Counselling and Psychotherapy for
Body, Mind and Spirit

Ina Stockhausen, MTC

info@positivelifechanges.ca
778-558-8207

Ina Stockhausen R.P.C. offers spiritual counselling and body psychotherapy or somatic counseling in Burnaby and North Vancouver.

codependency

One of the most common “complaints” I hear from couples when they make an appointment for couple’s counselling or relationship therapy is how fed up they are  with all the negativity between them.

stop blaming with couples counselling in Burnaby and North VancouverAre you tired of bickering all the time? Are you a nag?

Does it feel like conflict erupts out of nowhere… one minute things seem to be fine and the next minute you’re arguing? Would you agree that those types of arguments rarely lead to resolving the real underlying issue?  Instead you’re both most likely walking away feeling frustrated, annoyed or disappointed?

I’m going to invite you to take a moment and think back over your last few conflicts.

Do your arguments often start with one of you complaining, blaming or criticizing?

In other words, did one of you start pointing a finger and talking about something you didn’t like the other person was doing?

If that is  indeed the case, most likely you ended up arguing about who was right or wrong, one of you got defensive or started explaining and you got stuck  in that place where both of you want to be right.

How can you get out of this repetitive cycle? Grab a cushion and work with the three fingers!

Let me explain:)

Often when you get irritated you step into “trigger – reaction” mode. You point a finger at your Relationship Therapy North Vancouver can help you communicate betterpartner and start telling them what is wrong with them or what you don’t like about them and their actions.

But every time you point a finger at someone – three fingers are pointing back to you. 

I know that it can be really hard sometimes to bring our attention back to ourselves. It is very easy and tempting to get stuck in the energy of: “If you didn’t always ‘fill in the blank’ – then I wouldn’t have to feel this way.”

But remember, this is YOUR trigger and these are YOUR feelings that have developed from the thoughts that you are choosing and the story that you are creating.

Wayne Dyer used the metaphor of the orange to paint a picture of this dynamic. When someone squeezes an orange, juice will flow out of the orange. No matter who or what squeezes the orange – the juice is always orange juice. It doesn’t change flavour or contain pieces of the person who is doing the squeezing.

Relationship counselling Burnaby can help you increase your ability for reflection and accountabilityIn order to reduce conflict and increase connection you need to be able to step out of reactive mode into reflective mode. This is where the “cushion” comes in. Connecting with yourself and identifying what is going on for you requires calming down just like you would  if you sat on a cushion to meditate.

Some tips:

Calming down your body will help calm down the mind. Bring your awareness to your belly and take 3 or 4 breaths into the belly. (This activates the para-sympathetic nervous system which calms the body.)

Asking yourself the following questions can help you identify your trigger and your part in the conflict:

  • What is familiar about this conflict? How does this remind me of my childhood or growing up years?
    Sometimes you will find that the trigger is part of an old  “theme” such as for example “No matter what I do, it’s never good enough,” or “I do so much to make others happy but it never really gets appreciated,”  or “Nobody wants me.”
  • What story have I created in my head – what filter have I used to interpret what has happened?

    Two predominant filters that create conflict are judgment about the other person, or judging yourself, i.e. you either assign a value to the other person because they’re not doing what you would do in a given situation or you put yourself down because you believe that you are the cause of the conflict.

You might choose to write down your insights so you can mull them over and potentially share them with your partner.

Deepen your intimate connection and rekindle appreciation with Marriage TherapyAs you both take increased ownership for your part of the conflict and share your triggers with each other you will  remember that this person is not “the enemy” but rather the love of your life. Building a culture of accountability will deepen your intimate connection and will allow you to make a “repair attempt” more easily. 

If you find that you can’t calm yourself down easily, that you both experience difficulty listening to each other or you have the tendency to take things personally you might consider connecting with an experienced marriage counsellor or relationship therapist like myself who can help you with boundaries and communication tools.

Whether you’re feeling the loss of a not-too-distant breakup or you’re sitting in the longing of meeting that special someone,  you might be wishing that Valentine’s Day would have  come and gone already.

Love and Dating Advice from Relationship Therapist BurnabyWho needs a reminder of romantic couple love everywhere when it just brings back painful memories or makes you wonder what’s wrong with you… Why can’t you seem to meet a truly nice guy or gal who wants you?

As a couples counselor and relationship therapist I often work with singles who want to break unhealthy and dysfunctional patterns of relationships past.    As we deconstruct familiar relationship dynamics and old hurts, we most often discover that things would shift greatly if there was an increased focus on loving the self rather than trying to please the other.

quotes_beyonceEspecially as women we are still hearing the old echoes of the female’s job description as being someone who is nurturing, in service, helpful, kind, loving and caring. Of course there is nothing wrong with being a nurturing, kind and loving individual – on the contrary – but it needs to start with YOU.

