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

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

Are You a Tyrant When You Are Angry?

Most relationships have one person who is a pursuer, and one person who is a distancer. These roles can change in different social settings and with different topics of conversation, but generally each member of a dyad plays one of these roles more often that the other.

Are You a Tyrant When You Are Angry?When you are upset and something has been really bothering you, it is common for a pursuer to initiate a fight by barging into the personal space of the partner and declaring (as much with your non-verbal behavior as what you actually say), “I am upset, and we are going to talk about this right now!!!” You sound as if you have become an Army captain, and you are using your authority to command the movements of your troops. You have moved into a top-down tone of discourse, and you are talking to the enlisted men who have no choice but to stand there and listen to you as long as you want to talk.

When you demand your partner’s attention because you are upset, you are essentially shooting yourself in the foot. Your presumptuousness typically backfires. It drives the distancer into a psychological withdrawal and prolongs the unhappiness and fighting. Then you become a tempest in a teapot; full of sound and fury and having no effect in the real world. After you have sounded off for a while, which may include yelling and name calling (and other self-defeating agendas), you begin to notice how distant and remote your partner is behaving and how impotent you feel, even if you are loud.

The helplessness that comes with realizing you are getting nowhere can be very demoralizing. Rarely will you have the perspective to see that you helped produce the stalemate by the way you began the conversation.

Here is the task: Practice a slow start up. There are several aspects to this skill. First of all, it is very respectful to make an appointment with your spouse. This shows your spouse that you value his/her time and want to talk when he/she is ready to give you his/her full attention. Waiting half an hour and having a partner who is really present is much better than rendering yourself helpless shouting at a wall. Secondly, begin the conversation with an acknowledgement of the relationship. Launching right into your complaints and criticism might feel good to you as you blow off steam, but it tends to send the withdrawer into another universe. An appreciation might sound like this: “I love you deeply, and I really value our relationship. There is something troubling me that I want to talk about. Is this a good time, or can we set an appointment for later this evening?”

Other related “slow start-up skills” are also useful. If past arguments have melted down after 40+ minutes, agree up front to stop this discussion after 30 minutes. Speak about your concern and limit yourself to 6-7 minutes; then ask your partner to reflect back what he/she heard your concerns to be. Then give your spouse equal time to state his/her side of the story, after which you will reflect back what you hear his/her primary concern to be.

Moderation of energy and anger is the key element. Remember that if you take up too much time, space, volume, and intensity, your partner will be driven back into a self-protective walled-off silence. If you want a productive and a balanced fight, you must pull your energy down. As you learn the art of starting intense conversations gently, you will reap the benefit of a partner who does not withdraw (as much as in the past), and who will likely share much more of him/herself with you as the conversation stays moderate and your spouse feels safe enough to speak.

by Dr. Howard Lambert

Martin Luther King: Reflections from an Integral Elder

I was 27 when Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered in 1968 at the age of 39. Integral consciousness was mostly latent at that time, both in me and in the world. He was a harbinger of that consciousness. His “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington D.C. was prophetic of an integral world, even though that dream is not yet fully realized in 2019.

Martin Luther King: Reflections from an Integral ElderMy adopted daughter is primarily African American. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy and that of President Barack Obama are directly responsible for the evolving Integral world she is embracing wholeheartedly today. At 21 years old, she is a junior in college and active in politics, working to support women becoming elected to public office. Her amazing future is possible because no one, “trumpet” as they might, can destroy the scaffolding that these great American leaders have laid down.

On this great American holiday celebrating the life of Martin Luther King, I am deeply grateful.

By John Mariner,
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

Are You a Master of Dismissal?

Consider the number of times in your life that while arguing with someone, you have listened to them and said “Yes, but…” This is essentially a losing strategy in any conversation where your desired end state is closeness and mutual understanding. This is true because the verbal form of “Yes, but…” signals to the other person that you are engaged with them in a winner-take-all struggle. The word “yes” might be meant to communicate that you have understood what was just said, and you might have understood every single word of the message. However, you are inadvertently setting up a battle by using the word “but.” It often feels to the other person as if you have suddenly removed all of the pieces on a chess board and placed them in positions of your choosing. You now appear arrogant, righteous and controlling. You seem to be acting as if the information you are now adding to the conversation is so convincing that it will inevitably change their mind. It won’t work. It is an invitation to a duel.

conversation-yes-butWhat you are probably trying to create is a conversation in which there is an open exchange of thoughts, feelings and information, where everyone can contribute, speak and be heard. Such exchanges can be fun and exciting. You learn how other people think and feel, and you allow new information to influence your own position. There would be sharing between equals resulting in a superior outcome because the intelligence of the group is greater than the sum of its parts.

