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Finding Happiness Ever Laughter

Laughter is the best medicine. That’s absolutely true. And laughter is medicinal in ways other than that which you can presently imagine. Far more.

Laughter signals our brains to release chemicals into our bodies that are in themselves medicinal. Flooding our systems with the chemical equivalent of positive, healing energy. The effect of these chemicals on disease have been heavily researched and the impact is widely recognized. However we have seen this effect in other contexts as well.

Consider a “stuck state”. You know what this is intuitively, even if the phrase made you furrow your brow. And we’re sure you’ve experienced one of these moments with a loved one. This is where you are facing a challenge, and at some point, you just get stuck. You try to push through the invisible barrier, but to no avail. As you try in vain to overcome the challenge, you just find yourself right back where you started, increasingly frustrated the second, and third, times around. Stuck states aren’t any fun, and the irony is that while we can’t miss the fact we are in one when by ourselves, we often do when with a partner. Think about a time when you faced a challenge and, if even for a moment, you got stuck. Was there any confusion about the fact? Did you have any trouble noticing that you were nowhere closer to solving the problem? Our guess is that no, you had no trouble spotting this fact. Yet when we are struggling through something with our partner, oftentimes we fail to notice our own stuck state and assume that it is just a difference of opinions. Or worse, that you are right, and your partner is wrong. As you both maintain your positions, you might have the illusion that it’s a battle of wills (more on that phrase in a later post). If you believe you are correct and the other person less so, you might think that’s all that’s taking place.

Basic negotiation theory tells us that an impasse is typically much more than two opposing sides being stubborn. There is often a need on one side or both sides that is being either ignored or challenged. Therefore the problem really is about understanding the other person’s needs, their Map of the World, how they are trying to meet their own needs through the discussion. As we remain wrapped up in our own such Map, ignoring that of the other person, we find ourselves in a stuck state.

Just as a dinosaur might get stuck in a tar-pit, struggling to escape, only to inevitably sink further into the muck, we have the ability to remain stuck. We have a big advantage over the dinosaur, however. We have consciousness at two levels at least. Our conscious and unconscious minds continually strive to help us solve problems, even ones like how to escape a proverbial tar pit. So dare to recognize the stuck state for what it is, a smelly, rancid prison. It grips you and clings, threatening to keep you stuck in place, unable to move, unable to escape, unable to function.

Now aren’t you glad you’re not a dinosaur?

So we can enlist both our conscious and subconscious minds to free ourselves from that stinking, gripping tar-pit of a stuck state. One of the easiest ways to do this is to find humor in the situation. Laughter provides us with the chemical lift needed to do the extraordinary. It does things unconsciously that immediately release us from that stuck state’s clutches and moves us to solid ground, where we can then maneuver freely.

Look at a quick example of this. You are having a discussion with your significant other and each has taken an opposing position. You do not agree, and are beginning to feel the tension in your body that signals a fight is likely coming. You don’t want to escalate it that way, and imagine that neither does your partner. But you don’t really have a choice, do you? After all, you’re both stuck. Doesn’t it inevitably follow that you must hurt one another, insult each other, and leave your relationship damaged for it? Well, isn’t it?

And then one of you becomes sane for just an instant. And points out something absurd and comical, breaking the tension. Suddenly, should you agree to laugh together, you find yourselves magically freed from the tar-pit, the stuck state. There is a trick to navigating out of such states, and we see it in change work of all kinds. Briefly, most of us, particularly in a heightened emotional state, are unable to transition too drastically away from that state, in a short period of time. Say that in the example above, you are absolutely furious with your partner, and rather than discuss it with you, he or she makes some silly joke! Are you tempted to suspect he or she doesn’t respect your feelings, or your opinion? Maybe he or she doesn’t even respect you! Do you see how that could actually make things worse, even though we are advocating humor in such situations? That’s because it’s too extreme a transition. You may both need to create a gradual enough transition that it doesn’t make the other feel disrespected or overlooked. Perhaps from rage to anger. Then from anger to annoyance, perhaps testing the water, so to speak, before moving into humor and cooperation.

Sam and Marcy have been discussing what to do with their vacation time from work. She wants to visit her parents, and he wants to go to Disney World. He argues that the kids will enjoy Disney more, and they will all likely have more fun. Marcy knows that since Sam doesn’t really like her parents, that probably is his real reason. She argues however that it will be good for the kids to see Grandma and Grandpa. The kids actually agree…until given the alternative of Disney World! “Sorry, Gramps, but Mickey is more fun!” Marcy holds her ground, fueled by her anger that Sam would use the kids to justify his own position. Sam, for his part, is equally stuck, fueled by his discomfort with his in-laws. Rational discussion breaks down, and neither is interested in the other’s position.

