Many of us want “happily ever after” relationships. How can we cultivate relationships that stand the test of time? Many marriage vows are based on commitment to the marriage that includes phrases such as “til death do us part,” and “in sickness and health.” Before marriage we often assume that we all know what “commitment” means. Oftentimes, however many people differ in their opinions about what it means to be “committed” in a relationship. Unless we talk openly about our assumptions, as well as the possible pitfalls that hinder a committed relationship, we can set ourselves up for disappointment.
First, it is important in any relationship to begin by building a healthy foundation that includes protective walls around the relationship. Actively work to build trust, emotional connection, and intimacy with one another. A healthy marriage does not come naturally. It takes investment. A number of resources are available like books, videos, retreats, classes, couple’s counseling, and marriage seminars that offer great tools to cultivate love and also increase awareness of behaviors that damage trust and intimacy.
Second, talk openly about how to protect the walls around the relationship. What are some “red flags” that can alert each partner that the marriage is in need of attention? Talk about how to approach one another when feeling disconnected or taken for granted. If we receive emotional support from someone outside the marriage other than our spouse, cracks begin to form in our walls and weaken the relationship. If it is difficult to approach one another, seek professional help to work through challenges or obstacles together.
Third, talk openly about the potential of temptation outside the marriage. Just because we are committed does not mean that we will not find someone else attractive. This is perfectly normal. How can we protect our relationship when we find someone else attractive, or when someone makes advances on us? Shirley Glass, author of “Not Just Friends,” offers a brief list of suggestions to consider:
- Know that attraction is normal. But just because you feel it doesn’t mean you have to act on it. Being attracted to someone else doesn’t mean you’ve chosen the wrong person. One of the measures of true commitment is that you don’t allow yourself to be pulled away from your priorities by distractions.
- Don’t let yourself fantasize about what it would be like to be with that other person.
- Don’t flirt.
- Avoid risky situations. (Glass, 2004)
Above all, keep communication inside the walls of marriage. If outside support is needed, make it a rule to confide only in someone that puts the marriage first.
In her book, “Not Just Friends: Rebuilding Trust and Recovering Your Sanity After Infidelity,” Shirley Glass has several quizes that offer warning signs that a partner may be on the slippery slope to an affair. The book also offers great insights on how to build healthy walls around the relationship and close cracks or openings that appear.
Quiz: Is Your On-line Friendship Too Friendly?
What are the warning signs that you (or your partner) are on the slippery slope to an on-line affair? Take this quiz and see:
- Do you find yourself coming to bed later at night because you are chatting on-line?
- Do you ever exit a screen because you do not want a family member to see what you are reading or writing to a chat room member?
- Have you ever lied to your spouse about your personal Internet activities?
- Would you feel uncomfortable sharing your Internet correspondence with your spouse?
- Have you ever set up a separate e-mail account or credit cared to carry on personal correspondence with an individual on-line?
- Has your Internet correspondence had a negative effect on your work or household tasks?
- Have you ever lied in response to a question from your spouse about your e-mail correspondence?
- Have you ever exchanged photos of yourself with a secret e-mail correspondent?
- Since beginning a secret e-mail correspondence, have you ever experienced a loss or an unusual increase in sexual desire with your spouse?
- Have you made arrangements to talk secretly on the phone with your e-mail correspondent?
- Have you made arrangements to meet with your secret e-mail correspondent?
Two or more yes answers to questions 1,2,3,4 indicate a potential Internet romance developing. It is time to either share your on-line correspondence with your mate or break off the correspondence and begin to examine how to improve your marriage.
A yes answer to any of questions 5,6,7 indicates you are crossing a boundary from an Internet friendship to an Internet romance. Acknowledge this relationship for what it is about to become and take action to preserve and enhance your marriage.
A yes to questions 8 or 9 indicates you have begun a fantasy romantic relationship with your on-line correspondent. Even if it never moves to a physical stage, this relationship has great potential to damage or destroy your marriage.
A yes to questions 10 or 11 indicates that you have taken positive action toward initiating an extramarital affair. Consider the impact this will have on the marriage and your children and take steps to sort this out with a professional. (Glass, 2004)
A “happily ever after” relationship goes through a number of ups and downs. It takes investment, a willingness to be open, and a good amount of courage. Healthy walls take work and need to be maintained daily in order to grow a life-long relationship.
