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September, 2019 | Relationship Resource Center
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RELATIONSHIP REFLECTIONS

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Are you Shooting Yourself in the Foot?

The chances are high that you are unknowingly undermining the likelihood that you will get what you want from your spouse. Why is that?? It is because you privately know what you want from this relationship, and when you are hurt and angry, you ask for more than your partner can emotionally deliver. Sure, in an ideal world, you deserve to receive all the love you want in the manner that you would most like to get it. But only in Hollywood and fairy tales do “they live happily ever after.”

In reality, life involves an endless series of personal negotiations between two persons of equal value. Add to that the knowledge that what you wish for is particularly difficult for your partner to deliver. The result is that all relationships are predestined to have a lengthy power struggle after a few years. What follows are several tips for managing the negotiations of power struggles with patience and wisdom.

Think globally, act locally. Practice asking for small amounts of the behaviors that you want from your partner. Then practice thanking your partner for what he/she just did. We are all quietly influencing the behaviors of our partners by what we do after they act. If you want more loving from your partner, do not start by demanding sex three times a week. Even if you get your wish (i.e. through coercion), you will not have a happy, relaxed, and loving partner in bed with you. Begin by asking for small, specific and do-able behaviors that are on the path to connection. Ask for a little more touching during the day. Then when your partner gently touches you on the back as he/she walks by, you respond immediately with “Thanks, that touch felt great.”

In addition, you can “program” your spouse to do more of the behaviors that nurture you. Immediate smiles, approval and appreciation can go a very long way. Consider this story. A college social psychology class once decided to test the power of very small subtle social cues. They decided, without the professor’s knowledge, to appear ever so slightly more interested in what was being said whenever the professor leaned or took a step to his right. They looked up at him slightly more often, they took a few more notes, and they deliberately looked a bit more interested in the course material. They remained neutral when he stood still while talking. And they showed a tiny drop in interest when he drifted to his left. After four lectures with this subtle cuing, the professor walked into class, put his briefcase down by the desk in the middle of the front of the room, dug out his lecture notes and walked over to the front left corner of the room (to the students’ right!) where he delivered his entire lecture. Conclusion: You are always sending cues to your partner about your feelings and your support (or lack thereof) in the relationship. Everyone likes positive feedback!

Are you shooting yourself in the foot? by Dr. Howard LambertBe on the lookout for what your partner is doing well. This will correspond to behaviors you like and want repeated more often. Then smile, brighten your tone, say thank you and generally be appreciative of their personhood. Over time, you will find that your mate will be more likely to repeat behaviors that get rewarded and less likely to do things that evoke boredom and loss of attention. When you focus on and amplify what is working, you are directing the relationship in the most successful direction.

This works infinitely better than complaining about what is bad or lacking in the relationship. Carping, nagging, repeating your complaints, character assassination, name calling and outright put-downs are the drivers of distance and divorce. When you attempt to negotiate from a “one-up,” “power-over” position, you invite a push back. Your partner will either “fight or flee” depending on how he/she protects him/herself. The dominant stance might feel powerful for a short while, but it is always a losing strategy in a love relationship.

Finally, when you do ask your partner to change his/her behavior so that you can feel more attended to in the relationship, make your requests small, measurable and positive. We talked about small requests above. Ask for changes in behavior that might be easy for your partner to give to you. Measurable means that you are able to specify quantity and duration of the behavior request, and you must be reasonable. You might want six hugs a day, but you would be best starting off at a lower number that your partner might do without feeling pressured. For example, you could ask for two hugs a day lasting at least three seconds each. The word positive means that you are asking for something that your partner actually does. If you are often annoyed when your partner interrupts you, you are shooting yourself in the foot when you say “Stop interrupting me.” That puts everyone’s attention on the annoying behavior, which is then likely to increase. Instead make it positive: “Please allow me to finish talking before you come back at me with an alternative point of view.” When you state your desire in the positive, the request is much more likely to happen. As stated above, when your partner makes any movement in the direction of your request, be prepared to smile, thank and appreciate even the smallest changes in behavior.

by Dr. Howard Lambert


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Growing in Love in Elderhood AKA Elderlove

Elderlove . . . it’s not quite the same as love in adulthood, even though conscious love must begin in adulthood to grow into the Love that is an essential characteristic of Conscious Elderhood.

I do not want to limit my investigations, however, to the growth of love in couplehood that is possible in Elderhood, as wonderful as that may be. In our culture, marriage or coupling is too often regarded as “THE” realm of the sacred rather than “A” realm of the sacred; the former not so subtly discounting how singles also grow in love in adulthood leading to Elderlove.

When conscious love grows within the couple relationship in adulthood, that is truly wonderful and sadly, too often, rare. Not impossible, as I personally know, but not easy. It’s almost as if love begins to split its seams and demands its inherent expansion. Children demand that it opens up to embrace them, sometimes stretching the couple relationship beyond its limits. Sometimes one person grows and the other doesn’t, and the relationship bursts apart. Most often, people try the coupling route with someone else, hopefully expanding their ability to love with lessons learned from the past. Conscious love wants to keep expanding to include others, actually until there are no “others.” Conscious love keeps breaking our hearts open on the way to Elderhood, if we will allow it to. Otherwise, we gradually just close down, and at most become old and not Elders.

Growing in Love in Elderhood AKA ElderloveElderlove is conscious love, ever expanding and developing to include more people toward the inclusion of all beings. It grows out of conscious adulthood, often but not always, developing in couplehood and parenting and tempered in the crucibles of our aging bodies and inevitable losses. Love teaches us HOW to Love if we will let it. This is one of love’s great secrets, opening us up to loving those beings we come in contact with as they need and want to be loved, awakening Love in them.

I have stated in another post that elderhood is better than adulthood. One of the reasons is that our capacity for conscious love can keep growing based on its beginnings in childhood and adulthood. Elderhood, today beginning at 65 or 70, is an expansion of our ability to love and not a diminishment! Conscious Adulthood is the necessary scaffolding for Conscious Elderhood that supports us growing in love all of our lives. The life stage of elderhood is the flowering of what has gone before. All of our work is worth it as love in elderhood pervades our lives and the lives of all that we touch in ever expanding and often surprising circles!

By John Mariner,
Licensed Clinical Social Worker