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Ask Our Coaches:
Stuck in Love
"I am still in love with him, but my fears keep cropping up...."
This column answers questions submitted by our readers. Submit your questions to Tara@relationshipcoachinginstitute.com who will forward them to our coaches all over the world. Each issue, we'll publish a few answers from our RCI coaches.
I am in my late 40s and have been married several times. Infidelity on both sides has been a pattern. Today I am faithful, but my present partner of 12 years has not been. A year ago, I discovered through emails and phone texts that he has been seeing other women through the years. He had done online dating in the past and I didn't know he still had an account open.
What hurts me most are the lies, dishonesty, and not coming clean with his past. In the past year I did a lot of work through counseling. I continue to love him and I've forgiven him. But my fears got triggered last week when I found old love letters again. In addition, I feel frustrated because he does not believe in counseling; instead he takes me on trips all over the world. I am still in love with him, but my fears keep cropping up -- being too old to do the dating game again.
He told me recently that he does not want to be married, but he promises we will "grow old and discover the world together." I want more. I want honesty, I want to live under one roof, to feel safe, secure, and enjoy a blissful partnership. He tells me "you have it" when I asked for monogamy because he doesn't want to come clean and work with a couples counselor.
I still have a hard time trusting him. Even though I own my own house, I have a great job, and my kids are doing well with their careers, I'm starting to wonder if I'm addicted to him, if I'm an enabler, and in a codependent relationship. What should I do?
Helen from Hawaii
Jenna responds …
From what I can tell, you know what you want but you don't know how to get it. If your current partner isn't willing to go to couples counseling, and you believe he's being dishonest about his past, then you must ask yourself if this is the relationship you long for.
I do hear in your words that you know you deserve to be happy, now it's just a matter of making that happen. Ask yourself how this relationship is serving you. Is it moving you towards your goals of security, honesty and bliss, or away from them? What are you gaining by staying in this relationship? What fears might be holding you back from moving forward?
You are the true creator of your happiness. When you start to make choices that serve your well-being, you're well on your way to having the partnership of your dreams. And remember, the "right" choices aren’t always the easy ones.
Jenna Korf | www.everyday-evolution.com | 408.470.9743
Mari responds …
The best relationship in the world is the relationship you have with yourself, and that means loving yourself to the point that you refuse to settle for less than the very best from someone else. Let's set aside age for a moment and the fact that you've been married several times. If you were in your twenties, and had never married, would you view this man as "the very best"?
You state he's a liar, a cheat and unwilling to accept counseling. You also state you're gainfully employed and successful within your own right. So, the question is, what exactly is he offering you? You question whether or not you're addicted to him. What I'm hearing you state, Helen, is fear -- that you're getting older, that you've failed at relationships and that he may be your last chance.
My suggestion? Begin to reconnect with Helen again. Start here and now to do those things, and only those things that bring you the greatest joy and peace. You'd be surprised that once you begin putting that loving energy out there, unsettled circumstances and situations will clear up and bring more loving results back to you.
Mari Lyles | 301.249.0979
Carol responds …
You are asking all the right questions. Why are you staying in this relationship? You are very clear on what it is you want. Does this relationship match up,or does it fall short of your heart's desire? What satisfaction do you receive? You've stated your needs to your partner and he has been very clear about where he stands. Are you listening? Are you in this relationship because it is mutually satisfying or are you staying out of fear?
Many of us grew up with ideas that don't work anymore: such as an underlying belief that a bird in hand is worth two in the bush; or that we are only desirable when we are young. Are you staying because you get what you want in the relationship or for fear of being alone? When did forty-something become the cut off age for finding love? People find each other at every age. Look around you for the truth and you will find couples of every age. Go online, try a dating site and see who is there and no doubt you will find people of every description, looking for and finding love. Remember that the sooner you let go of what does not work the sooner you make room for real love to enter your life.
Carol Baxter | www.theinspiredlivingcenter.com | 772.785.7862
Denise responds ...
Ask yourself three questions, without age as a factor: Is my fear of being alone overriding my needs? Am I compromising my values? And am I willing to live with this situation just the way it is?
There is no pressure to come to any immediate decision no matter what your answers are. Allow yourself permission to focus all your energies on you for now. Physical and emotional self care may be long overdue. Engaging in some self awareness work may help you line up your relational requirements a little more clearly.
By consciously identifying and defining your own non-negotiable requirements, needs, and wants you will come to better understand yourself. There is no greater empowerment than self knowledge. And with this new knowledge you will feel more equipped to make the decision whether to stay in the relationship or not. Just make sure you do the work with yourself as the priority, not your partner.
Think about what Helen needs right now. And what about Helen's younger self? She should get a say. By delving into those much neglected needs, the old limiting beliefs that accompanied them will surface. Then you'll ask yourself if they are still serving you well. It will be then you will know what the right decision is for you.