At that moment, they both hear a light thud on the window, and they look. A bird has somehow relieved itself against the glass, possibly during flight. As the mess slips slowly down the glass in sickly green, white, and yellow streaks, they both burst out laughing.  Marcy thinks first and points out this discussion had “gone to shit” anyway, and apparently the bird made his judgment, as though they were on some reality show and were being kicked off the proverbial island. Between fits of laughter, she says, “I guess our conflict wasn’t interesting enough for the television audience, so we got splatted.”

Sam laughs even harder, noticing that while he was sure he’d been angry and frustrated only moments ago, he now saw little but the humor of the situation. He realized in a flash how much he loved and appreciated Marcy’s quick wit, her easy laugh. He looked once more at the mess on the window, added, “What shitty timing!” and they both roared with laughter.

Tears filling both their eyes, Sam said to Marcy, “I love you, baby! I’m so sorry I got stuck like that.”

Still laughing herself, Marcy said, “Me too, Sam. I don’t mean to get so frustrated, but I just sometimes think you’ll do anything to avoid my parents.”

With an embarrassed chuckle, Sam admitted, “Well, yeah, I think you’re right about that. I just don’t enjoy being around them. And I don’t think they like me very much, either.”

Still smiling, Marcy thought of something else. “Look, Sam, I know they don’t always welcome you the way I’d like. But they’re my parents. I want them to have a relationship with me, with the kids…and with you. I guess I’m kind of the odd one out, because I really do see where you’re coming from. I think I need your help here.”

Sam’s eyebrows rose. This was an entirely different problem from the one that got them stuck. They were in agreement that perhaps there was some tension between him and her parents. But that wasn’t the actual problem. Redefined now, the problem clearly was, How can their family, Sam, Marcy, and their children, have a relationship with Marcy’s parents?

They had a week of vacation and Sam was the first to suggest a compromise. He admitted freely that he would not have thought of this had he still been stuck in what he perceived to be an all-or-nothing situation. They would spend three days at Disney World, then fly out to see Marcy’s parents, and spend three days with them. Then they’d fly home and recuperate from their two vacations. They both realized that this was going to be tough, that they would likely be very tired from all the travel. Though it offered not just a compromise, but also a deeper solution. They could nurture a relationship with Marcy’s parents, though with only three days, the “newness” wouldn’t have time to “wear off”. Marcy and Sam explored the previous visits with her parents and realized that on the first day or two, everything was fine. It was once they got comfortable that tensions typically arose. The abbreviated visit would enable them to spend time with Marcy’s parents, though not so much that difficulties had enough time to rise. All would still be on their “best behavior”.

Using laughter, Marcy and Sam were able to release themselves from what past experience told them would have been a “stuck state”. They were then free to seek out new opportunities and possibilities. They were magically unstuck via the healing power of laughter.

As mentioned previously, however, this was a very rapid transition, one that may not work in all situations. In those, you may very well need a more gradual transition, enabling both people to make the transition to a more productive, positive place, while inoculating against feeling that the other’s laughter was reflective of the level of respect each partner was showing the other. This particular example does occasionally present itself, and let’s face it, in the midst of an intense discussion, few things can so quickly loosen up our stuck positions than nature flinging an actual turd our way.

The trick for us is to spot those opportunities when they arise. And if they don’t appear, gauge how intense the emotional level is, which can dictate the speed of our attempted transition into something more function for us.

Dare to find the humor in the situation, and if there is none, act as if it were possible, and then locate the hypothetical humor to keep your communication and your loving energy fluid, never stuck. With some practice, you and your partner will likely experience these “stuck state” far more rarely, and you may even begin to notice your unconscious minds beginning to look for the humor, to apply the best medicine, in order to keep you in that “ever after” experience. To learn more, take a look at Chapter 14 of our book, “Happily Ever Laughter”, coming soon!

Until then, look for such “stuck states” in yourself. When you spot them, take responsibility for them and change them. This person with whom you’re speaking, after all, is pretty important, and he or she deserves the very best you can offer. You might be surprised at what such a gift can inspire in your partner!

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Values determine what your priority will be in any given situation. Think of it as a checklist of criteria we apply to every situation where we decide it fits. You may have such a list of values that pertain to your work. This list may include: “fair pay”, “reasonable expectations”, “work-life balance”, “opportunity for growth and advancement”, “interesting challenges”, and other criteria that your experiences have made important for you. This article asks you to make conscious some of the values that govern your choices when you and your partner find yourselves in an uncomfortable disagreement. Stop for a moment and consider the workplace values example. Let’s take a hypothetical employee for whom those values are in fact all he or she is concerned about in a job. Let’s say we asked that employee to rank those values from least to most important. There’s no wrong answer – each item is ranked based on that individual’s values. Your own are likely to be quite different.