Because Valentine’s day isn’t all chocolate and roses for many, there are more and more messages in the media about using this day to love yourself. It’s an excellent idea.

Let this Valentine’s day

mark a shift in the most important love relationship in your life – the relationship you have with yourself.

If you had a partner who was the love of your life and infinitely special to you – how would you treat him or her?

Would you:

  • force them to do things because you thought they SHOULD? Because it made you happy?
  • make them feel guilty if they said no because they were honouring their own truth?
  • tell them that they should put themselves last and everyone else’s needs first?
  • tell them that they would be more lovable if they lost 10 pounds, had a smaller belly or bigger chest?
  • think they should feel responsible for other people’s happiness?
  • suggest they do everything in order to avoid disappointing others?

I can’t imagine you would!!

I am imagining that you would treat this special someone with great respect and care. If they felt discouraged you wouldn’t criticize them but encourage them. You would remind them that not only were they allowed to say no, but that they should say NO to anything that creates a cost of self.

Perhaps you would encourage them to trust that other’s can take care of themselves, that it wasn’t their job to fix everything.

Finally you might remind them that it was who they are that you loved and not what they accomplished or managed to produce.

Heal low self esteem and co dependency with relationship therapy North Vancouver

“Loving yourself…does not mean being self-absorbed or narcissistic, or disregarding others. Rather it means welcoming yourself as the most honored guest in your own heart, a guest worthy of respect, a lovable companion.” Margo Anand

 

How would your life shift if you realized that the biggest love of your life needs to be YOU?

What would happen if you let go of all the SHOULDs and all the inner conflict and allowed life to love you? How would you feel during the day if you could shift your focus on the things you do have and opened yourself to receiving more of what you wanted rather than worrying about yet again not having your needs met?

Remember:

“Your relationship with yourself sets the tone for every other relationship that you have.”

Here is to setting the intention of loving yourself and accepting yourself just the way you are on Valentine’s day and EVERY DAY.

 

“Your task is not to seek for Love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” – Rumi, thirteenth century Sufi poet

Relationship counselling and addiction recovery can help you rebuild your marriageIt doesn’t matter whether you love someone who is struggling with Addiction or if you are an Addict, part of the emotional roller coaster of living with Addiction is the impact it has on your self-esteem. As an Addictions Counsellor and Marriage therapist I often help couples navigate the journey of recovery from co-depency and other addiction to rebuilding trust and self-esteem.

Can you relate to Hank and Renée?

When Hank and Renée came to see me for Relationship Therapy and Addiction counselling, a major issue in their relationship was lack of trust  caused by broken promises.  Promises made by  Hank to stop with his cocaine addiction.  Renée was a classic loved one who had stuck by her husband during 4 years of cocaine addiction feeling helpless, powerless, confused, hurt and overwhelmed. In the beginning she tried to fix things, trying to  control his addiction by trying to manage his moods and environment.  She pleaded and cajoled; she issued ultimatums that she never followed through on, and she believed Hank when he promised yet again that this was the last time, that he was truly quitting, that he was going to be sober from now on.

The addiction roller coaster had been hard on both of them. Renée felt unloved and hopeless and Hank felt like a loser. Why did he keep hurting this woman who loved him. Why was he destroying his own life? Renée felt like she was walking on eggshells. She wanted to be hopeful and supportive but she had heard these promises so many times before. Now Hank was accusing her of being anxious and controlling. Renée felt like she had to choose between expressing how she felt or suppressing her feelings.

For both the Addict and the Loved One, part of the journey of recovery and healing is to work on self-esteem.

As an Addict it’s important to understand that:

  • You are not a bad  or a loser  because you have become to rely on a substance or a behaviour to help you cope with emotional stress or overwhelm in your life
  • You are still loveable even if you have lied and/ or betrayed others because you were driven by your addiction
  • Even though you may feel shame and regrets, you still deserve to be loved and to walk in the world holding your head high

As a Loved One it is important to understand that:

  • You are not the cause, nor will you ever be “the cure” for an Addiction
  • You are not bad and you haven’t done anything wrong
  • You are not too much and your feelings of anxiety, discouragement or frustration are all legitimate – feelings are not rational and you are allowed to feel your feelings
  • Your loved one’s relapses are not about you and have nothing to do with you not being lovable
  • Saying No and setting boundaries, practicing self-care and not colluding does not make you selfish nor are you ruining your loved one’s life

Moving forward for both of you it is important to remember:Repair trust and self-esteem with Burnaby couples counselling

You deserve to love yourself because you are doing the best you can. If you are on the road of recovery (from your Addiction or your co-dependent behavior) you are making healthier choices. You are learning to cope with your life differently. No, you can’t turn back the clock and undo pain you may have caused. But moving forward you can make amends to the people you may  have hurt. You can practice accountability to yourself and your sobriety and to those you love by showing up every day from a place of intention and willingness.