In his recent article, “The Difference Between Passive, Aggressive, and Assertive Communication,” Guy Harris discusses the impact communication has on the health of relationships. He offers helpful insights into the difference between passive, aggressive, and assertive styles of communication and to create healthier conversations.
“Communication breakdowns are a common cause for conflict, and poor communication strategies can lead to rapid escalation. Likewise, effective communication strategies can help you correct these miscommunications to move conflicts quickly towards resolution.
One idea that can help you choose the best communication strategy for the situation comes from what I call the communication continuum.” (Guy Harris, The Difference Between Passive, Aggressive, and Assertive Communication) Read more….
“Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” Melody Beattie
I have so many reasons to be thankful:
- My husband and I sipped coffee together before we started our day.
- I enjoyed a long walk by myself at Memorial Park.
- Our teenagers have found their groove at school and are enjoying soccer pre-season.
- I am currently savoring a bite of dark chocolate as I type.
In 2012, I decided to incorporate an intentional habit that did not depend upon my mood or daily circumstances. I started a gratitude project and began experiencing the powerful benefits of an active practice. My husband and I have both been amazed at the positive impact a gratitude habit has had on our marriage and other relationships over the past three years.
I can tell you from personal experience that gratitude will change your life. The following list, compiled from a growing body of research, describes the powerful impact an active gratitude practice can have on your health and relationships.
Seven Ways Gratitude Will Change Your Life
- Gratitude boosts health and wellness: “ “Grateful people take better care of themselves and engage in more protective health behaviors like regular exercise, a healthy diet, and regular physical examinations. Grateful people also tend to be more optimistic… studies link optimism to better immune function.” (Elizabeth Heubeck, Boost Your Health With a Dose of Gratitude)
- Gratitude protects against depression: “Gratitude supports the neurochemistry of well-being, and protects against depression. It builds resilience, so we get less rattled by events and bounce back faster. And gratitude turns us toward others as we appreciate the people we care about.” (Rick Hanson, What Are the Health Benefits to Thankfulness?)
- Gratitude increases happiness: “In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.” (Harvard Health Publications)
- Gratitude can help you through hard times: “Expressing gratefulness during personal adversity like loss or chronic illness – as hard as that might be – can help you adjust, move on, and perhaps begin anew. Although it may be challenging to celebrate your blessings at moments when they seem least apparent to you, it may be the most important thing that you can do.” (Sonjia Lyubomirsky, Eight Ways Gratitude Boosts Happiness)
- Gratitude increases satisfaction and longevity of relationships: “It starts within our own self. When we consciously foster feelings of appreciation for our loved ones—whether by doing a gratitude mediation about them every morning or by deliberately focusing on specific things we love about them—our relationship improves.” (Cristine Carter, A Surprisingly Simple Way to Feel Madly in Love)
- Gratitude increases satisfaction of parenting: “I am happy and proud to say that my relationship with my teenager is better than ever! Now he seeks me out to tell with me stories and jokes. He listens to me intently when I give him guidance. I can’t tell you how much this simple practice has changed our relationship. In retrospect, while teaching my family about this principal it also affected me positively. I noticed how my attitude towards him changed and softened because I started seeing him through a gratitude lens.” (Debbie Lyn Toomey, Gratitude Tip for Positive Parenting)
- Gratitude increases self worth: “Grateful people have a higher sense of self-worth. I think that’s because when you’re grateful, you have the sense that someone else is looking out for you—someone else has provided for your well-being, or you notice a network of relationships, past and present, of people who are responsible for helping you get to where you are right now.” (Robert Emmons, Why Gratitude Is Good)
Create Your Own Gratitude Practice
- Start a gratitude journal. Write down three items each day that make you grateful.
- Share gratitude at the dinner table. My family shares “Highs and Lows” every night during our evening meal to stay connected through the week. If not with your family members, pick a friend and share a high point and low point each day.
- Say “Thank You” often: Look for ways to express gratitude to those who cross your path every day. Express thanks at the grocery story, gym, at home, or just about anywhere.
Through November, I will dedicate this blog to the practice of gratefulness in honor of the Thanksgiving holidays. David Steindl-Rast’s TED Talk, “Want to Be Happy? Be Grateful,” is one of my personal favorite talks about how gratitude can change your life. He shares a message of how we can become happier people and how happier people can make a peaceful world together. I hope you enjoy his message of happiness and peace.