Let’s say our fictional employee ranked these values in this order:

  1. “interesting challenges”
  2. “opportunity for growth and advancement”
  3. “reasonable expectations”
  4. “fair pay”
  5. “work-life balance”

First of all, what can you infer about this employee? Is this person likely willing to work late nights and weekends if he or she finds the project exciting or challenging? We would suggest yes, as “interesting challenges” appears at the top of the list and “work-life balance” is at the bottom. Consider a different question, however: Would this same employee likely take on a less interesting project that offers little challenge, little likelihood for growth and advancement, merely because they would have more time at home with their family? Not likely, again based on how that person ranks their values in this area.

What is the relationship to…intimate relationships? Glad you asked. Let’s say that employee’s work day is done, and before going home, ranks his or her values for home life or life overall, and the list looks something like this:

  1. Making my partner feel loved, appreciated, and happy
  2. Finding a lot to laugh about
  3. Having plenty of recreational time with family
  4. Being active in the back yard with the family
  5. Having everyone recognize my wisdom  (I’m almost always “right” so it’s important that everyone knows it)

Take a look at that last item on the list. For this person, being “right” in an argument might at times seem important, though not as much as the other items ranked above that on the list. We actually like this ranking fine, because such a person is unlikely to let their ego-based needs (such as feeling “right” and “wise”) to challenge such items as making their partner feel loved, appreciated, and happy. That alone makes it unlikely that this person will get caught in an argument with their spouse just because they cannot let go of the fight. That need to be “right” and acknowledged as such simply doesn’t rank as high as the other, more supportive values.

Now consider your own values. No doubt you have some variation on the lists above. But when you look at your own rankings, do you see any potential problems? If  you regularly get caught up over the need to be “right”, you likely have such a conflict in your values. If when you communicate with your partner, you find yourselves at a point where each has plainly and exhaustively made your point, but you still can’t let it go, take a closer look. It’s time to ask why that might be. Is it because though your partner can verify that they received your message, understood your point, and can either repeat it back you accurately or paraphrase it, while maintaining your intended meaning, they have not admitted their fault? Is it because they have not (yet) acknowledged how right you were (and conversely how wrong they were)? And that if you persist, you will eventually “win” and they will surrender, admitting just how wrong they were (and the juiciest part, just how right you were!)?

This is where we want to reconsider our values because while you might derive satisfaction from assigning labels like “right”, “wrong”, and the corresponding gloating or head-hanging reactions, it’s not likely helping your relationship. Nor is it likely making your partner feel good about you or about being with you. There are many ways to shift the priority of your values in such lists, and we’ll explore that throughout this site. But the first step is to simply acknowledge that it might be good for you to do so. Though the hypothetical questions we asked above, such as “with a values ranking like this…would the person be likely to…?” what we are also doing is demystifying human behavior. That behavior will be remarkably congruent with an individual’s values. We can understand the person by inferring their values…which in turn we learn by watching what that person chooses. Even if that person is us.

And once we figure out that the reason we often bang our heads in frustration, stuck in unproductive arguments, may in fact be due to a values ranking that isn’t truly serving us, we can take charge of that ranking and change it. Think about it for a minute. If you figure out that in the second list above, y0u prioritize “Having everyone recognize my wisdom” or “being right” is number one, and “Making my partner feel loved, appreciated, and happy” is way down on the list, you are beginning to gain control of your experience.

Consider this: What might happen if you were to swap those two items on your values ranking? What if making your partner feel loved becomes magically more important to you now than was “being right”…just imagine what wonderful things might grow from that…

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The “Love, Honor, and…Obey?” article from almost two years ago (!) seems to have created a considerable amount of concern among readers. We’ve been quite surprised by this, despite the worldwide publishing phenomenon (aka “The Decline and Fall of Western Literature”) known as the Fifty Shades trilogy. First a statement about those ridiculous books. We’re truly sorry if you love them, but BDSM/S&M romance is nothing new–so if your sole exposure to it is these really terribly written books, you need to do a few Amazon searches. That criticism is solely on the basis of literary merit, by the way.

