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A Death Knell for Your Relationship

The research of John Gottman, PhD, has documented that there are a few specific behaviors that are highly correlated with failure in marriage. One of them is CONTEMPT. Contemptuousness is a set of mostly non-verbal behaviors that convey disgust to your partner. Chances are that you have acted this way in your relationship. It starts out subtly with sighs and shrugs as your partner is talking to you. Soon you start looking down and away while your partner is talking about something important to him/her. Later you learn to tune your partner out completely as if he/she was not even there. The message you are sending: “You are unimportant and not worth listening to.”

a death knell in a relationship - contemptAs the distance in the relationship increases, you move to more direct displays of disgust: You roll your eyes when your partner is speaking, or you sneer with your upper lip. Do not think these behaviors go unnoticed. They are like a knife in your spouse’s heart. You are demonstrating that you believe that you are better than your partner, and your behaviors feel condescending, even shaming, to them. Every episode of these behaviors moves the two of you closer to separation and divorce. These behaviors must be stopped dead in their tracks. If you are careening down this ugly path and you do not stop the condescension, you might move right into name-calling and bald-faced mockery. Clearly such moves do not invite your partner into a safe conversation with mutual respect at its core. You are picking a fight and trying to land a knock-out blow directly on your partner’s ego.

The path out of this quagmire lies in realizing that the goal is not winning the fight. No matter who “wins,” the relationship loses – every time! The goal is to create a contempt free zone where you listen carefully to each other and have collaborative conversations about the important topics. Reconciliation only occurs between equals.

It is important to stop in the middle of a fight and ask yourself, “How are we doing as a couple as we talk about this subject?” If it feels like a winner-takes-all fight, STOP whatever you are doing and do something softer, nicer, and with more overt respect for your spouse’s position. Consider that your spouse’s position makes just as much sense to him/her as your viewpoint does to you. Remember that respect is the minimum of love, and contempt is its polar opposite! Contempt cannot co-exist with a loving relationship. The person you verbally beat up this afternoon will not want to snuggle with you when you get into bed this evening. If you want your partner to roll over, put his/her arms around you and say, “I love you,” you have to help your partner feel loved – or at least respected – all day long.

By Dr. Howard Lambert,
Colorado Licensed Psychologist

Do You Like To Be Criticized?

Most of us don’t realize the negative power of criticism. Harville Hendrix, nationally known relationship expert says flatly; “CRITICISM KILLS LOVE!” Whenever you try to give “constructive criticism” to your partner you are stepping on their feelings and acting as if you know better than they do about the subject that is on the table.

depression-1250870_640“So who died and made you king?” is what your partner will think when you criticize them and act like you are right and their thinking is wrong. Your arrogant attitude tends to elicit one of two responses:

Most people take the bait like a trout hitting a fly. They pull on the line and have a fight with you. Then the conversation deteriorates into one-up battles, tit-for-tat replies and straight forward vengefulness and meanness for the insults you just hurled at your partner. The deeper truth is that condescension and put downs are behaviors that you use when part of you is feeling small, unimportant and hurt. But you do not feel hurt when you are acting loud, mean, critical and nasty. The grandiosity of the one-up posture is actually a defense against feeling the pain of the rejection and disconnection that you feel in your heart. So you settle for the fight instead; it actually helps you feel powerful and strong for a very short period of time. In the literature this is known as “offending from the victim position.” You gloss over your injured and hurt feelings and rush into attack, name calling and vicious put-downs. Most verbal and physical abuse flows from this dynamic: You feel unloved and overlooked. You cannot tolerate those feelings in your mind. Then you rocket into what you think is justifiable cruelty.

People just don’t like to be told that they are wrong. And that is exactly what you are doing … but you don’t even know it. You think you are being useful, helpful and constructive.

The other group of people picks up their marbles and goes home. They don’t like playing with a bully. They become silent, drop inside themselves and disappear behind a curtain. They do this because you have shown them that you are not a safe person with whom to play; and they want to be with someone who treats them as if they were an equal.

By Dr. Howard Lambert,
Colorado Licensed Psychologist

Relationship Tip: Do People Find You Arrogant?

It is not uncommon in your daily casual conversations to speak offensively to even your closest friends. For example, you tell other people they are wrong, tell them what they really meant by what they just said, or you invoke higher authorities to support your personal beliefs. You love to win arguments because it momentarily makes you feel powerful or important inside of yourself. You fail to see that you “win” at the expense of the other person (i.e. the loser).

