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Relationship Map™

In a prior discussion, Relationship Map™, we talked about Maps of the World, and you no doubt noticed that they are unique to the individual. You have your own such map, as do I, and so does your partner, your kids, and your boss.

So to recap for our present discussion, what is a Map of the World in the first place?

We use this term to explain how we as individuals make sense of the world around us. Think of it this way: Your friend wants to take you to lunch at a new restaurant. Neither of you has been there before, as it’s just opened. But you have an address. So you pull out a map (or the mapping app on your phone!) and scan how to best reach that address.

For the map to be useful, it should depict the streets you’ll encounter, other notable landmarks such as railroad tracks and bodies of water. That way, even as you plot the address, you can make note of the fact that you’ll turn left after you pass a bridge over a wide river, then turn right at the park. These landmarks will be represented by symbols, not actual, detailed depictions of each item. And while the landmarks and streets will hopefully be drawn to scale, they will of course not be same size and detail as the real items. That would make for one really large and hard to read map! If you’re using a smart phone, you would certainly go over your data plan – assuming the map was even useful.

NLP refers to maps in a very similar way. To make sense of the world around us, and to navigate within it, we create maps, or more simplistic and smaller, though to scale, representations of the outside world. We use these to make sense of what we see, what we experience, and to get from one place in our lives to another. We are avid map-makers, looking for ways to organize and simplify our experience to hopefully save steps, minimize trial-and-error, and achieve our goals more simply and with less struggle.

Such a map may include our beliefs, your values, experiences, generalizations about what we’ve learned, our prejudices, religious or spiritual convictions, our opinions, and so forth.

Think of it this way. Cartography is actually much more sophisticated today, but the earliest mapmakers followed a process much like the following:

 

  1. Notice the general shape of the river – document it on paper
  2. Notice the position of the mountains in relation to said river – document it, likewise
  3. Notice the forest to the west, and draw its location in relation to the river and mountains
  4. As you follow the river, notice where it forks, and how a particular rock formation would make a great landmark – then draw both into the emerging map
  5. As you begin planning your small town at that fork in the river, draw it in such a way that someone could find it with the map as a reference
  6. As the town develops, expand the map to include the streets you create, and the landmarks that fall within the boundaries – and draw these into the map. As you learn more about the landscape, mapmakers can add details to the map. Likewise, as you expand the town, adding streets, a city hall, parks, etc., they can draw in these additional details. The objective of the mapmaking process is to make it easy to find things without going overboard on the details. To paraphrase Albert Einstein, you want it to be as detailed as it needs to be – but no more so. If it gets too detailed, it threatens to become a life-size, exact picture of the landscape and the town. This is what Alfred Korzybski meant when he famously said, “The map is not the territory”. The point of a map is to be useful, not an actual-sized, exact photo of the landscape.

 

We use a similar process as we meet someone. Using the list of cartographer’s steps above as a model, two people create a map of their romantic relationship in a very similar way. Consider the following steps:

  1. Notice attractive person you would like to meet
  2. Introduce yourself and note signs of their corresponding interest – the first shared component of the Relationship Map™
  3. Identify your reason for being there – revealing your interests
  4. Other person reveals that they share your interest – the next component you two share – a second detail on your shared map
  5. Share with one another your additional interests, including taste in movies, music, books, artists, and find that you share several – additional components to add to a shared map
  6. The two of you agree that you already seem to have so much in common, and interest in learning more – then decide to meet again in a social setting. This might be a “date”.
  7. After having the opportunity to discuss your values, passions, history, spiritual and political views, among other things, you decide that you would like to continue learning about one another – your Relationship Map™ is developing still further.

Our Relationship Map™ begins to form even before our very first date. As soon as we begin interacting, and as we discover we have things in common, we are creating a shared map. So our Relationship Map™ actually begins as you strike up a conversation, before the two of you even agree to a first date.

The things that we have in common create the framework and foundation of the Relationship Map™. This includes shared likes, such as movies, art, music, and other interests, are the foundation and as we ask those questions, and as we answer these, we begin to build the map.

Each additional experience that you as a new couple find you share in common further enriches this Relationship Map™. Assuming the trend continues toward deepening the relationship, and in fairness, that doesn’t always happen, you may find that you are married to this person and have several children by the time you look up and notice it happening! When we live our lives on auto-pilot, rather than a life of our own design, we may wind up pleasantly surprised to find it worked out to our satisfaction. Just as you can purchase a lottery ticket and it may win you a large sum of money.

It’s also very likely that when taking a chance like that, exerting no influence or skill upon it, that that outcome is less than favorable.

Though you may also deliberately create each piece of the emerging map with your partner, and therefore get to savor each delicious step! Just as each of use is continually creating maps to make sense of the world in which we live, we are hopefully also updating those maps to ensure they remain accurate.

Consider a city map as an example. One that was published in 1970. At that time, the street layout may have been perfectly accurate, the location of the parks and bodies of water absolutely represented in the map. Though since then highways may have been created, new streets laid, the city itself may have grown, necessitating “growing” the map to keep pace. By 2013, that map may bear only a passing resemblance to the actual lay of the land. So trying to use it for navigation may be very challenging, and likely to wind up with a lost traveler.

In other words, it’s entirely possible to allow the natural map-making process to create your life map and Relationship Map™. By making you aware of the process, we encourage your actively participate in creating your map, and overall in designing your life, your love, and your happiness.