Excerpt from Want to Be Happy? Be Grateful
“How can each one of us find a method for living gratefully, not just once in a while being grateful, but moment by moment to be grateful. How can we do it? It’s a very simple method. It’s so simple that it’s actually what we were told as children when we learned to cross the street. Stop. Look. Go. That’s all. But how often do we stop? We rush through life. We don’t stop. We miss the opportunity because we don’t stop. We have to stop. We have to get quiet. And we have to build stop signs into our lives.” (David Steindl-Rast, TED Talk)
EMDR and Depression or Bipolar
EMDR was first developed as a treatment for trauma in the 1990’s. Since then, EMDR has also become an excellent treatment for depression. The Comprehensive Therapy Approach website has an excellent article about the use of EMDR to ameliorate depression.
Excerpt from “Depression or Bipolar: EMDR Therapy Brings Hope:”
“If stress seems to be an instigator or contributor to your depression, EMDR Therapy has been proven helpful for stressful or traumatic events and the depression that goes along with them. It is well-established that though bipolar disorder may have genetic contributors, the condition is originally activated by stress. By “processing” these experiences through the EMDR therapy protocol, the negative memories, self-beliefs, emotions and physical sensations are desensitized. They gradually become less upsetting and feel less significant. Positive conclusions about yourself become stronger, spontaneously, through the EMDR processing.”
Last week, I had a dream that I was caught in a blizzard. A blanket of swirling white surrounded me. My mind raced to discover some sense of direction. I was disoriented and frightened. Paralyzed. Where was I? Where was the path home?
And, then it was as if everything went into slow motion. Time slowed down. Way down. I began to notice individual snowflakes. Unique details of one snowflake. Its beauty. As my awareness shifted toward the structure of the snowflakes, I noticed my body beginning to relax. My mind settled. Gently. Slowly. I began to see areas of empty space open between each of the flakes. The spaces grew wider. The snowflakes began to lessen. I saw more clearly. The intensity of the blizzard that had seemed so overwhelming now calmed. Though still surrounded by the snow, I no longer felt afraid.
Since this dream, I have thought how much everyday life can at times feels like a blizzard. Time speeds up without warning. Daily tasks swirl around me: work tasks, family expectations, holiday chores, friendships, household duties, volunteering, etc. But then other things compound what might already be a blinding blizzard of activity. Thoughts, feelings, regrets from the past and “what ifs” of the future can surface to cloud my vision even more. My mind begins to race.
Where am I? Where is the path home?
Then I notice. Awareness. Gratitude.
- The smell of the crisp autumn morning air
- Listening to the laughter of my children as they watch silly videos
- Seeing my husband’s eyes gently crinkle as he pushes the plate in my direction to let me have the last bite
- Gently holding the hand of a dear friend who is grieving
- Tasting a hot, gooey chocolate chip cookie
- Feeling the sensation of a long hot shower after a satisfying day
Take a deep breath. This is your life. Notice. Search. Find the moments of beauty sprinkled like beautiful snowflakes in the midst of the flurry of tasks and worries.
Time slows. Mind gently settles. I am still surrounded, but I am not afraid.
The power of gratitude.
In the recent podcast, “How Trauma Lodges in the Body,” Krista Tippet interviews Bessel van der Kolk about how the body restores and heals from trauma.
Excerpt from interview, “How Trauma Lodges in the Body:”
“The psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk is an innovator in treating the effects of overwhelming experiences on people and society. We call this trauma when we encounter it in life and news, and we tend to leap to address it by talking. But Bessel van der Kolk knows how some experiences imprint themselves beyond where language can reach. He explores state-of-the-art therapeutic treatments, including body work like yoga and eye movement therapy. He’s been a leading researcher of traumatic stress since it first became a diagnosis in the wake of the Vietnam War and from there was applied to other populations. A conversation with this psychiatrist is a surprisingly joyful thing. He shares what he and others are learning on this edge of humanity about the complexity of memory, our need for others and how our brains take care of our bodies.” (Krista Tippet, How Trauma Lodges in the Body)
Click here to listen to Krista Tippet’s interview with Bessel van der Kolk.