Do other people find you arrogant?It may be true that, in any given area of discourse, you have more information than the person you are talking to. But do you really want to feel falsely inflated while making your partner feel stupid? Loving relationships flourish when you work to create a collaborative conversation in which everyone’s viewpoints are valued and folded into the final decision. You have been in conversations during which you learn new information, digest it and reach a new conclusion. When talking with someone who communicates respect and personal interest, you feel enriched by the new information and happy with your new conclusion. When the delivery of the new information seems to come from a position of that person stooping to give you what s/he knows, you grow annoyed and resentful even when you know they are correct. It is all in the delivery.

To avoid having this unintended effect, you must be aware to your tones, posture and mannerisms. Eighty percent of communication comes through the non-verbal cues you give off as you send your messages to the other person. The remaining twenty percent is in your choice of language. Let’s look at both of these areas.

The non-verbal check-in comes by attending to your attitude and your internal self-talk. If you are thinking, “You must be crazy to believe that nonsense,” or “You can be such an irrational bitch,” or “You really are a controlling SOB,” how do you think your tones will sound? On the other hand, if you are thinking, “We really see this in two very different ways,” or “You are my beloved, and I think you have bad information,” or “I will wait until you are done speaking and then share this new information I have learned,” you will inevitably sound more cooperative and collaborative.

The language you use often reveals your inner attitude. There are three common insulting forms of speech people use when arguing with one another.

1) When you are arrogant, pompous and filled with yourself, you say things such as “That’s totally wrong,” “You are so full of s—t,” “That is not what happened,” “You don’t know what you are talking about.” This is called “talking to be right” (i.e. “I know what the truth is.”)

2) A second form of obnoxious talking down to your spouse is the Emily Post Position. Here you say, “Everybody knows that it’s customary to …” This leaves your partner feeling like an uninformed idiot only because he/she has a thought that is different from your own.

3) Finally, there is “Quote The Expert.” This involves referencing some knowledgeable expert who has much more credibility than either of you and happens to agree with whatever position you are espousing.

You make these speaking errors because our culture sets you up to fight to be right, to win at all costs, and to feel personally gratified when you land a good blow (metaphorically) on your partner’s argument. To change your tones, your attitude and your spoken behavior, you need to practice living in a new relational paradigm. You must practice telling yourself that closeness and intimacy is far more important in the flow of your life than feeling a momentary burst of righteousness at your partner’s expense.

How can you talk to each other with respect, compassion and collaboration? You have heard it a hundred times: SPEAK FROM THE “I.” Your personal power is always greatest when you state your own thoughts, feelings, ideas and perceptions. Do not shoot down whatever your partner is saying. Listen to understand. Validate what makes sense in what your partner is saying. Live with the attitude, “There are many ways to handle every situation. Mine is not better than yours; it is just different. Let’s work together to figure out what we want to do in this situation.”

By Dr. Howard Lambert,
Colorado Licensed Psychologist

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.

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

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.

 

RRC and Integral Consciousness: Bringing New Life and Energy to the Practice of Psychotherapy

The coming together of Integral consciousness and psychotherapy in many ways is a “marriage born in heaven.” The four of us, Mary, John, Roz and Howie, are very experienced psychotherapists practicing successfully for many years. We realize we had been moving toward this integral identity long before we had a name for it! Rather than attach to one approach to psychotherapy, we have always chosen to integrate the best of different schools into our work with individuals and couples. Not so much being eclectic as studying and practicing different approaches in depth. Sometimes we would do this over many years until we acquired mastery or at least expertise in a particular area, thus continuing to expand and deepen in our lives and work. We embrace the awesome reality of evolution in consciousness and culture, as well as in the physical world as part and parcel of our integral understanding and development.

RRC and Integral Consciousness: Bringing New Life and Energy to the Practice of PsychotherapyOne of the most significant outcomes of practicing psychotherapy in an integral context is the growth in consciousness in the psychotherapist. As the psychotherapist is able to hold more integrally informed perspectives, their internal experience of the moments of psychotherapy deepens and expands. The “holding environment” with individuals and couples gradually becomes more loving and whole. Transformation (changes in levels or stages of development) as well as translation (expanded understanding and change in presenting situations or issues) becomes possible sooner. The therapist is able to see more of reality and help clients to do so as well.

At the Center for Integral Psychotherapy in Denver as part of the Relationship Resource Center, while we have been around forever, we also continue to evolve. As we embrace evolution in consciousness and culture, we both transcend and include older as well as current ways of viewing psychotherapy in our world. We are deeply grounded in many approaches to psychotherapy, benefiting greatly from our many years of experience and practice. To this we introduce the novelty of a new stage of development. This Integral stage, which is emerging out of modern and post modern consciousness, is beginning to bring new life and energy to the practice of psychotherapy. We are already experiencing this vital energy in our lives and our work and want to continue to share this with all of you.

By John Mariner,
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

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.

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