Continuing an old behaviour is a choice. You can make more loving choices. You can reach out and call your sponsor, therapist, support person, crisis line, priest etc.  before you choose to use. You can practice mindfulness and a continuous inventory of self so you can prevent relapse.

You can practice forgiveness. As you lovingly forgive yourself for having abandoned yourself and those you love you learn to move on. The past is already over. You cannot change it. But you can look for the good in your life and in this moment. You can love yourself just the way you are from a place of humbleness and compassion.

You can learn to become your own best friend and lover. Treat and speak to yourself the way you would to someone who is infinitely precious to yourself.

Stress and anxiety counselling Burnaby for women and couples

Do you spend a lot of time worrying about things that are out of your control? Do you agonize over doing it just right so you can avoid conflict of disappointing others?

 Perhaps you experience “crises” similar to the following examples:

  1. Your adult daughter calls you frantically from work. This is her first day at the new job and she was supposed to bring various signed documents with her. She has forgotten them and is freaking out. You go into crisis mode with her and drive all the way across town to get the documents for her so she won’t make a bad impression on her first day (especially since she has 3 months probation).
  1. While you were visiting with your friend, during a brief moment of disattention, your child has wandered off into the bathroom and flooded the toilet. There is water everywhere and you feel mortified. Your friends recently renovated this room and now there will be water damage.
  1. You’re divorced co-parent is not on the same page as you are when it comes to nutrition and feeds your child fast food, processed food items and sugary things. At his house your child seems to eat in front of the TV and go to bed whenever. In the meantime you are doing your best to cook only healthy food and limit TV.

Positive psychology approach for stress and anxiety relief with psychotherapist BurnabyWhat do all these situations  – and  most likely others that send you into crisis mode have in common? The crisis is created by the assumptions that you’re making and the story that you create in your head. In the specific moment that things are happening there is no crisis. But your codependency habit turns it into one.

Let’s take the first example. Nothing bad has happened yet. Your daughter may make a poor impression – she may not. It may affect whether she gets to keep the job, or it may make no difference at all. The crisis occurs when you start to create  a story  with a negative outcome in your mind.

Let’s take the second example. Your child didn’t drown. Nobody got hurt. You go into crisis mode, worrying about your friendship and potentially the criticism you will receive from your spouse about not paying attention to your child.

Perhaps you worry that someone is going to be angry with you or criticize you. You might worry about money. But these are all assumptions and again stories about possible future outcomes. From a birds eye view – there is no real crisis. 

Let’s take the last example. Yes it is irritating that your co-parent is not on the same page.  But right now your child is not in a health crises, nor is it becoming obese or needing corrective vision glasses from too much television. You’re going into crisis mode when you imagine all kinds of negative consequences in the future.

Being in crisis mode can become addictive. You get used to running on adrenaline. Underneath all the fretting and chaos lives co-dependency. Many of the stories you create in your head are based on the assumption that you have control over other people’s behaviours or thoughts. But that is an illusion. Even if  someone were to hold a gun to your head and told you to  feel scared they wouldn’t be able to make you feel or think anything but what you chose to feel or think.

Somatic Psychotherapist Burnaby can help you overcome trauma and anxiety

In other words – you can choose to create stressful stories in your head and feel anxious and stressed or you can try to come back to the present moment and realize that what is happening is not a crisis but your co-dependency habits.

Viktor Frankl, holocaust survivor, well respected author and psychotherapist said: “At any given moment we are able to exercise  the most important freedom of all – the freedom to determine our own attitude and spiritual well-being.”

Responding from a co-dependent place is not a habit you have to continue. You can choose to learn ways to soothe your anxiety thru meditation, breathing practices, self-help books or with the help of a trained professional offering psychotherapy or counselling for anxiety and stress relief such as myself.

Have you felt hurt, disappointed, under appreciated or rejected in response to something your spouse said or did or didn’t do? And have you then gone ahead and adjusted your own behaviour based on that experience?

