This is a great video on how important stress can be and what messages it gives to our body. What we do with the stress is essential and how reaching out and connecting with others is what our body really needs in the end.
You could probably “google” the title of this blog and get hundreds of different responses. Despite this, I would like to share what I think is the secret ingredient most couples and family members lack when they experience relational distress. I believe it is human intuition that when our character or role in a relationship is threatened we immediately want to put up a defense to protect it. One of the reasons we do this is to avoid feeling shame about ourselves or the role we play in our relationship distress. Most of us naturally want to feel important as well as feel we are making a positive difference with the people around us. The way we react to disapproval or criticism is similar to how our bodies react to a cold virus. When our bodies recognize that something foreign has invaded it and is threatening the system, it gives off antibodies to fight and defend itself. Unfortunately, in relationships, these natural efforts to defend ourselves from others’ disapproval usually causes more harm than good. Often times, we feel the “need” to help our loved ones hear our side of the story because if they don’t (we say to ourselves) they will think the worst of us. Then as soon as we express what “really” happened, we expect our loved ones to succumb to the “truth” of it and admit that their views of the incident are in error. Unfortunately, as you might have guessed, our episodes most often don’t unfold in this manner. What often happens is two people feeling unheard and misunderstood and leave feeling more frustrated than ever. However there is a key piece of knowledge here that many people have a hard time contemplating. It is that TRUTH IS POINTLESS IN RELATIONSHIPS! Trying to convince each other to hear the “real” story often ends up in a conversational debate about who is right and who is wrong. Now don’t get me wrong. I think there are certain things in the relationship that need to be regarded as “wrong” and “right.” However, for the most part, healthy relationships are often founded on a mutual understanding of each other’s unique perspectives. This leads me to the SECRET INGREDIENT……..VALIDATION. Validation is the ability to step inside our partners world and to see the world as they see it. When we have done this we given them permission to feel whatever they are feeling and acknowledge their difficulty and pain in the events that have occurred. When couples and families are able to validate one another’s story and feelings, positive interactions can start to succeed the negative ones and lead us on the road to relationship satisfaction. I think that often times we fear that if we validate and understand our partner’s feelings that we are afraid that our own feelings won’t be heard or understand. However, that is often not the case. When we are able to listen to our partners on an emotional and authentic level and our partners are able to express themselves on a vulnerable and authentic level, our partners are much more likely to step inside our world and listen to our reality.
In the process of change and growth in relationships, authenticity is a vital, yet difficult, attribute to develop. In his book, Becoming a Whole Man, David Matheson states, “To be authentic means to live out of the core of who we truly are, undistorted by our shadows, wounds, or symptoms. It means being the real thing—being genuine or pure. It’s something more than blunt honesty. Rudeness is sometimes honest. Rage can be honest, so can hatred, lust, and selfishness. But authenticity represents the highest and most mature level of ego consciousness of which we’re capable. [It] springs from the guiding self that exists at our center.”
I wanted to share a personal example in my own life to show how authenticity can change relationships for both the good and bad but ultimately lead us to healthy and happier lives. This experience occurred quite recently.
During my first year of college, I moved in with my best friend (let’s call him Joe) and his brother. The three of us started to get pretty close over the coming months and their relationships had become important to me. After several months, some friends from their hometown started to move into the complex and what began as a small group of guys hanging out became quite a large one. At one point our apartment complex needed us to switch apartments. So, on moving day, I headed down to the office and asked what apartment I was moving into with my friends. They told me Joe had told them that I was moving into a different apartment with some people I had never met prior to this.
When I had confronted Joe, he told me that he wanted to move in with his hometown buddies and he didn’t have the heart to tell me. I was devastated. This overwhelming feeling of rejection overtook my body. I decided from that day to lock my heart up and keep my distance from my friend emotionally. I told myself that it was too difficult for me to be emotionally influenced by him any longer. Over the years I started to distance myself from him more and more, and he eventually moved away so we rarely spoke after that.
In spite of my efforts to distance myself, Joe has been pretty persistent these past several years in keeping our friendship alive and has always done well to call me and ask me about my life. Joe had apologized for his actions previously in our apartment turmoil, but up until a few weeks ago, I had been avoiding his calls. At first I wasn’t consciously aware why I had been avoiding his calls because I had thought I had done my own therapeutic work already around that fateful day. However, I had recognized some fear I was experiencing every time I thought of calling him and knew there was some unresolved work around this.