The same thing happens with life maps, Maps of the World. Perhaps the map, your generalizations, beliefs, and attitudes, may have served you very well for the first fifteen or so years of life. But once you started high school, certainly by the time you reach college, many of those attitudes may have been refined, updated, or entirely rejected, in favor of more useful attitudes and beliefs. Just as when drawing a map, your accuracy and usefulness are always up for questioning, so too are the personal maps we craft. As long as they serve us and make our lives easier, we tend to leave them intact. But when we encounter situations where they don’t serve us, or perhaps they even make things more difficult, we must go back and update them.

The key take-away is that whether we intend to or not, whether we actively participate or not, we as individuals are continually creating Maps of the World. And in the same way, from the very beginning of a relationship, throughout its life, we are continually creating  our Relationship Map™. Understanding key differences in our individual Maps of the World will provide clues to why our developing Relationship Map™ is challenged. And as we learn to become more skilled mapmakers, we can design and enjoy the life and the love relationship that we have always wanted.

Relationship Map™ is your guide to making not only the journey magnificent, but also the destination what you both desire.

Learn more about how we can introduce you to your Relationship Map™ and how you can take control, using it to create greater intimacy, more love, better communication and tenderness, and more fulfillment for your relationship. Starting now!

 

People tend to get good at what we do frequently. Sounds obvious, right? Well in addition to studying a field, remaining current with new innovations, the really great practitioners tend to just love that field. We are continually looking at how a new contribution to the fields of interpersonal dynamics, the study of relationships, hoping to spot a great new contributor to that field.

The old adage, “separating the wheat from the chaffe” tends to apply in such pursuits. For every great new idea, there may be dozens, even hundreds, that are impractical, ineffective, misinformed, or even dangerous.

I was reading a marketing pitch for a therapist who was promoting his idea of winning back a partner…who didn’t want to be won. The idea was that when one partner in a relationship has decided that they no longer want it, the other partner can talk them into it.

Now we’re not talking about seduction, which we actually think has a place within a happy marriage. Think about it: Wouldn’t it be nice if your partner didn’t just “expect” sex on “sex night”? (And by the way, kudos to you if either concept in quotes seems silly to you!) Wouldn’t it be nice to be wanted, desired, and yes, seduced…? Of course it would. And statistically when people who cheat are asked why they did so, they typically cite “sex” as the cause. But when they’re pressed to provide details, (i.e. “Yes, but what will the sex DO for you?”), they wind up saying that they wanted to feel wanted. Desired. Coveted. Needed. So within a monogamous relationship, we believe seduction and playful foreplay is a very good thing.

That said, his technique focused on changing the partner’s mind, bringing them back in line with your thinking. As changework professionals, using tools like NLP and hypnosis, we would be hypocritical if we claimed that such a thing wasn’t possible. Of course it is. But overall, we would challenge the wisdom and intention of such a pursuit.

Moreover, the language the therapist chose causes us concern. He spoke of changing “even the most recalcitrant” partner.

Think about that for a moment. Merriam Webster (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/recalcitrant)   defines “recalcitrant” as “stubbornly refusing to obey rules or orders. Full Definition of RECALCITRANT. 1. : obstinately defiant of authority or restraint.” You get the idea. The underlying presupposition is that your partner is not, in fact, your partner at all, but some mindless automaton awaiting your orders. That doesn’t sound very loving or respectful to us. Further, consider the implications of that statement – that your partner just doesn’t seem to remember who’s the boss! (S)he doesn’t want to conform to your “restraint and authority”! How dare (s)he! This definition just summons the image of an abusive spouse to us.

We firmly believe that you cannot have a long-term, love relationship that isn’t based on mutual respect. The word “recalcitrant” or arguably its antithesis, “obedience”, does not belong in any list of adjectives for either member of that relationship. If it fits your relationship, we challenge you to make it healthy, because right now, it’s not.

What does that word remind you of, however? Does anyone remember the antiquated marriage vow that included the word, “obey”? As in, “Do you take this man, ______, as your lawfully wedded husband, to love, honor, and obey him…”

Suddenly, we gave the therapist a bit of a break – after all, he wasn’t weird or some sort of pervert, he had apparently just forgotten which century we are in! However, we respectfully suggest that if he can’t even get the century right, his program is probably not one we ought to trust! He might afterward try to make you a great deal on one of those new “horseless carriages the young folks are so fond of!” Then muttering under his breath: “Dang contraptions’ll end up being the death of us all!”

It actually reminds us of another well-intentioned (though similarly out of touch) therapist we encountered and discussed in an earlier article, Abstinence to Make the Heart Grow Fonder? Maybe the two of these folks could meet up, enjoy a nice dinner, a bottle of wine, or whine, as the case may be, some soft music, moonlight, and perhaps they could in one another find the answers they both appear to need. Alright, enough about them.

As most of us learn how to be a partner, and how to participate in a relationship through life experience, we’re not surprised that earlier in life, relationships might take on such a simplistic, primitive air. But as we mature, learn more about how to make relationships work, we (hopefully) begin to learn that our partner deserves our love and respect. (S)he is a great person, or we wouldn’t have chosen them. And one of the easiest ways to lose them is to show them no respect.