Take the example of Quinn and Lara:

Lara used to cook dinner for Quinn but often he would come home late and her lovingly prepared meal would be cold or overcooked. She interpreted is lateness as a lack of appreciation and acknowledgment that she was taking time to cook. Her cooking was an act of love and caring. Quinn seeming lack of appreciation made her feel hurt and disappointed. So she stopped cooking and made herself a sandwich instead. When Quinn would come home, she would be busy with her iPad and wouldn’t make a special effort to get up and greet him with enthusiasm.
Quinn interpreted her lack of cooking and enthusiasm as a lack of caring and now felt hurt. So he stopped bringing her coffee to bed in the morning the way he used to.
Slowly they both kept adjusting their behaviours and acts of love and kindness in response to their hurt feelings. Their sense of disconnection grew in proportion with their feelings of rejections and disappointment. Soon they stopped having sex or struggled wanting to initiate intimacy.

Can you relate to the pattern Quinn and Lara have fallen into?

Marriage counseling Burnaby helps you repair love and emotional connectionSometimes when couples come to see me for Burnaby relationship therapy or marriage counselling they have accumulated a list of slights, misunderstandings and hurt feelings. They have internalized their interpretations and conclusions which in turn are now impacting their behavior and their interactions.

Do you have such a list? Have you gotten stuck in scorekeeping? Is your willingness to be kind and loving with each other compromised by the discussion of who disappointed the other one first?

These discussions are as fruitless and unproductive as trying to figure out what came first, the chicken or the egg. In the end, does it really matter?
Is it really your partner’s fault? Or have you co-created the situation by not sharing your feelings and your interpretations? Did you not also make a choice when you decided that your partner’s behaviour indicated a lack of love and caring for you?

If you find that you regularly assume the worst and tend to forget that this person you’re choosing to spend your life with loves you, I encourage you to sit down together and discuss where this lack of emotional safety and trust comes from.

When did you stop trusting that your spouse only has your best interest at heart? What behaviours make you feel inadequate, criticized or judged?

In order to rebuild love and trust it is essential that you respond with love. Remember that you have a choice when you interpret your partner’s behaviour. You also have a choice how you’re going to respond. Are you going to close your heart and retaliate with a lack of willingness or can you set aside your ego and respond with love?

What would it be like if you could remember that complaining, criticizing and grumpiness tend to be Couples counselling New Westminster helps you repair broken trustan expression of not feeling loved? When your partner seems to express judgment or criticism it is not a statement about you being bad, inadequate other something being wrong with you. It is a statement about your lover’s lack of happiness, joy and inner contentment.

Ask yourself, what do you need to let go of scorekeeping? You might identify that you need to recover from codependency. You might need to be more authentic. Perhaps you need to be more clear and direct. Maybe you need to be more attentive to getting your needs met and honouring your own truth.
Sometimes sitting down with a counsellor can help you identify old patterns that no longer serve you and develop some new responses that honour your inner truth and contribute to you feeling happy, confident and empowered.

Remember you can choose if you are going to respond with love to grow the love you share or you can withdraw from your “love bank” by getting caught up in the downward spiral of scorekeeping.

Do you worry about your loved ones  being disappointed, or feeling bad in some shape or form?

Do try to save your children from feeling/experiencing pain and disappointment in life?

Burnaby Relationship Therapy for recovery from codependency addictionDo you work hard to manage your loved one’s feelings so he or she doesn’t 

  • get sick,
  • relapse,
  • become depressed again,
  • get triggered into some other painful place?
  • Are you the super attentive and kind friend always willing to come to the rescue?

Are you the friendly neighbor who goes out of their way to be helpful?

If you are nodding your head and saying “Yes, I am.  Yes I do all these things and more.”, it sounds like you value being a “good” human being and like to contribute to the well being of others.

Just between you and I, at the end of the day, do you sometimes feel a little disappointed? Do you feel like you put a lot of effort into making other people feel good but somehow they don’t seem to return the favor in equal measure?

Do you sometimes feel a little hurt because all your efforts and the energy that goes into worrying and making sure that others are okay goes almost unnoticed?

Do you sometimes feel a little un-  or under-appreciated?

Have you ever promised yourself that you’re going to stop being so nice? That you’re going to put yourself first? But then, when you try to make these changes in your life, and you actually do try to put yourself first you get stuck?

If you feel anxious or unsettled when  people around you are unhappy or frustrated then changing your behavior may be easier said than done.

In fact you may feel like you’re caught between a rock and a hard place because when you see people you love experience disappointment or pain, it’s almost as if their pain is your pain.

Often individuals who worry a lot about how others feel, also prefer to avoid conflict if at all possible. Of course the potential Codependency counselling and addiction recovery with Burnaby couples counsellingof conflict increases as “happiness” around you decreases.