So, I decided to be vulnerable and authentic with him about my fears. When I spoke to him, I apologized for avoiding his calls and told him that it was a result of my hurt around that fateful moving day. I told him that in spite of his apology, my body obviously wasn’t over the issue and that I was currently working on it. I told him that I felt it was my issue and asked for his patience. He was able to respond warmly and told me, “If I had been a better friend, you wouldn’t be feeling this way. I want you to know that I love you and think of you as one of my best friends.” I told him that if it weren’t for his willingness to see how I was doing on a regular basis, I would have made excuses not to call. I told him that I loved him too and that he was important to me. His words to me were exactly what I needed to hear, and I felt my fear dissipate. We have talked quite often since, and I felt that our conversation was just what I needed to resolve my fear. Joe was able to validate my hurt feelings, and I felt a connection with him on a higher level than I have ever felt with him previously.
I hope my story will help each of you get the courage to take the risk and become vulnerable and authentic with the people you care about. It will bless your life. I believe that authenticity in relationships can help increase your own feelings of worthiness as human beings and help you on the path to becoming whole.
Many individuals have spent a large portion of their lives trying to be the types of people they believe others want them to be. They do this to gain acceptance and love from those around them, but in this process they forget their true selves. It is as if they’ve locked up their unique true selves in a prison inside their unconscious mind, in order to protect it from danger and avoid acknowledging it any longer. If we’re able to open the prison door and listen to the part of us we have kept locked up, we will come to find that the true authentic versions of ourselves are actually the versions that people desperately want to see and come to know.
The road to authenticity can be a difficult journey, and it may include letting ourselves become vulnerable, sometimes even to those individuals who are capable of hurting us. This journey may require us to explore the pains of our past. However, if we let our true selves be seen by others, and take the risks required to connect to those people who are willing to see us for who we really are, the ultimate goal of becoming whole and finding lasting happiness will be much closer than we have imagined possible. So, let’s find relationships that encourage us to become genuine and authentic. These are the relationships that are so vital to our success in living up to our whole potential as human beings and obtain the happiness we so desperately desire in a world filled with constant turmoil and chaos.
This video clip from the movie “The Adjustment Bureau” addresses the concept of authenticity in a really unique way. Check it out.
No, love isn’t an emotion or even a noun. It’s a verb. Better defined as giving. As putting someone else’s needs above your own.
Why wasn’t I getting reciprocal lovey-doveyness when we were first married? Because it wasn’t for her. It was for me. An emotion I had in my chest.
What do you think about his definition of love? Does it resonate with you?
You can read his post here:
Raising my two daughters has taught me a lot about parenting (considering the fact that my degree at BYU was in child development). My oldest (Rylie) can be a handful sometimes, especially since she is like me in most ways. Sometimes, she wakes up at night and will just cry for about 20 minutes then fall back asleep. Knowing that it is most likely Night Terrors that are the cause of this, I try to calm her down so she can go back to sleep. However, our youngest (Raelyn) sleeps in the same room as her and will sometimes wake up as a result of the crying. When this happens, it can be frustrating because now I have two crying children that I am trying to get back to sleep. I am sure many of you know what this is like. Recently, Rylie woke up crying again and in an effort to not wake Raelyn up, I appeared very anxious toward Rylie and encouraged her to calm down. This of course made things worse. After this, I kept on repeating, “Shhh” to Rylie in an attempt to stop the crying so she wouldn’t wake up the baby. After doing this several times, I had realized exactly what I was doing wrong. First, I was indirectly telling Rylie that Raelyn’s sleep was more important than her Night Terrors or how she was feeling. Secondly, I portrayed the message that sharing her feelings was not allowed in the family and that she needed to repress how she was feeling in order to prevent causing a stir with the rest of the family. Whether she interpreted the situation like that or not I do not know. I had realized that in spite of my good intentions I was teaching my daughter that expressing her emotions was not important to me. Of course, one situation like this is not going to cause an emotional disaster with Rylie in the future, However, I believe that an accumulation of the indirect message “Your feelings are not important right now” can very well teach my children to repress and not deal with what their bodies are feeling.