Denise Wade | 610.639.6627
Laura responds …
The insight you offered at the end of your message is enlightening. Your inner voice is telling you that something is off in the relationship; however, your inner critic is hoping that you'll follow the same pattern again (and again, and again). Your inner voice is the healthy side of you recognizing his words are not matching his actions. In this case, 1 + 1 does not equal two. It doesn't add up.
Your challenge is to listen to your inner voice (aka your gut instincts), heed what it's saying, no matter how uncomfortable it makes you. It's going to be uncomfortable either way. Why not get healthy for you? End the legacy of unhealthy, unfaithful relationships. If he decides that monogamy is the way for him as well, great. Tell him you would like to explore a future with a couples therapist.
A coach would be helpful to strengthen your core. If, in the future, your partner would like to engage in couples work, I would suggest a therapist as there may be some "un-coachable issues." I wish you much success in your journey to healthy, cherishing, loving relationships.
Laura Moorman, ACC | www.relationshipawakenings.com
When it's time to stop arguing:
by Shirley Vollett
Old pain can easily get stimulated by current interactions.
~Patricia Love & Stephen Stosny
I am often asked by clients how they can better deal with their emotional reactivity with a loved one. They aren't talking about minor irritations with a partner. They mean those times when a conversation suddenly "goes ballistic" – and they feel like their partner has become "the enemy."
It may happen during a conversation that starts out calmly and blows up unexpectedly. Or it may be a discussion that begins testily and goes downhill from there.
Usually they are knocked for a loop by something that their partner says or does - and they find themselves upset and triggered into intense feelings of fear, shame, anger or hurt. Or maybe they don't even know what emotions they're feeling. They just know that they're upset. And all of a sudden, their loving partner feels exceedingly unsafe to be around.
Once emotionally triggered, some individuals lash out and say things that they regret. Others collapse into a feeling of helplessness and withdraw.
Every now and then, most relationships experience a conflict that is emotionally triggering for one or both partners. So my clients' questions are important ones. How can we more constructively deal with our emotional reactivity? How can we prevent our conflicts from escalating when we are emotionally triggered? How do we know when to continue an intense conversation - and when to give it a rest?
Through some trial and error over the years, my husband and I have developed some strategies that help us navigate these difficult conversations. When I learned about the concept of "flooding" from relationship expert John Gottman, I realized WHY our strategies worked.
The idea of "flooding" provides a physiological understanding of what is going on at those times, why it is so hard to resolve things, why tensions seem to escalate and what is needed to diffuse the situation. I'd like to share that information with you.
Watch where you step!
My husband and I think of this condition - when both of us are emotionally triggered - as "the minefield". The more we try to pick our way out of it, the worse it gets. As we continue to react defensively, bombs go off everywhere we step. So over the years, we have learned that the best response when in a minefield is to STOP. Otherwise we will continue to do emotional damage to each other.
At those times of emotional triggering, we are unable to successfully resolve our conflicts because of what Gottman refers to as "flooding". Flooding refers to a physiological response, which is very primitive in nature. Our heart rate speeds up, our blood pressure mounts and adrenaline is secreted, creating the "fight or flight" response.
Our fear reaction is akin to that experienced by our cave-dwelling ancestors. Says Gottman, the human body responds to fear the same way, "whether you're facing a saber-toothed tiger or a contemptuous spouse demanding to know why you can never remember to put the toilet seat back down".
Once flooded, things often go from bad to worse
When you're flooded, your ability to process information is reduced. It's harder to pay attention to what your partner is saying and your ability to creatively problem solve disappears.
Once flooded, you're left with the options of fight (act critical, contemptuous or defensive) or flight (tuning your partner out or stonewalling). Resolving the issue is highly unlikely and continued conversation will probably worsen the situation and result in additional wounding of each other.
So how can a couple navigate the minefield when they are "flooded"? Here are some suggestions:
#1 Learn to recognize the signs
Reflect on how you can recognize "flooding" - in yourself and in your partner. What are the signs that one or both of you is flooded?
• Feeling defensive?
• Holding your breath?
• Heart racing?
• Unable to listen to what your partner is saying?
• Feeling shell-shocked?
• Feeling attacked or wanting to attack?
• Your partner has suddenly become "the enemy"?
You and your partner can help each other to recognize when one or both of you has crossed the line and reasonable problem-solving is no longer an option.
#2 Stop the conversation – for now
It's impossible to work out a conflict when one or both partners is flooded. So don't try. If you keep going, you may end up exploding at your spouse or imploding (shutting down). Either of these options will just make things worse. You may end up doing or saying something that is not easy to repair or forget.
You can disengage from the conversation with a phrase such as:
• Let's take a break.
• I think we're in a "minefield".
• Please, let's stop for awhile.
• I'm feeling flooded.
• Let's leave this for another time, when we're calmer.
Assure your partner that you will return to the conversation when you're both ready. This is not an excuse to permanently avoid dealing with the issue.
#3 Take time apart to allow your physiology to return to normal
You will need a minimum of 20 minutes for your body to return to normal. (Typically, the male cardiovascular system is more reactive than the female system -- and also slower to recover from stress. So it's important to WAIT until your partner is ready to re-engage.)