In order for you to get to a place of more ease inside yourself and still maintain your values of being a caring person you need to unlearn or shift an erroneous belief that you most likely learned when you were growing up.

You need to let go of the idea that you have control over or power over other people’s lives. You also need to let go of the idea that you are responsible for other people’s lives. (Of course you are responsible for any minors in your care.)

When couples or individuals seek my services as a psychotherapist who specializes in working with addiction recovery and helps loved ones of addicts move into recovery from co-dependency, I sometimes offer this mantra:

“I don’t have the power over, control of, or responsibility for other people’s lives. I was taught that I had these powers. This is a lie I now tell myself.”

Repeating this mantra regularly can help you to stay connected to what it is that you really want –  especially when you are feeling anxious and worrying about what is going to happen if you don’t step in to fix things and make sure everyone is happy,.

It will also help you identify whether your actions are truly coming from a place of loving and caring or whether they are informed by your need to manage your anxiety.

anxiety relief with psychotherapy  North Vancouver for co dependent behaviourSometimes it’s hard to differentiate whether you caught in your codependent place or acting from a place of love and caring. From the outside your behavior looks the same. If you’re confused, get out of your head and into your body.

The best barometer for identifying this difference is your body. An act of loving and caring will make your body feel open and relaxed. If that same behavior is however about managing your need for approval or trying to avoid conflict, your body will feel somewhat contracted or tense.

Remember that a lot of the worst-case scenarios that you’re trying to prevent are completely out of your control. You have no control over how your loved ones will respond to,  interpret, feel or think about something.

You may be surprised if I told you that you would have received an answer to this question at my Hot Yoga class the other day.

While several of us were struggling with a pose, the instructor repeated  “The answer lies in the connection!” a few times. From experience I know this is true. When I can stay fully connected to my body and what I want it to do, as well as remain totally focused on my breath, balance and muscle engagement I can execute most poses quite well. When I get distracted, don’t feel motivated or am tired, i.e. when I am not fully connected, then I typically lose my balance and can’t hold the pose.

If you are experiencing challenges in your relationship, I encourage you to take a look at your connection – i.e. how connected do you feel to your partner. 

Burnaby Relationship Counselling can help you reconnectIn my marriage counseling practice, many couples who are seeking help to save their their long-term relationship talk about having grown apart. Some couples rarely fight, others can get caught up in bickering back and forth over all kinds of things. Their sex life is often on the verge of being passionless. Their spare time together has gotten stuck in a routine of evenings spent in physical proximity but connected to different media devices.

George and Carmen are a good example. Typically during the week, George drops Carmen off at the sky train in the morning and they start their separate commute to work. Carmen is not a morning person so they barely talk. In the evening, when George picks Carmen up he is often in a bad mood because of problems that have been occurring at work. They will talk a bit about their day, but Carmen feels tense because George is stressed and tends to get impatient with the traffic and other drivers. When they arrive at home, Carmen prepares dinner while George tinkers in the garage. They have dinner together and often discuss chores or things that need to be done and their plans for the weekend. Then George goes and watches TV in the family room and Carmen watcher “her shows” in the bedroom. The evening scenario has slight variations with George being on the computer and Carmen reading or talking to her mother or friends on the phone or Carmen scrapbooking and George going out to play hockey.

While you may not resonate with George and Carmen, perhaps some of the following sounds familiar:

  • You are feeling hurt, frustrated, disappointed and / or discouraged. You feel like your partner just doesn’t get it. Even though you have tried to explain over and over again that a particular behavior is causing you emotional distress, your partner doesn’t seem willing to change.
  • You have stopped sharing what excites you or what you are passionate about because when you do, you get mono-syllable answers like mmm, yes honey, just a second, ecc while he or she stays engaged with the cell phone, ipad,  TV or newspaper.
  • You repeatedly ask your partner to do something and he/she repeatedly forgets your request.
  • There isn’t a lot of physical contact between you other than the odd peck on the lips or cheek and a brief hug.
  • It’s been a long time since you’ve had a date night. You are just too busy with work, kids, community activities and other commitments.

All of the above scenarios are examples of disconnect. Disconnect creeps in over time. Do you know why? Think back for a moment to the times when you felt or feel connected to your beloved. If it’s been a while, go back to the beginning of your relationship. What was it like back then?

Typically when you are dating or in the honeymoon phase of your relationship, you both make a concerted effort to connect. Usually you want to know all about this person that you have fallen in love with. You like to share and participate in each other’s lives. You are interested in their thoughts and you regularly reach out to touch each other.