It doesn’t stop there. This fellow even called it a “myth” to believe that to improve a challenged marriage, we need better communication skills. He completely misunderstood what is meant by “communication skills” in the context of a relationship. Communication does not refer to witty repartee, clever debate skills, and good volume and timbre to the voice. No. We’re talking, as is every other relationship coach or therapist we’ve ever observed, about the ability to both convey your own ideas, needs, fears, hurts, loves, in a manner clear enough for your partner to understand and accept. As importantly, meaning that first portion is meaningless if you miss out on this second part – you must be able to comprehend when your partner conveys their own such information. If either of you projects (referring to the Freudian defense mechanism in which we, disliking something we see in ourselves, search for it, or project it onto someone else) your own issues onto your partner, or if either of you is guilty of “premature closure” (our term referring to assuming that we understand the communication before it’s actually complete, and even sometimes before it has even been started!), then communication skills are lacking. Likewise if either of you just doesn’t pay attention, and really listen to what your partner is trying to say, communication halts. All of this sounds simple to do well, as we do it every day. However it takes real practice to do it correctly, deliberately, and with an attitude of respect, concern, and love.

Take any lingering conflict, say the ongoing Middle East crisis, in which Arab and Israeli people have been warring for seemingly forever. They have overcome the language barrier. They comprehend the semantics as each side speaks. Perhaps they even bother to actively listen and understand. But there is a tradition of mutual disrespect and lack of concern for the other party. Imagine how much worse it might be if as each side began to speak, the other just knew what he was going to say, (premature closure) and had begun considering his rebuttal.  Communication skills involves actively participating in a dialogue, which means that as the other person speaks, you invest energy into comprehending them. Then when it’s your turn, you consider what you’ll say, and only then do you speak.  And that therapist didn’t think we need that in relationships. Nice.

When we work with couples, the Big Three issues mentioned are: Finances, Sex, and “Feeling appreciated”. But when we begin to lift the covers, so to speak, it is rare the communication skills are so well developed that they have no deficiency in the area. Our reasoning is that if they had that one locked down, they could effectively resolve their differences on even the Big Three, find a workable compromise, and likely even a better solution than they’d previously tried – one that meets both people’s needs even better. Communication has a funny way, when done right, of making everything work better…or if handled badly, flushing it right down the–well you get it.

Never underestimate the importance of developing your communication skills, improving your ability to both understand your partner, and to effectively convey your own thoughts. Without that skill, you both will be drifting toward your own version of the Middle East crisis. And you only have to check the news to verify that is not where you want your relationship to be.

And lastly, remember that it all begins with love and respect. Even with effective communication at a semantic level, if either of you disrespects or does not care about the other, you will also find yourself wandering into your own version of the Gaza Strip, unable or unwilling to focus on positive solutions, looking for creative ways to solve problems, find opportunities, and make your relationship better. You’ll instead find yourselves in conflict like the eternally warring factions in that region. And you only have to check the news…

Appreciation can be such an elusive thing. On one hand, we all know what the word means. In the context of a relationship, it refers to experiencing and showing gratitude for someone else, perhaps for something specific they do. Perhaps for something as global as being wonderful.

The most insidious road to losing that sense of appreciation is taking someone for granted. Let’s say that your partner went out of their way to do something nice for you. Something you really love and, yes, appreciate. Now what if you became so accustomed to that nice something that you came to take it for granted? It’s easy to lose that sense of gratitude and appreciation for someone doing something that they seemingly do all the time. How special is it when it happens every day?

Well, the answer to that question is a personal choice we all make, whether we notice or not. After all, lots of things happen every day that make our lives better. The Earth orbited around the sun in just the right way that sunrise came when expected. You woke up and found that you were yet again alive and at least relatively healthy. You took a deep breath and noticed that yet again, you could breathe. We realize that there will be mild exceptions to this. I hear an objection from someone in the back who must cart around an oxygen tank. “I don’t wake up able to breathe”, he says. Yet, though he requires assistance from that oxygen tank, he is breathing. I drove past a cemetery the other day, and it was filled with people who were much less capable of breath than he. So let’s not nitpick! We’ll bet that there are a dozen great things in your life that happen every single day without fail. Just as your partner may do the same nice thing for you every day.

The next step is deciding what all that means. If it’s just something to take for granted, because it will always be there, you allow yourself to be robbed in two ways. First, your lack of appreciation is something others can see clearly in you. Who is going to continue doing nice things for you if you never show appreciation? Meaning that at some point, the thing you take for granted may very well disappear. Now I hear the refrain of “Don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.” Very true – we often don’t.

But there’s that second thing being stolen from you when you take things for granted. A huge component of a happy and prosperous life is feeling, deeply and personally, appreciation, gratitude for all the wonderful things in your life. That incredible feeling of fulfillment, joy, satisfaction, of overflowing with happiness, can vanish as well. It can be taken from you and all you have to do to invite it is to take that gift, that gesture, that nice thing someone does for you for granted.

If you instead take a moment and, just choosing one of the things in your life for which you are grateful, you have taken charge of this process, and you can amplify your emotion, making your joy and fulfillment rise like boiling water in a kettle. If you keep it up, your life will be overflowing with excitement and happiness. There’s also been a good amount written already about how gratitude is the doorway to achieve more. 