Do something soothing or calming, like exercising, listening to music, or whatever works for you. Gottman recommends refraining from thoughts of righteous indignation ("I don't have to take this anymore.") or innocent victimhood ("Why is she always picking on me?"). Just focus on calming down.
Later it may be helpful to debrief the situation with a trusted friend or journal about what happened. Don't seek to garner agreement about who is right and who is wrong. The purpose of speaking to another or writing is merely to clarify and take greater ownership of your own triggered feelings - rather than blame your partner. Most triggers have deep roots in the past - and the current situation is only a small percentage of the "emotional charge" you are experiencing.
#4 Extend some soothing/reassurance to your partner
Once you have calmed yourself, it can be very healing to extend some physical touch or a reassuring word to your partner. Perhaps you can discuss in advance what sort of overture would be soothing to your partner (and vice-versa) when flooding has occurred.
My husband and I coined the phrase "hands across the chasm" to describe our intention to remain connected, even when we are too upset or angry to be close. For us, that phrase can be a soothing olive branch in the midst of a stormy interaction. Humour is also a great tension-reliever.
#5 Revisit the discussion when you both feel calm and ready
You may be ready to resume your conversation in an hour - or you may need several days or longer before you're ready to resume. Hopefully by then, you'll have gained some awareness of what feelings and interpretations the conversation triggered for you - and be able to share that with your partner. You may have identified some "hot buttons" from your past that got pressed. Discuss what you each need to keep the conversation feeling safe. If flooding occurs again, you'll know what to do!
Most relationships experience some incidents of flooding. However if it is a recurrent, constant theme in your relationship - and issues are not resolved -- I urge you to get some professional help to get your communication onto a more positive footing.
You and your partner are bound to be triggered from time to time. You will heal and grow in the process of working through these sensitive issues. However, when flooded, do your best to disengage and calm yourself. When your partner stops looking like the enemy to you, you'll have a much easier time creatively working things out.
Invitation to Action
Share this information with your partner. Have a conversation together about flooding - or reflect on these questions for yourself:
• What makes you (me) feel flooded?
• Are you (am I) an exploder or an imploder?
• What tends to trigger you (me)?
• Is there anything I can do that soothes/reassures you?
• Is there anything you can do that soothes/reassures me?
• What signals or code words can we develop for letting the other know when we're flooded and we need to take a break? And the next time you're flooded, or you sense your partner is: Gently take a break.
Copyright ©2010 by Shirley Vollett. All rights reserved in all media. Used with permission.
Shirley Vollett, BSW PCC is a Life and Relationship Coach, with over 20 years of combined experience in counseling and coaching. She delights in helping pro-active individuals make positive changes in their lives, their work/business and their relationships. http://shirley.vollett.com
Why Marriages Fail and
What You Can Do to Change the Odds
by Michelle E. Vásquez
Despite the fact that over 50% of marriages end in divorce, optimistic couples still tie the knot in droves every year. They believe they will be different. They hope this is true. They spend tons of money on their dream wedding, go off on a fabulous honeymoon, and then hope to settle into eternal domestic bliss.
These couples truly believe they will be different. However, there's an old saying: "Thinking doesn't make it so." Just because you want something to be a particular way doesn't mean it will happen. It is more likely that you will be happy for a while, and then you will begin to repeat the patterns you learned in your childhood. You will do the things your parents did to each other. You may even fight to maintain these unhealthy behaviors, exclaiming, "That's the way we did it in our family."
The only training most people have ever received for being married is the example from their parents and relatives. Sadly, this training taught them how to be "miserable ever after." Most couples in love do not stop to think that they are unprepared for the part of marriage that involves actually living together. They truly believe that "all you need is love" and "love will keep us together."
Unfortunately, love is not enough. You need relationship training. If you are serious about creating a great marriage, give yourself and the one you love a fighting chance to make it happen. Everything we do involves training:
- You went to school to learn (hopefully)
- You got training for your career and you have to do ongoing training to keep up with your profession
- If you wanted to be good at a sport, you trained for that, maybe even hiring a coach
- Learning a new language takes training
- If you've had a baby and taken Lamaze classes, you were training for the birth of your child
Whenever you want to learn something new you are training. So why are relationships so magical that you are supposed to automatically make them successful without any other training but the examples of your parents?
Give your marriage a better chance to succeed. Train yourselves to become a loving couple who gives the best to your relationship. Yes, it takes some effort and your relationship is worth it!
Copyright ©2010 by Michelle E. Vásquez. All Rights Reserved for all media.
Michelle E. Vásquez, MS, LPC, is an RCI Relationship Coach who helps singles and couples attract the life they want and create the relationships that bring them joy. She specializes in working with couples who are experiencing relationship difficulties as well as with singles who want to find the love of their life. Bilingual, English and Spanish speaking. www.trueloverelationshipcoaching.com 714.717.5744
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