While problems can build up over time due to poor communication, broken trust or other issues, making an effort to reconnect is an important place to start. When you feel connected to your partner, you will remember more easily that this is not your enemy when you’re arguing, but the person you love who might be having a bad day.

Burnaby Relationship Therapist helps you deepen your connection

Here are 9 ways to start getting connected again:

  1. Practice and incorporate the PIT stop into your daily routine ( I wrote a blog post about how it works a while back – here is the link )
  2. Make a point of hugging each other when you leave for the day and when you re-enter (of course you can always hug more often than that :)) Make this a connecting hug – research shows that oxytocin is released into your brain after 20 seconds – so take the time to really be present and connect to your partner and yourself in this hug
  3. Be willing to turn towards each other – receive your partner’s bid for attention with graciousness and interest rather than boredom or frustration. That means, be willing to stop texting, reading, watching ecc and give your partner your full attention – make eye contact. If you truly are totally in the middle of something – acknowledge your partner, ask if the connection can be postponed and then make sure you show up
  4. Truly listen and try to hear what your partner is saying without words. Reflect what you have heard, ask questions and take your partner in, rather than interrupting, becoming defensive or judgmental or launching into your own story
  5. Make deposits into your partner’s self-esteem account. Make a point of seeing them and communicating to them daily what you appreciate about who they are or what they do.
  6. Make connection time and intimacy with your partner a priority. After all this is the person you are choosing to spend your life with.
  7. Sit down together and share what specifically makes you feel connected. What is your language of love? Do you respond to touch and need touch to feel connected? Do you need words and communication to feel connected? Or perhaps you like to do things together like cook a meal to experience that connection with your love
  8. North Vancouver couples counselling and sex therapy  help you dream together againDream together. Review your long-term goals and visions to remind each other that you are on the same path.
  9. Practice the art of self-connection. Similar to my experience at yoga, make a point of finding time to connect with yourself in body, mind and spirit. If you are not connected to yourself – how can you approach and try to create a connection with your partner?

Stay tuned for the second secret to creating a thriving long-term relationship in my next blog post.

 

Have you stopped feeling special in your relationship? As a marriage therapist, I often hear one half of a couple who has come for couple’s counselling, share his or her sadness and disappointment about not feeling special anymore in the relationship.
This can prompt the other spouse to exclaim “What do you mean, you don’t feel special? Of course you’re special to me.”

Often  the partner replies with something similar to “but you never pay attention to me.”
Can you relate to the above scenario at all? While men and women feel special in response to different types of appreciation, both desire their partner to take notice of what they are doing or how they might be feeling.

Giving your partner attention is the one of the three keys to creating real love. When you’re in the honeymoon stage of your relationship, or you’re dating someone, you tend to shower them with attention. You notice everything about them. You express your appreciation for this person in word and deed.
Then, when you’ve been together for a while, and you’ve become a functioning team, it’s easy to start falling into the habit of taking each other for granted. You still love this person, but you are less focused. While this is a natural development, the key to relationship thrival lies in finding the balance that works for your relationship.

Kate had tears well up while she vented about her husband’s lack of attention. “Here I was, approaching the car with my arms full of shopping bags, balancing on high heels because we were going out to dinner. Do you think Jeff would notice and open the trunk for me? No, he was too busy on his Blackberry texting his buddy.”

Paying attention and being fully present with your partner doesn’t mean you can’t use your Blackberry anymore while you’re with your beloved.
It does mean, making an effort to notice and give voice to the little things: The expression on her face, the fact that he folded the laundry without you asking, the hours of overtime worked to create abundance, the note tucked into your lunch….
It means cultivating the habit of fully connecting with your partner when he or she engages you, i.e. putting the TV on mute, or momentarily setting aside what you’re doing.

Why don’t we pay more attention to our loved ones? Sometimes, we feel hurt, unseen or misunderstood. We carry around a bag full of unresolved or unnamed issues. I always know when couples have pain tucked away somewhere, when I hear one or both parties say:”Why should I do X? He / she never does Y for me. How many times have I asked for… “ and so on.

This brings us to another vital key for creating joy and connection in your love relationship. It is called willingness. Nothing happens without willingness. In order to be fully present with your partner you have to want to be present. 
Take a moment to reflect. Are you “sitting on something” that is affecting your willingness to make your partner feel special? Are you waiting for your partner to see and hear you before you’re willing to send them some positive attention?

Remember that if you’re hoping to receive your partner’s undivided attention, (perhaps you want to discuss something specific) it helps to let him/her know by making a specific request. Feeling hurt because your spouse isn’t reading your mind is a set up you co-create.