Stephen King (of whom Chris is a long-time admirer) says that he thinks of himself as the Big Mac of literature (paraphrasing here). But if that’s so, Anne Rice is a red snapper Ponchartrain with a lobster tail on the side (suitably spiced, of course). This would make EL James, the person responsible for the Fifty Shades books, the green-tinted French Fry in a packet of otherwise wonderful fries that were served beside the Big Mac. A distorted, nearly counterfeit, revolting item that tries to pass itself off as one of the other wonderful fries. But can’t quite pull it off. We know–“maybe with enough ketchup”. No, not even then. But then a skilled marketing person comes along and reframes the green tint as a positive thing, and soon enough, green fries are all the rage!

Why the brutal rant against these books? One, because the author can’t speak English properly. “I’m like” should never begin a sentence in a book. Further, the lead character, if she shows no growth at all, is not a character, but a cardboard cutout.

Second, and this is why we didn’t just let badly written books go, we should not get messages asking us what’s wrong with “obedience” in a wife! This is not the 1950’s, and there’s no reason to pretend it’s made a comeback.

For the record, if you and your partner have a consensual relationship that is not so common, a bit left-of-center, we are no prudes. More power to you, seriously! Our criticism in that article had nothing to do with serious, committed BDSM-oriented, CONSENSUAL relationships. We believe strongly that if you are both truly happy and fulfilled, embrace what makes it so! You’ve found one of the paths to romantic bliss, and we applaud you! None of this is related in any way to justifying badly written prose.

Humankind has never flourished and advanced in fascist societies. The brave, nay, fearless exchange of ideas and the ready challenge to the status quo has propelled human progress countless times throughout history. We each as individuals have strengths and weaknesses. Companies hire people for those unique strengths and our intimate relationships similarly benefit from the individual strengths we each bring to that relationship. Therefore both people deserve respect and should be valued for what he or she brings to the relationship.

The key here, and the actual point of this article, is that you and your partner make up your own rules. We offer models of successful relationships, ideas that other couples have shared which they felt enabled their longevity and fulfillment. But ultimately what two consenting adults decide is right for them is well outside our right to comment upon or criticize. Perhaps the most significant thing we offer here, though models of success are arguably as important, is a framework. When you and your partner, in your own right minds, determine what form your relationship should take, how far, if at all, left-of-center you wish it to be, that is your decision alone. We can help with the practical, everyday stuff, but only you two can decide what form the relationship should take.

In fact, that is among the most fun, and at times perilous, aspects of a relationship: the negotiation. Anyone who thinks negotiation only belongs in business or politics has never had a serious romantic relationship. Each of us has needs, and for our romantic/intimate/companionship needs, we may seek out a partner. For many of us, though it’s not necessarily so, married life makes sense. We ourselves decided that marriage was ideal for us, so that was our choice. For you it may be different. What matters is that both of you are involved in this decision making process.

Badly-written though they are, the Fifty Shades books illustrate something relevant to this discussion. In the first book, the male lead compensates for his damaged psychology by controlling his environment to a pathological extent. This includes using BDSM in what we consider an unhealthy manner, as the female lead is young, impressionable, not fully aware of what she wants and what she can trust. This may be due to the author’s lack of skill, and the character coming across as two-dimensional, but the character as presented to the reader is clearly not self-aware to the degree necessary for this situation. We question whether the character consents, or if she had, whether she was capable of informed consent in the first place. This makes the relationship exploitative, not far removed from a grown man plying the affection and favors of an underage girl with wine coolers, attention, and assurances that she is special.

In order to have a relationship capable of fulfilling both parties, it must be consensual, and that includes both parties being capable of informed consent. Simply saying, “Yes–because you told me you love me!” is not sufficient.

The message is: If you and your partner both understand what you’re getting into, you both want it, you both continue to find it fulfilling, and you are both old enough, emotionally stable enough, sober enough, to make such decisions in the first place, then you two alone make the rules for your relationship. Please, borrow freely from the experience and successes of others. Those of us who have already tread the path you are embarking upon, already spotted the pitfalls, the potential challenges along the way, and insights that can make things work better, can offer advice that may save you a great deal of frustration and pain. So yes, borrow from that. But please always remember, the only thing any of us has a right to question is whether you or your partner really is informed enough to truly consent. Outside of that, you two decide.

Find happiness, depend on one another, and love each other with a passion and intensity such as there is no tomorrow.


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Assuming Intention Part II

We previously explored the concept of Assuming Intention, a technique that more often than not does not turn out to be accurate. It’s difficult to know someone so precisely that we know without fail what they are thinking, and what their actions meant. This is a form of what Milton H. Erickson called “mind reading”, and generally robs us of the richness of our relationships’ interactions.

There is an exception to the rule, as explored in Part I, assuming a positive intention. That is, if a person’s actions appear ambiguous to us, and we don’t know what was meant, we can assume a positive intention (API), even in the lack of evidence, just as we can assume a negative intention (ANI). In everyday language, we may call this giving the “benefit of the doubt.”.