I see the affects of this with many of the people I see in therapy. Because of the messages that they might have received in the past, they have taught themselves that allowing one to experience core emotions such as sadness, fear, shame, or anger is not safe to do. Unfortunately, when we repress such emotions we begin to carry them with us in a suit case where ever we go in our lives. If you think you are effectively dealing with the issue in this case (pun not intended) I assure you it is not so. I have noticed that many of my clients are afraid of expressing an emotion such as anger, especially if it is towards a deceased family member. They feel that it is not their right to be angry at such a person especially since the family member is not here to defend themselves. However, They are already angry with the deceased member whether they accept this or not, and that by not facing the anger they are already holding towards the family member will most likely continue to tarry with them where ever they go and affect their relationships in the present and future. However, if we can learn to ACCEPT our emotions and the fact that they are part of us as human beings and begin to process through the anger (or other emotions) effectively , we do not have to let it control our lives or influence our relationships any longer. However, this processing can be difficult and dangerous to do and manage especially if you are not being guided by a trained therapist.
As for parenting, A book that really helps parents to teach their children the importance of processing through emotions is called, “Raising an Emotional Intelligent Child” by John Gottman. I recommend it to any parent who is interested in helping their children understand the importance of processing their emotions effectively.
Of course for my own parenting, despite all my mistakes (and future mistakes), as long as I continue to apply my own principles of parenting as best as I can (crossing my fingers) and most importantly as long as they know that I love them MORE THAN I LOVE MYSELF I would consider my parenting a success.
Author: Kyle M. Reid, Associate Marriage and Family Therapist
I once had a friend who told me that when he was first married, he had the flu one weekend. He started to get very angry at his wife because she didn’t have a glass of grape juice sitting on his bedside when he became sick. I thought to myself, “That’s ridiculous!” He went onto say that growing up his mother would give him a glass of grape juice every time he was sick. He was so used to getting one over the years that he expected his wife to do the same thing.
We all of have expectations in our relationships. Some are important for the relationship to continue (e.g. fidelity) and some are ones that we might need to reevaluate or just remember that we own them and shouldn’t push them onto our partners. I would say that the hard part is trying to decide which ones are worth fighting for and which ones we need to own for ourselves.
One of the biggest mistakes I see in relationships is the fight each partner has between what is right and wrong in their eyes. Each partner spends so much time trying to convince the other that they need to see things their way that all they end up doing is convince the other to hold onto their current way of thinking who in return becomes resentful towards them for trying to force their beliefs onto them. One example of this is when my wife and I were first married. In our drawer in the kitchen, we had bar towels and towels you would use to dry your hands. According to my beliefs and how I was raised, you NEVER mix up the two! I had a firm belief that you never use the bar towels to wipe your hands and you never use the hand towels to wipe the counter. However, my wife didn’t see this issue as of great importance and was wondering why I was running around throwing a hissy fit. So, she would continue to mix up the two quite often. Sometimes I would go and wipe my hands on a hand towel not knowing that it had been used previously to wipe the counters off. I became frustrated with her quite often and attempted to convince her that my way was the right way of doing things and she needed to stop mixing the towels up. I began to realize that she just wasn’t raised my way. I realized that I needed to stop putting my expectations onto her and stop demanding that she live up to them. I had to make a choice. I would either continue to nag her about the towels to the point she would do what I said. I would get what I wanted but with a heavy price of resentment and a build up of emotional walls from her in return. On the other hand, If I chose to own my expectations and understand where she was coming from, I could begin to see how using the right towels wasn’t worth the pains of the relationship distress. I could ACCEPT it…… Of course, I chose the latter. We haven’t fought about it since. Choosing to ACCEPT this has lead me to look back on it now and think how silly it was for me to put so much effort into using the right towels. Now, instead of getting on her case, I grab another towel to wipe my hands and move on to the rest of my day leaving that behind me. This experience has taught me the importance of owning my expectations in my relationship as well as learning to ACCEPT many things I don’t have control over.