Learning to ask for what you want in a way that your partner can hear you, will go a long way towards creating willingness and receiving attention. To quote Harville Hendrix, founder of Imago Therapy, “focus on the positive.” That means rather than complaining or asking rhetorical “negative questions” such as “ Why can’t you cook once in a while?” or “Why do you always have to be late when we go somewhere?” make a positive request. “I would love it if you could take care of dinner on Wednesdays.”

The third key to creating real love and possibly the most precious gift you can offer your spouse is self-love; i.e. cultivating your ability to being willing to pay attention to and be present with your self.
Self-love often gets confused with self-care. Self-love doesn’t mean taking more bubble baths or treating yourself to a pedicure. Self-love means taking care of your own needs rather than expecting your partner to fix you. Developing an ability to self-soothe your anxiety would be an act of self-love for example. How would your partner and your relationship benefit? Imagine the following scenario:

Suzanne texts Rob all day long. She is constantly asking him when he is coming home, what he is doing and where he is because she is incapable of soothing her anxiety. She also phones him at work to find out whether he remembered to pick up the dry cleaning and to tell him about the phone call she had with her mother. When Rob comes home, and is texting on his phone, she wants to know who he is texting. Rob is Suzanne’s life line, problem solver and crisis soother. While Rob initially enjoyed feeling important, he now often wishes Suzanne could stop pestering him about his whereabouts. He feels curtailed in his freedom and weighed down by the feeling of responsibility of Suzanne relying on him to calm her down and reassure her all day long. Often he gets impatient. Then Suzanne feels hurt or gets angry.

Self-love means honouring your truth, discovering your needs and wants and taking care of your own well-being. While you want to contribute to the well-being of your partner, doing so at cost of self is actually a disservice to you both. It goes back to the principle of putting your own oxygen mask on first before assisting others. The consequences of lack of self-love have a ripple effect on your relationship. Not attending to your health, not dealing with your depression, anxiety or addiction can have serious consequences for your relationship.

Take a moment to reflect…where do you neglect your self-love and why? What pulls you off center and away from being the best partner and spouse you can be?
Consistently monitoring your willingness, level of attention and quality of self-care will create a positive LOVE change in your relationship.

Do you feel less inhibited or does it seem like you can “let yourself go more” sexually after you’ve had a drink or two or three? As a marriage counsellor and relationship therapist I often hear couples share that over time their sex life has lost some of its initial “sparkle.”

Recently one couple, let’s call them Mary and Tom,  shared that they had gotten into the habit of drinking or toking before being intimate. Conflict arose because Mary didn’t always feel like having a drink before sex and this was now affecting their physical intimacy.

How does alcohol affect your sex life? On the surface, alcohol may give you the illusion to promote “great sex” because it can make you feel romantic and more inclined to be sexual. For some men, it can “prevent” mild cases of  premature ejaculation or a tendency to come too soon. For some women it can promote sexual arousal or desire.

Have you have ever experienced difficulty in staying present with your partner  during sex (i.e. while you’re intimate your mind wanders and you suddenly think about work, or something on your to do list)?

Perhaps you can relate to the struggle to relax and relinquish control because you worry about being parts of your body being unattractive?

This was the case for Tom and Mary. Tom often felt overwhelmed by Mary’s need to have eye contact during sex and desire to talk after sex. Mary could get caught up in thinking her belly was too fat and trying to avoid Tom touch her in certain areas she thought were less attractive.

After a couple of drinks these feelings subsided for both of them. This makes sense because alcohol and marijuana are both depressants. The can temporarily alleviate anxiety.

Alcohol does not however contribute to building a deeper intimate connection. You also face the risk of developing a habit of needing “chemical” support to handle your emotions, which can of course lead to addiction.

Sexual bliss is directly impacted by your ability to

  • Manage your anxiety
  • Learn to be present in your body
  • Build and maintain charge
  • Create emotional safety and trust in your relationship

Introspection is the place to start if you’d like to deepen your intimate connection, if you long to have sexual experiences with your partner that verge on the spiritual or if you’d like to be more at ease in your body.

Once you’ve identified whether you need help with boundaries, self-esteem building or anxiety management, you can choose a number of ways ranging from self-help books to counselling support to create positive change in your life.

If you have identified that your relationship is lacking in emotional safety, you and your partner will want to sit down and discuss what you need from each other in order to repair or rebuild trust.

Often this will mean that you both learn how to communicate differently with each other. Sometimes it means one of you needing to learn anger management.

There are numerous resources available from books to courses in non-violent communication or working with a love and intimacy counsellor like myself who can help you with the process of hearing and seeing each other and accepting each other’s differences without sacrificing your own needs and desires.