Now back to what your partner feels in all this. Consider two distinct scenarios in which your partner has yet again done something nice for you. Let’s assume that he or she is not the sort of person who does such things solely for the kudos and the thanks. Sure, that’s nice, and most of us like to hear those things. But let’s assume that’s not the only reason. Mainly because it probably isn’t the only reason!

Maybe the first time the good deed goes unnoticed, they brush it off. Maybe the second or third, the same, they just let it roll of their back, and keep putting the energy into their kindness. But think about it, would you continue to expend effort, giving something for which you receive no acknowledgement, no thank you, no gratitude, no sense of having done something good? For various reasons, primarily that you’re human, let’s guess that you won’t. Like most people, you will stop doing something for which you’re not being reinforced on at least some level. It even works with animals.

Here’s the tough part – it also works on your partner. If you fail to acknowledge and express true gratitude, you can expect that behavior to eventually stop. It might take a while, or it might happen immediately. But sooner or later, as would any of us, your partner will stop doing that nice thing for you. Behaviorists call this extinction.

Working with couples, some of the interesting things we’ve heard come both sides of that discussion. In one situation, the young man was a building contractor and the young lady a realtor. She developed the habit of putting a Twinkie in her husband’s lunch box every morning. She knew that, despite his being very macho and “manly” in his attitude, he had a tremendous sweet tooth. He’d once told her how he’d loved Twinkies since he was a kid. With a desire to please him, she began adding a Twinkie every day. He at first was delighted, and while he admitted to wanting to thank her and kiss her for it, he repressed the urge. It just wasn’t “manly” to act that way.

Nonetheless, he came to expect that Twinkie, and he found himself looking forward to lunch specifically because of it. Though he was taking it for granted, it didn’t seem like such a bad thing to him. After all, she must know that he appreciates, it, right?

Meanwhile, she had been giddy, knowing that she had tickled a fancy that only she knew about. She delighted in packing his lunch box every morning, fully aware of how happy it would likely make him. She imagined how he would light up and beam, thanking her profusely, covering her with kisses, insisting that he make her dinner, and dozens of other possible gestures of gratitude she was soon to enjoy. So far, he had been reserved, but sooner or later, that grateful, excited little boy she knew was there would jump out and thank her. He just had do! Right? (Are you beginning to spot the incorrect assumptions, inherent?)

After awhile, she began to wonder about it. He never said anything, never thanked her, never mentioned the Twinkie. She began to lose all the joy she’d gotten from packing it, thinking that perhaps she had misunderstood. Maybe his “man of few words” approach to communication simply prevented him from stating what was, to her, becoming increasingly obvious – he had outgrown the Twinkies and probably gave them to someone else or even threw them away. The little boy had grown up, and just didn’t perhaps have the heart to tell her.

She confided that this truly hurt her feelings. After all, she’d expressed this gesture out of love for him, as a woman who could appreciate the little boy in him that loved sweets. For him to ignore her gesture wasn’t, obviously, just a rejection of the “creme”-filled golden sponge cake with the 500 year shelf life. She swore that once she saw an expiration date message stamped on the box which read, “Best if used before the Year 3000”. I chided her that she was imagining things – everyone knew that those things actually never expire. I was quite sure that those Twinkies would be just as fresh as they ever were, all the way through to the mid-4000’s.

(By way of disclaimer, Chris likes Twinkies, despite not indulging in the. But there’s no denying that if you found a time machine, and you managed to go forward in time thousands of years after humanity dies off, you would still find Twinkies in their plastic packaging, their cardboard boxes long ago having rotted away. But once you opened the plastic, you’d find that the cakes were still edible! Or at least, as edible as they ever had been.)

But back to her feelings. His lack of appreciation told her that, whether he liked Twinkies anymore or not, he didn’t appreciate her gesture. The next step many of us take in our minds is the one she took next. She concluded that he didn’t actually appreciate her. 

So while she stopped packing Twinkies, with more than a bit of repressed resentment, she simultaneously felt the hurt within her growing.

This, by the way, is the part where most men become confused. All this is happening within her, and face it, with us explaining the process, kind of a play-by-play commentary, it makes sense, doesn’t it? Yet to a lot of men, taking the gesture for granted just doesn’t seem like a big deal. At least in the moment. And it’s that moment that counts.

So the “amazing, disappearing ‘good thing'” doesn’t just refer to gifts and treats like Twinkies. In reality, it refers to our relationship.

At the same time, to a lot of women, the lack of appreciation for her effort seems like not just a big deal, but a monumental one. After all, in the above example, she wasn’t just being rejected for her gesture. She herself was being rejected, taken for granted.

There are volumes we could explore about how to show appreciation to your partner. But let’s begin with this – look at any effort that person makes that is in any way out of the ordinary. Now narrow that list down by focusing in on the things that don’t directly benefit themselves. Maybe it’s a Twinkie in your lunch box. Maybe it’s taking the trash out without being asked. Maybe it’s being quiet when you take a nap, or rubbing your feet after a stressful day. Maybe it’s suggesting a “spa day” after a tough week. Whatever the gesture, recognize within it what it does for you. If they care about you, that is most likely a gesture they intend for you, to make your life better, to ease your stress, to make you smile, to make you feel loved. Assume positive intentions. This is your partner we’re talking about.