Author: Kyle M. Reid, Associate Marriage and Family Therapist
One of the best books I ever read wasn’t actually a novel. It was a book about drug addicts. It is called In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts by Gabor Mate. Well, I learned from this book that most of the things that a drug addict struggles with and the reasons for their addiction plague most relationships. Addictions are actually much more common than you might think. There are many forms of addiction that plague relationships: such as TV, Internet browsing, pornography, social media websites (i.e. Facebook), computer games, video games, cleaning, shopping, music, eating disorders, and electronic gadgets. The problem behind the addiction isn’t the addiction itself but the addiction cycle and the needs our bodies are trying to get met. Even if you take the steps necessary to stop one addiction (e.g. pornography), another one pops up in its place (e.g. TV). This is because you are not actually solving the problem underneath the addiction, which is: using poor substitutes for love. People who struggle with addiction do not necessarily have problems with being loved or feeling loved, but the problem lies in “accepting love vulnerably and openly on a visceral, emotional level” (Mate, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts). People who cannot find or receive love need to find external influences or substitutes to get their needs met (Mate, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts). One of the biggest differences between people who struggle with addiction and people who are less influenced by them is their ability to handle and deal with emotions. Children who have parents who are always attentive to their needs, who have the ability to regulate their own emotions, and can properly soothe their children, learn to manage their emotions effectively because they were taught by their parents. However, those who have poor attachments with their parents and were left to themselves to soothe their emotional distress relied on external sources to comfort themselves. It is unfortunate that we are entering into a society where there is more and more emotional deprivation and reliance on electronic technology to find comfort rather than having quality contact at home with our loved ones.
What do I do then?
If you are struggling in a relationship where addiction has taken its toll on the relationship distress, I encourage you to see a therapist. Addictions can be difficult to overcome and unless you can deal with the underlying problems associated with the addiction, you are most likely to develop other forms of addicted behaviors. However, knowing what is at the root of addiction can help the addict and the partner of the addict in knowing what needs to be done.
If you are interested in finding out more information on the book, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, please visit the resources tab at the top of the page.
Author: Kyle M. Reid, Associate Marriage and Family Therapist
One of the most common complaints I hear from couples is the inability that they have to communicate effectively with each other. By the time they come into therapy, they are both exhausted physically, emotionally, and mentally in the relationship and are at a loss of how to get the other partner to understand them. When partners stop listening to each other, the relationship slowly starts to diminish. However, before we go further, lets talk about the differences between hearing someone and listening to someone. Listening is more than just hearing what people say. I can hear my wife talk to me about her day and get every word she is saying but if I am playing on my phone while she is doing this she will most likely reply, “Are you listening to me!” Of course my natural reply would be, “I heard everything you said!” However, what did she really want from me?……… She wanted more than just hearing her words, she needed me to help her to feel I cared about her day and what she was going through. Listening to our partners is not about agreeing with them! It is about trying to show empathy towards their situations and what they are going through. It is about trying to put ourselves in their shoes and walk in them a bit.
By the time couples get to therapy, the listening stops and the defensiveness starts. They had stopped listening to each other long ago in their relationship and have come to a point where they just want to be heard by their partner. So you can imagine what this looks like. The most common example of this to me in therapy happens while one partner is talking to other. A lot of the time, the latter is trying to think about the next thing to say to him or her trying to win the war of words.
At this point (the point where most conversations end up in an argument), many couples contemplate divorce believing that they will find somebody better who will understand and listen to their needs. While this usually happens initially at the beginning of relationships, most patterns get repeated in the long-term no matter how many relationship changes there are.
One of my favorite authors, Michael P. Nichols, PhD, wrote a book called, The Lost Art of Listening. In here he stated, “A relationship is not a thing, not a static state; it is a process of mutual influence. A relationship isn’t something you have; it’s something you do. Couples who learn to listen to each other–with understanding and tolerance–often find that they don’t need to change each other. The impulse to change things, to make them better, is a natural and largely constructive one. But anyone who thinks of marriage as an infinitely improvable arrangement is making a mistake. The ideal of perfectibility breeds frustration. Many problems can be solved, but the problem of living with another person who doesn’t always see things the way you do isn’t one of them. Sometimes marriage isn’t about resolving differences but learning to live together with them” (p. 207).
What do I do then?
If you feel you are in a relationship where you are not being understood, ask yourself, “Does my partner feel understood by me? Does her or she feel I care about their opinions?” When my wife and I are talking about something together, I often don’t agree with how she sees things. However, I recognize that her feelings and opinions are just as important as mine and who am I to say that I am the all-knowing authority on the subject! I have learned in my relationship and with my therapeutic experience that expecting your partner to align with your way of viewing the world will mostly likely leave you alone in that world. My advice is to resist the urge to try and change your partner and focus your efforts on listening to them. Doing this will likely lead to a better and healthier relationship. I have often found that by doing this and helping your partner feel cared about by you, he or she will most likely be in a place to listen and understand you.
If you are interested in finding out more information on the book, The Lost Art of Listening, please visit the resources tab at the top of the page.