more, usually involves embracing some form of depth work in psychotherapy to heal wounds from the past. Waking up means realizing you need to move beyond religious dogma and become a seeker of what IS and your true nature. Growing up means a willingness to recognize and move through actual developmental stages that we have become aware of in the last hundred years. This work may be very challenging as you transcend and include the mainstays of your culture. All of this is necessary to be able to show up as an Elder and not just an old person.

Gratefully, when you choose to enter conscious Elderhood, there is more to life than aches and pains.

By John Mariner,
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

Prolonging Adulthood – The Prime of Life

Prolonging Adulthood - The Prime of LifeIt is very understandable and very tempting to want to prolong adulthood as long as possible. After all, adulthood is the “prime of life!”

Who wouldn’t want to remain in the prime of life as long as possible?
Who wants to look forward to growing older and older and then old age and death?

Given our modern sensibilities and enculturation this makes perfect sense. Without a vision and understanding of the meaning and value of Elderhood, and especially our place or home in this evolving space, the future can look bleak indeed.

Adulthood and all that goes with it IS the prime of life. Prime is from the Latin “primus” or first. For many reasons and for most people in the world, there has been no “secundus, no gracious, zestful second, no Elderhood,” a stage of life that for all of its challenges is even better! This, on the surface, is an outrageous statement to many people. Because as it becomes clearer, Elderhood transcends and includes the arguably best of Adulthood (the growing up, waking up, and cleaning up that is the important work of adulthood), and allows us to become wiser, more loving and more compassionate for ourselves and for all others, who in Elderhood by the way, are no longer “others.” They are us, all of us.

By John Mariner,
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

Thank You for Everything – Really? Everything?

In these disturbing times, what is most calming to me is to thank You for EVERYTHING.

Who is this You I am thanking? The Divinity, evolution, Spirit- in – Action? You go by many names. And thank You for everything? Really? Everything? The total picture of all there is?

Yes.

Thank You for Everything - Really? Everything?Try it. “Thank You for everything.”

All of the good and all of the bad?

Yes.

Thank You for the total picture of all that is. Can I trust You that much? Do I have to thank you for Trump? Thank you for everything. Don’t make me do it! Thank You for everything. For the horrors of war? For the suffering of children? For my ability to reason, will, feel and act? For our ability together to make things better for everyone?

Yes.

Thank you for everything, all of the “good” and all of the “bad.” EVERYTHING.

By John Mariner,
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

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