The irony is that the gesture might be breathtakingly impactful to you. Or it might be a subtle nicety. But it’s for you, and someone, out of their caring for you, is going to the effort to do it for you. How does it feel? Do you like it? Would you like it to continue?

If yes, use all your senses to say thank you until you find the right combination for your partner. Some of us want to hear “Thank you, that made me feel great!” Some of us want to be pulled close and kissed with gratitude. Some of us just want the grateful embrace, or to see a big smile as we are thanked. There is no universally wrong answer, and once you begin learning about NLP, you start to notice that there are some ways that will work better with your partner than others. There are some ways that, while not better overall, are indeed very much better for that person. And since the two of you have so much wrapped up in one another, what’s very much better for your partner, if you’re smart, will become very important to you.

Feel that gratitude. Show that gratitude. Experience that gratitude together. Connect with one another in a place of Gratitude. Let it fill your spirit and bless your relationship. Let it weave a sumptuous bond between you and your partner, holding you together even as the stresses of life and the people around you strive to pull you in separate directions.

Gratitude is one of the few gifts we can give simultaneously to one another and to ourselves. Give prodigiously!

 

 

 

The title for this article comes of course from a traditional line in a Western wedding vow. Yet how often do we consider each line of that vow prior to making it? We recently got an opportunity to experience this in our own lives.

One of us had been involved in a serious car accident, which coincides with a noticeable gap in our posting activity. Despite wearing a seat belt, and his car not actually moving (traffic was backed up, waiting for an opportunity to turn onto another street, and a driver in a car behind did not notice all the red brake lights ahead of him. Well, if the lights hadn’t tipped him off, I’m sure the abrupt STOP and accompanying crunch of metal and shattering of glass filled him in!

When we are hit where we live, a piece of ourselves vital to our everyday activities, is threatened, it can be very frightening. For a factory worker who loses a hand, a runner who injures a leg, or for someone like us who works with technical data and human behavioral strategies, our brains are very important to us. The resulting concussion was very frightening indeed. The brain has, in some ways, a great deal of resiliency, yet research has also shown that some aspects of brain-controlled or brain-managed function are actually quite fragile. Damage of certain types and of certain profundity can radically alter behavior, personality, and yes, skill. This is not to blow this injury, which thankfully was temporary, out of proportion. All due respect to those who have suffered far worse. Yet it was every bit as frightening for us to consider the possibility that the injury would have devastating and far-reaching impact. No doctor could tell us in the first month how long it would take, or if complete healing would ever take place. There are no guarantees, we were told.

The medical answer was to take pain killers for the headaches, anti-nausea medication for the nausea and vertigo, and to get lots and lots of bed rest. Concentrating on anything at all, a book, a work-related activity, a movie, would lead to dizziness and severe headaches after an hour or two, at most.

If such an injury could threaten the career of someone who uses their brain for a living, consider as well the uncertainty that can accompany personality shifts, erratic behavior, much decreased patience and much shortened temper. This, we would suggest, certainly qualifies under the “in sickness…” part of the vow.

But every challenge we face, we don’t face alone. We face it with our partner, with our loved ones. We can choose to try and struggle with it alone as well – but once you’re in a relationship, nothing you do exists in a vacuum. Whether you choose to be strong and silent or not, your partner is suffering as well. All who care about you are suffering much of the same uncertainty, fear, anxiety, and though they also are worried about you, it’s only human to also consider the ramifications for themselves and for the relationship, the family unit, itself. If the person who’s been in the accident, or gotten sick, is a bread-winner, it is natural to wonder if that role is in jeopardy. Likewise if the person in the accident or sick is the sole person to put the kids to bed at night, it makes sense that if they can’t, who will? And will it be as effective, as any break in routine can be stressful at first.

You the couple however are the foundation of everything in your home. You are the core of the family unit, whether you have twenty kids or two point five, whether you gave birth to them or adopted them. Or whether you rescued them from the animal shelter! They all look to you to guide the family. The good news is that vow we mentioned earlier. It has the ability to bind you together, giving you each the confidence that you can do anything together (you might be surprised – you actually CAN do anything together). When we recommit actively to our partner and to our relationship, we reinvigorate it with our love and energy. That gives us the certainty that, to borrow another common phrase from that vow, in good times or bad, we can count on that person to stick with us, to help guide our family, and to make it through whatever challenges life throws our way.

There are a thousand methods for HOW to achieve this. What we are surprised to see around us at times is how few people even want to bother. But each of us in this world is a length of rope. We can be worn down, strengthened, distressed by the elements, even sealed against those elements. We are strong, yes, but with frustration and lack of care, we can also become brittle and easily torn. When we create a loving relationship, truly commit to it, and vow to care for it and nurture it, we are weaving our own rope with that of our partner. Each loving force we bring into the family, whether it’s kids, either the human or the four-legged kind, adds another length of rope to our braid. Soon, we have such a strong, resilient length of braided rope that it’s like those amazing ropes that hold huge boats to the dock. It seems that nothing can break them.

And when we find ourselves “in sickness”, that amazing rope can sustain us and reassure everyone in the family that we will survive this. Indeed, we are believers in looking for ways to grow stronger and more capable as a result of the injury. In much the same way as being exposed to a virus can help inoculate against the full blown illness, we believe that small, manageable tests can enhance the love relationship, what we often call the “loveadventure”. Even if in the middle of the stress, we can’t imagine how we will persevere, how we will survive it, either as individuals or as a family.