Hold on! We talked previously about how Erickson’s “mind reading” is a bad thing, why are we now saying that it might be otherwise? In NLP, we learn and teach that beliefs are exceptionally useful tools. We can use them in our daily lives to enable ourselves, prop up a struggling will, equip us to grow beyond where we think we are, and more. The irony is that beliefs themselves, in order to be all those things and more, need not even be “true”. Consider a very basic belief: I can do this. You haven’t, we assume, finished doing it, or you wouldn’t need the belief. Beliefs, after all, exist in the absence of facts. If you already know you can do it because you have just completed “it”, then there is no need for belief – the results speak for themselves.

But where you have not YET completed the task, technically you don’t actually KNOW you can do it, you only either believe you can or believe you can’t. The fun part there is that the belief itself contains powerful creative energy. With a belief that you CAN, that energy may very well be the key you previously lacked. You can be trained expertly to perform the task, have every confidence in your abilities, but if you decide to embrace a believe that you CAN’T, you might be surprised at how quickly the belief can invade all that confidence, the training, the skill, and bore through it like termites through a tree.

Fortunately, the opposite is also true. If you instead choose a belief that you CAN, that energy can permeate every fiber of your confidence, your attitude, abilities, coalescing your skill into an unstoppable force that the world cannot resist. Ok, sounds a little better, but what does this have to do with assuming intention, whether positive (API) or negative (ANI)?

Simple, the assumption shared by each of those acronyms is itself derived from a belief, You might argue that in fact it IS a belief.

Think of it this way – what if, regardless of what your partner just did, you assumed a malicious or negative intention? What if, every time he or she did something nice for you, you presumed it was because they had some bad news to break, something to confess, and they were only trying to manipulate you, to lessen your angry response? Seriously, think about it. Now what if on an entirely different day you chose to respond differently? What if no matter how irritating or offensive your partner had behaved toward you, you assumed a positive or loving intention? It’s not so far-fetched – haven’t we all, at some time, had the very best of intentions, and yet our actions just didn’t match up to that intent? Of course we have! And your partner is no different. So it’s entirely possible that he or she meant well, truly was acting out of love or consideration, and they were unsuccessful in their “finish”. Would you likely view those two scenarios a bit differently? Wouldn’t anyone?

Understanding, of course, that any time we assume anything, we leave room to be wrong. It’s clear that we won’t just perfectly gauge or calibrate  someone’s intention. Maybe every now and then, maybe even frequently, but all the time? Not likely. So if that’s true, what’s the point? Wouldn’t Assuming Positive Intention (API) be just as bad as Assuming Negative Intention (ANI)?

The answer to that question lies more in the function than in the facts. That is, if we can agree to suspend “truth” and “verifiability” for just a moment, we might explore something in a somewhat different way. Okay. Got that pesky “true/false” criterion paused for a moment? Great! Now ask yourself a different question – what behavioral flexibility will the assumption likely lend you?

Our suggestion here is that if you assume the best, you will often be right. Sure, you will at times be wrong as well. But we’re more interested in the effect the belief has upon you. What are you able to do with the belief? What does the belief encourage you to do?

One answer to these questions is so obvious that you might find yourself feeling silly for not having considered it. If you haven’t felt silly before, rest assured, you will. Life gives each of us learning experiences that at first make us feel silly. The trick is to laugh along with everyone else, get over it, and take the learning with you.

What answer? When we assume the best, and are primed and ready for it, we create a feeling of acceptance for the other person. We invite them to be themselves and to share, because we ourselves have laid out the proverbial red carpet for them. We are assuming their positive intention and are ready to reciprocate with our own positive intention. This often works with strangers – just imagine how well it will work with someone who loves you and has committed to being with you!

So API with your significant other, filter their response through your positive energy, your love, your respect, your high regard for them. Bathe them in an overwhelming aura of love and acceptance, make them feel so loved they can’t help but smile. It might sound funny now, but consider the likely outcome of the opposite – ANI. If instead you bathe your partner in negative energy, disdain, contempt, jealousy, anger, whatever form your negative intentions have taken in the past, how do you think that will affect them? Most of us don’t enjoy receiving those emotions, particularly from someone we love, trust, and count on to be our friend. In our experience, assuming negative intention poisons whatever good you had going, destroying it from within.

And if it does make you feel just a bit silly, isn’t that a pretty small sacrifice to make for the one you love?

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In Sickness and in Health

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.

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Forgive and Live Your Happiness

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.

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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.

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