What the “Yes, but…” effectively does, whether intentional or not, is minimize the argument, intelligence and reasoning of the other person. You have moved into the position of being a master of dismissal. Even while you try to be fair and even-handed, you are perceived as self-righteous and pompous. The inevitable conclusion is that you should permanently strike the “Yes, but…” from your spoken vocabulary.

There are a wide variety of healthy alternatives for you to begin to use to invite balanced and fair exchanges. The simplest is the construction, “Yes, and…” When you use this form, you are adding to the conversation without negating that which has come before. You can even amplify this model by saying, “What really makes sense to me about what you just said is … And I would urge you to consider this…” By modeling such bridging techniques, you invite your partner to return the favor in his/her reply. You can also use curiosity and inquiry to develop additive dialogue techniques. In this style, you genuinely ask for explanation or expansion of what your partner said before you add what you would like him/her to consider from your point of view. It might sound like this: “I’m not sure I fully understand the point you are making here. Would you say more about it? I really want to see your view before I add my thoughts to the mix.”

It can also be useful to state out loud that what you most desire is not to win the argument, but to move together towards a consolidated resolution that incorporates the best of everybody’s thinking. It is not so important where the two of you end up; it is how you feel about each other and about the relationship as you approach your conclusion.

Finally, it is good to keep in mind that your joint decisions are not etched in stone. Either one of you could learn new information the next day that might cause both of you to shift your thinking and your preferences. Be gentle about how you express your wishes, and be cautious about pushing too hard to win an argument while sacrificing closeness and intimacy.

by Dr. Howard Lambert

Do You Always Make Sense?

The answer to this simple question is “yes.” But do you realize that the same is true for everyone else on the planet? People are like icebergs: we only get to see about 20% of them at any moment in time. The remaining 80% remains underwater. This includes their past history, traumas, life events, motivations, values, parenting, alcohol history, education, early teachings, etc. We rarely have the opportunity to ask someone who appears to be making little sense “What are you thinking and feeling that causes you to act this way?” However if we presume that some things inside that person are out of our sight and are having an influence on the current situation we can walk through life with more compassionate understanding for the apparently irrational behaviors of others.

Do You Always Make Sense?Imagine the following scenario: you are standing in a grocery store check-out line with about 20 items in your cart. You have not had a good day and you find yourself grumpy and irritable. In front of you is a 40-something aged woman carrying a small child and nothing but a single gallon of milk in her cart. You look at the express lines and see just a few people in those lines. “Shouldn’t she be in one of those lines?” You feel critical and angry. “What is she doing here? She is wasting my valuable time. What is wrong with her judgment?” You rant like this in your head as you wait your turn. Your blood pressure goes up as you get angry. To make matters worse when it is her time to checkout she hands the baby to the cashier who smiles and coos and puts the baby to her face. As more time goes by you can hardly restrain yourself from speaking angrily to the clerk. When you move up to the cash register the cashier smiles and asks if you are having a nice day. You control your anger and instead say in an irritated and mildly sarcastic tone “Cute kid.” As she rings up your items the cashier says sincerely: “Thank you. That is my baby. My husband was killed in Afghanistan five months ago, and now I have to work here to get ends to meet. That was my mom. She is only allowed to bring him by once a day. These brief visits are precious to me.”

Of course your perception and judgment of the woman and the situation change in an instant. Suddenly it all makes sense and you understand. Your anger washes away and you feel compassion for the woman, her son, her Mom and even for the fallen soldier.

So consider this the next time you are fighting with your spouse. You do not allow yourself to say “You are not making any sense!!” Instead you say, “Tell me what it is that allows you to see this situation the way that you do. From what I know and what I see I cannot figure out how you are viewing this.” This will enable you to adopt a more patient attitude that communicates respect and concern to your partner rather than judgment and arrogance. You now realize that whenever you say (or think) “You are not making sense” what you really mean is “You are not making sense to me.”

If only people would think and feel the way you do, they would always make sense to you. However, this is not likely to happen very often. That is because their hidden 80% is totally different from your unseen 80%. The more you live with this deep understanding of individual differences, the more you learn to be tolerant and even respectful of the differences in other peoples’ world views and value systems. The next time your partner seems to assert a ridiculous position or a cowboy driver speeds past you in the right lane and cuts in front of you, you can adopt a posture of curiosity and wonder to yourself what it is in their life that supports the behavior that seems so unreasonable to you.

If you cannot figure out “where your partner is coming from” do not attack their position, instead ask for more information!

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: 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

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