But survive you will because you have taken your vow seriously. Whether or not you are actually married to your partner, your energy is fully capable of doing all we have described here. It’s a beautiful thing, and one of the best things you can do for your own health.

We challenge you, when facing such a challenge, to pull together with your partner, to resist the temptation to lash out and vent your frustration or anger against the one person you can count on to be at your side. They deserve better than that. And when you consider the long term consequences of either building your rope or tearing it apart, so do you.

You deserve to be happy, as does everyone else. Actually, using the word “deserve” illustrates a common misconception, that happiness must be earned and deserved before any of us can have it. Though have you ever watched the very young at play? Whether human babies, puppies, kittens, just about any breathing thing is a great example. They all require so little to be happy. Give a kid a large box and he will have a blast. Give a kitten a piece of yarn and the same will invariably happen.

Though for many of us, this simple pleasure, being happy, becomes much more complicated somewhere along the way. Once we introduce rules into our happiness, conditions that never existed before, we make it much harder to be happy.

Then when we begin interacting with others, building relationships, happiness can seem even more elusive. Many of us develop rules that others must treat us a certain way, say particular things, and do specific things in order for us to be happy. When at one time, all it took was a cool cardboard box!

It is easy to give the keys to our bliss to someone else, and though it’s not the most ideal way – we are still all ultimately responsible for our own joy – but if we manage to find someone trustworthy, someone who loves us and will embrace joyfully the responsibility of helping us to be happy, maybe it’s not such a bad thing.

The really difficult part happens when we set up rules for happiness, and then generalize them to others. To family members, to our inlaws, our coworkers, sometimes even to strangers on the street! Think about it, haven’t you had the experience of another driver cutting you off in traffic on the way to work? How happy were you about it? Most of us would likely say that we weren’t happy at all about it. But these things pass, right? So what about our being upset by that incident, not letting it fade, instead adding all sorts of self-talk that reinforces our having been wronged, insulted, attacked? What about working ourselves into a frenzy, so that by the time we get to the coffee shop, we share our less-than-stellar attitude with the barista, and other people in line? How helpful do you think that will make them?

Further, do we have the right to dump on someone else’s day just because we had a run-in with a bad driver? What if, as has possibly happened to you, you just had additional incidents, products of your frustration, irritation, impatience, and it just made it worse? Like spilling your coffee as soon as you got back into your car? Then getting to work and your attitude sets someone else off, and you again feel insulted, attacked. Before long, your entire day appears to be one disaster after another, a true “disasterpiece”, not the masterpiece it could be.

The same dynamic happens in families all the time. One person is careless with another’s feelings, perhaps takes her for granted, and she feels sleighted, attacked, insulted. She decides not to speak to the perceived offender, who perhaps doesn’t even notice how much angry energy he’s exuding. He in turn perceives her sleight, her rejection of his own feelings, as she defends herself.

Such toxicity is very easy to create, and as we do so, it’s like we’re soaking in our own toxic waste. But rather than climb out of it and clean up, many times we instead go on “autopilot”, take no responsibility for our own feelings and actions, and blame others rather than just forgive and move on.

Forgiveness is a powerful thing, and too often it’s incorrectly perceived as a weak gesture. Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s the one who forgives that manages to let go of the negativity, pull himself (or herself) out of the toxicity, and find their happiness again.

Having just gone through the holidays, we’ve had many opportunities to observe this. Family members may experience a falling out, perhaps even through one party’s actions. And perhaps they really were in the wrong. Does that blame have anything to do with our toxicity? Of course not! Whether I am to blame or you are, we’re both struggling through this, and not getting what we need. Our happiness is on hold until we can work out our feelings, sort through our pride, and just forgive.

A giant in the field of Neuro-linguistic Programming, Steve Andreas, wrote a powerful article years ago that makes a fantastic point – forgiveness is for you, not necessarily for the other party.

We mention that because people who cling to grudges often are the same ones who think forgiveness is a sign of weakness. They will argue that the other person is to blame, and therefore they must apologize. Only then will such people let the other person off the hook. But as we cling to a grudge, we aren’t really living. We aren’t happy, we are simply clinging to a moment of anger. That suspends our ability to live and to be happy. The point is to find the ability to forgive within you, let go of the grudge so that you can move on, and again to be happy.

A dear family member once told us that in order to make way for new things, you must get rid of the old. If you only have finite closet space, for instance, and you want a new wardrobe, you will need to pull out the old things you don’t wear anymore, give them to someone who needs them more, and then you have room for new clothes. Keep trying to add the new without the other part of that process and you will have closets so bursting at the seams that your home looks terrible and you can’t find anything. Our minds and hearts are the same way. Make room for greatness, for happiness, creativity, playfulness, and bliss by letting go of the old junk that doesn’t serve you. It’s time to forgive wrongs that others have dropped on you – no matter how wrong you just know they are! 

Why should you take the first step? Because this is your life and it’s too short to devote years to  being upset, angry, bitter, or sad. It’s time right now to figure out who you need to forgive in this world (and it may even be yourself…) and “make like Nike” — “just do it”.