One of the most basic needs that humans  have is to be heard and seen.

Being heard and seen by someone  you love creates joy and well-being.

What do I mean when I talk about hearing and seeing someone? I’m talking about attunement and boundaries. When I start working with new counselling clients, our first session is always a boundary session. We explore how boundaries have been experienced in the past and how that manifests is showing up in the client’s life now.

Whether it is marriage counselling or helping someone cope with addiction recovery, boundary work is essential to communicating true needs and feelings and managing your own emotions.

Truly hearing and seeing someone and being heard and seen in return finally becomes possible when you are connected to and grounded in your boundary.

In order to make what can be an abstract concept, a felt sense in the body, I use string during the boundary exercise. At the end of the exercise I will say the following:

“I want you to know that I can see your boundary. During our work together, I am going to be right here with you, with my boundary. I am not going to invade your space, nor am I going to leave.”

What is often the most important sentence for clients to hear is this last sentence:
“You don’t have to worry wondering how what you’re sharing is landing for me. I will take care of myself.”

What is the greatest obstacle to either being heard and seen or to being fully present with someone you love?

Our Ego and poor boundary management are at the top of the list. Our ego likes to drive our internal monologue.
Here are some examples of what can happen when you’re listening to someone:
Notice that you may or you may NOT be aware that this is what you’re doing.

  • You get distracted because you’re busy or bored and start thinking about something in your own life – i.e. a part of you leaves and you pretend to listen
  • You start having opinions or judgments regarding what you’re hearing and you can’t wait to share those… so you stop listening or eagerly wait for an opportunity to interrupt
  • What you’re hearing brings up feelings for you – either regarding the well-being of the other person or your own anxiety, sadness, anger ecc. When it’s your turn to talk, you jump in trying to change how the other person is feeling or all of a sudden the conversation becomes  about you and your feelings.
  • You feel the need to fix things and start giving advice or telling the other person what they should be doing or thinking.

How many times have you shared something with a spouse or parent but “adjusted” the what, how and when of your communication because you wanted to

  • avoid conflict
  •  not upset the other person
  •  minimize your anxiety
  •  protect yourself from feeling vulnerable

 

About 12 years ago I was part of a closed group of therapist practicing dance movement therapy. For 2 years we met for 7 days twice a year. And in those 7 days, every day we repeated a particular exercise. It entailed one person being in front of the group (there were 30 of us) sharing an experience. Those watching had to be witnesses.

There were only two rules:
In silence, we were supposed to be fully present with the person in front of us and hear and see them.
The moment we noticed that we were no longer fully present because we got distracted, triggered, had gone off on a tangent, were in judgment mode ecc. we had to get up and stand in a marked area to the side.

If we were in “the box” our job was to now be fully present with ourselves; to truly hear and see what was going on for us. Once we had attended to our own issues and were ready to be fully present with someone else, we returned to the witness area.

It was an incredibly powerful exercise for both the witnesses and for the person in front of the group. We learned that as a collective, there were certain things that triggered us or we weren’t able or willing to hear.

As individuals, we were really able to get in touch with how easy it is to get caught up in how others respond to us. (It’s not easy to share something with a group and have half the people get up and stand over on the side.)

Mindfulness and good boundaries are 2 key ingredients for relationship thrival

because the promote an emotional connection where you can feel heard and seen.

How fully we are willing and able to be heard and seen is determined by the amount of emotional safety present in a relationship. I invite you to ponder the following questions and identify your challenges.

  • How safe is it for you to be authentic?
  • Can you share with your partner that you’re distracted or busy right now but you’re willing to listen later?
  • Can you set a boundary and share that what you’re hearing is bringing up feelings for you and that you’re now in your own world?
  • Are you willing to trust your partner to cope with whatever feelings might come up for them in the conversation?
  •  Are you able to let go of trying to “fix” whatever is going on for your spouse?
  •  Can you stay connected to your own boundary and soothe any anxiety present for you, when you share something you know the other person isn’t going to like?
  •  Are you able to not get defensive and lovingly own your own truth?
  • Can you refrain from criticizing what you’re hearing or asking WHY your partner feels this way?

Take some time to journal about what comes up for you and compare notes with your partner. You might be surprised about some assumptions have been making or how you individually experience your communication.

Often in our desire to be fully present with another, we stop being present with ourselves.
Learn the difference between being present WITH someone and being present FOR someone and how the latter can have some very negative consequences in Part 2 coming soon.

Ina Stockhausen, R .P.C. is a marriage therapist offering counselling services for Burnaby, the Tri-Cities area and greater Vancouver.