If your relationship needs a bit of a jump-start, look very honestly at whether you might have an area or two in which you have the power to change it, whether there’s any place you could have already forgiven your partner, his or her parents, friends, anyone who you might perceive wronged you. You have this power. You can reclaim your happiness. It’s time.

Your Sacred Spaces, Part I

Some of us will see that title and think we’re talking about a new agey concept that potentially could threaten existing common beliefs about spirituality, religion, and so forth.

Not so much. We’re going to explore something that you need, and you probably already have in some form. Something very practical and we would say necessary.

We all need some activity, some “place” (whether physical, mental, emotional, metaphysical, whatever suits you) we can go where we are absolutely loved and accepted. In the old Cheers TV show, it was a bar “where everyone knows your name”, for some people it’s a favorite retreat, a hunting lodge, a church. Whatever it is for you, we challenge you to create another one, one that can recharge your relationship and make it vibrant and crackle with energy and passion.

Think about it for a moment. Can you go to your partner with anything? Can you trust him or her with all your secrets, all your worries, all your hopes and dreams? Too often in our society, that person is one from whom we keep secrets, and if you’ve grown accustomed to doing that, then you must think we’re out of our minds on this one. But hear us out. There’s a lot to be gained here.

“Intimacy” isn’t just sex, of course. (A pause here to let you adjust and, to maintain decorum, naturally agree!) Intimacy refers to an intensely personal level of sharing and connection. Too often we teach our children, as we were often taught, to not share, to close ourselves off from deeply personal connections. And if we had any question along the way, popular music tells us that love leads to pain, that love can’t be trusted, and that it will lead to heartbreak in the end.

So how can you be blamed for not creating such an intense level of intimacy in your relationship? Wouldn’t that just invite disaster?

Again, not so much. Murphy’s Law is a cute, quaint way of explaining away an undesired outcome. But it’s hardly scientific, you could even call it downright superstitious. And there’s no reason to believe that loving completely, trusting absolutely, and sharing intimately with the right person will lead to anything but bliss.

Note our caveat – for anything good, someone will come along and attempt to exploit it. That seems to be a given, so one of the skills we teach and advocate is assessing someone’s intentions, evaluating whether they are worthy of this amazing gift. NLP calls this skill “calibration”, and it can be incredibly effective in separating those who would take advantage of us from those who want to share themselves as fully as we will.

So what we’re suggesting here is that, in addition to the peace you derive from fishing, from knitting, from kayaking down white rapids, whatever you do to achieve a sense of “sacred space”, that you create such a space with your partner. it produces very fertile soil for your relationship, and we’ve seen people who complained of “getting into a rut” fall in love all over again, rediscover their partner as an exciting, engaging, and vital force in their lives. Don’t you deserve such a powerful experience yourself?

Perhaps you’re put off by the adjective, “sacred”, but in many traditions, the notion transcends religion. After all, even if your religious faith is very important to you, don’t you also have activities that most would consider secular, that nonetheless rejuvenate you and spiritually recharge you?

We hope so because those moments are powerful touchstones in life. Without them, it would be easy to see your life as one routine overlapping another, from birth, through adolescence, to adulthood, eventually to death. The routines may become more elaborate, but without those sacred spaces, points along the way where we reflect, think, or for many of us, stop thinking for awhile. Just be ourselves with no abstractions or complications.

Life challenges us every day, offering opportunities for growth and chances to struggle a bit, to remember that we’re really alive. We need more than just facing them like a machine. Remember Terminator 2, in which no matter what Arnold and Sarah Connor did to escape, the Robert Patrick new-and-improved Terminator model just kept mechanically coming after them? We’re not actually like that. With enough adversity, haven’t you felt yourself want to shout, “Damn! Why can’t just one thing go right today?!” That’s the kind of thing we say when we lack a sacred space. For one friend of ours, it’s the middle of a pond on a fishing boat. No cell phone, no noise, just him, fish, bait, and an ice chest of beer. (No judgments here, your sacred spaces are your own, and we won’t criticize!)

How much easier would it be for you in your relationship if you and your partner could really talk, really share, and really be there for one another? What if you could create a sacred space together, one you could retreat to when life becomes a bit too demanding?

In Part II we will explore ways you can create this. For now, let’s just consider what kind of a powerful difference it could make in your life and relationship.

It could be like magic.

Assuming Intention

One of the most insidious of creatures haunting the castle that is your relationships is that of Assuming Intention. This is a more specific example of what the great hypnotherapist Milton H. Erickson referred to as “mind reading”.

The gist is this, and don’t feel bad as you notice examples of your doing this, perhaps even today: Someone takes an action and you interpret an intent behind it. In criminal law, this is a an important distinction, and we suggest, it matters everywhere – whether or not someone intended what you believe they did.

A criminal example might be that a gunman shoots another person. It’s possible that the first person shooter planned the shooting for days, weeks, carefully selecting their weapon and method of attack. Until you know more, however, it’s also possible that the first person was cleaning their gun, and accidentally shot the second person. Another example the law recognizes is that the first person had the gun, ready to defend himself, and he and the other person wound up in an argument. In a rage, the first person draws and fires the weapon, killing the other person, though without premeditation. Further complicating this is that the two people may have had the argument, the second person noticed the gun in the other person’s belt, tried to take it away, and in the confusion, shot himself. In all these examples, the law concerns itself not only with what happened, but what each person intended. It can be the difference between a charge of manslaughter and first degree murder.

Isn’t your life as important as a criminal case you hear about on the news? We suggest that assuming intention is almost always dangerous business, especially when it’s happening to you.

A somewhat silly contrast illustrates the same point in the form of an old joke. Two psychologists pass in the hall and the first say, “Have a nice day!”. The other frowns and says to himself, “I wonder what he means by that…” It’s therefore possible to either over-analyze intention or to assume the worst, needlessly.

Consider a more likely example in your own life. Your coworker walks up to you and asks if you have completed your newest project, adding, “The boss is on a terror today…and looking for heads.”

Is your coworker taunting you, assuming that you are fearful or insecure in your position? Or does he have the highest regard for you and does not want you accidentally getting into the line of the boss’ fire? Are these the only two possibilities? Of course not! There are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of different intentions behind the warning. To assume an intention too innocuous may in fact lead us to not be on guard. However, as is more often the case in our own experience, to assume an intention too dire creates unnecessary, even debilitating stress and suspicion.

We often interpret such meanings, differentiating the likely intention, via context. Sometimes that’s the tone of voice, the facial expression and body language. Other times we just assume that we know what the other person means. It’s that area that concerns us today.

Intimate relationships are like fine thread. Some people associate them with chains, bonds of some sort, but we recommend that you not associate your relationship with anything you consider limiting or unpleasantly restraining. We like the metaphor of thread because as we sew two pieces of cloth together, each stitch creates more strength, more resilience. When we just begin, and have only completed a few stitches, the cloth is easily torn apart. But each subsequent stitch creates more durability, more ability to sustain the strains and challenges that life often introduces. Some couples pause their stitching at some point, decide that’s good enough, and leave it alone. The fabric of the relationship may be as strong as it ever will become for them. Relationships in which the participants don’t bother to respect their fabric, so to speak, may very well tear at the stitches, pulling them out over time. They may find, after five or seven years together, that their fabric is only tenuously held together, hanging, as it were, by a thread. Relationships in which participants truly care about nurturing the relationship will continue to sew together for a lifetime, and each year, despite challenges and adversity, and repeated, shall we say, learning experiences, the fabric of their relationship is hundreds, perhaps thousands, of times stronger than when they had first begun.

One way we can assume intention in a positive manner is to assume good things from our partner. Our experience tells us that in a rewarding relationship, our partner is not likely trying to scare us, create stress, or unnerve us at all. So this is a more realistic assumption, at least, than assuming the worst. We can assume positive intentions from him or her, such that even an interpretation of meaning sews our fabric more securely. More often, however, we work with couples who carelessly cut or rip those threads as they assume a negative intention. Consider the following list. In the first category

You are up late at night working on an important project. Your partner brings you a cup of coffee.

Assumed negative intention (ANI): He or she is irritated that you are still up, but figures it’s a lost cause, you’re going to stay away from them so they may as well surrender. You hate it when they just don’t seem to understand how important this is!

Assumed positive intention (API): He or she would likely prefer you come to bed, but understands how important this project is to you, and perhaps to the whole family. They just want to show their support and love for you. You love feeling so appreciated and respected!

Consider another example. On a pleasant Saturday morning, you look out the window into the back yard. The grass should have been mowed a week ago and is now going to be a tremendous chore. You don’t relish it and truthfully would prefer to do something else. As you stare at the task ahead, your partner brings you your yard gloves.

ANI: Your partner expects you to get off your lazy butt and get to work! Doesn’t he or she know how tired you are from the week? Would it kill them to just let you begin your weekend slowly? You hate it when he or she is so insensitive to your needs!

API: Your partner recognizes your body language, knowing the yard has to be mowed. They wish dearly that it was not going to be such a chore, but can see from your actions that you are already recognizing the need to do it. They want to be as supportive as they can, and bring you your gloves. You love feeling so understood and supported!

The most significant aspect to all this is that, just as every action has an equal and opposite reaction, the assumed intention sets a direction for your reaction. Your partner, or coworker, or anyone else for that matter, has just performed an action. You can assume the worst, the best, or any place in between, but the question isn’t even which is the most accurate. It’s which will be the most helpful. You now must react in some fashion. As you do so, what will your frame of mind be? That part is always up to you, by the way, and the trick is to choose a frame that will support whatever outcome you want. Will assuming that the other person hates you and just was looking for a great way to zing you help you or hurt you? Will it assist you in reaching your outcome or impede you? When it comes to intimate relationships, assuming a positive intention is nearly always useful. The alternative also holds true nearly all the time – to assume a negative intention is nearly always harmful.

Play with this a bit this week and consider the possible APIs versus ANIs you could find in your partner’s actions. Then consider what outcome is most likely as you select one over the other. Remember, you’re not trying to determine which intention is correct. You are only striving to determine the likely outcome of assuming an intention. “If I assume (s)he is trying to insult me and kick me into gear, how will I feel and how will I likely respond? Moreover, how will my partner likely respond to that reaction?” We caution you about that because too often when couples assume their partner’s intention, we get caught up in proving ourselves right, whatever that assumption was. That’s about the most unuseful thing you can do, and you want to focus instead on what will help you reach a desired outcome instead of a less desirable one.

We’ll explore this further in part II, shortly. Have fun, and let’s come back and explore how this can help make your relationship better, more fulfilling, and happier.