Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Happiness Habit

Years ago my husband told me how discouraged he was that I would frequently talk to him in a way that made him wonder if we were really compatible. He didn't think it was fair, or right, to ask me to change because he was having a difficult time handling the way I responded to stress and reacted with him. He wanted to be able to love me unconditionally. He actually was feeling badly about himself.

I told him I thought what wouldn't be right would be for another love to die. Neither of us made the commitment to marriage with any intention of bailing out (been there, did that, and knew that's not what's suppose to happen to families). I was so glad he would risk telling his concern, it gave me the opportunity to change.

I was in my Clinical Psychology PhD internship at the time, and just happened to be studying neuro-psychology. Brains are "plastic." The ability for the brain to continue to change (for us to change as people) is called neuro-plasticity. It's great news, we aren't "hard set". We may be a bit jelled but not set. Old dogs can learn new tricks.

Sometimes we think "that's just the way I am." Or, "I've always been this way, I guess I'm stuck this way." These beliefs can become self-fulfilling prophecies and very limiting when we don't realize it's just NOT TRUE!

We can change our brains so happiness can become automatic. We can just be happy.

I began to develop a practice around what I was learning, it took me several years and additional training in relational change before I figured out how to make happiness habitual, but I can speak as someone who has it, it's quite lovely and fun.

Sounds great, doesn't it?! So, how in the world can you do?

What needs to happen is work, or exercise, in the part of the brain that manages emotional regulation, relationships and empathy. When this part of our brain is well developed we love and are loved, and we can regulate our emotions. So, happiness becomes a lasting state rather than something we have to work at consciously. Once the habit it created, well, it's a habit. :-)

It's amazing how these three things are linked together, and they are, in life and in our neurobiology. They go hand in hand. Relationships impact empathy and emotional regulation. Emotional regulation impacts empathy and relationships. Happiness impacts relationships and emotional regulation.

To exercise the area of your brain and begin to improve your relationships, empathy and emotional regulation start by doing 20 minutes of focused awareness everyday. As Daniel Siegel would say pay "attention to your intention." If you're doing dishes pay attention to the doing of the dishes. The new age way to say it is "be in the present moment." If you want to develop your brain in this important area faster, do more daily. Think of it as a brain boot camp. We workout to keep, or get, our hearts in shape, why not our heads?

Try it for 30 days, and let me know how you're feeling, if you're noticing any change in your relationships, emotional regulation and empathy; or really, if you're noticing the start of your own happiness habit.

For more intense instruction on improving your relationship, see my free secret video at and get my free CD on the Seven Secrets to Getting Connected, Considered and Cared For.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Danger Signs for "Close-Call Friendship"

This is an except from an article by FAMCO

"Consider the following danger signs for a close-call friendship:

* You save topics of conversation for someone other than your spouse.

* You share spousal difficulties with this person. For example, "You're a woman; help me understand how my wife works."

* Your friend shares relationship difficulties with you.

* You anticipate seeing this person more than your spouse. This is a sign you are already sliding sideways. Keep in mind that you see your spouse at the two worst times of day - first thing in the morning when things tend to be chaotic and in the evening when you are trying to get dinner ready, homework done and you are tired from the day.

* You provide special treats for your friend.

* You fantasize about marriage with this friend.

* Your spouse does not have access to all of the conversations you are having with this person - e-mail, texting, in person, etc.

* You spend money on this friend behind your spouse's back.

* You lie to your spouse to spend time with this friend; i.e. you go into work an hour before you really need to be there to see your friend.

* You hide interactions with your friend from your spouse. For example, "Don't smile at me when you see me at church; my husband is watching."

* You accuse your spouse of jealousy when the friendship is brought up.

* You develop special rituals with your friend that are highly anticipated by both parties. When the rituals don't happen, there is great disappointment.

* Your friend shares his or her feelings or touches you, which creates an inward response.

* You have conversations with your friend that include sexual content.

* You participate in corporate travel with your friend, also known as corporate dating.

* You participate in business travel in which meals, alcohol and entertainment are involved, and you are staying at the same hotel.

Relationships are what life is all about, and that starts with your relationship with your spouse. Protect it."

The Full article can be found at:

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Recognize if your marriage has a deep injury, and HEAL IT!

If you have a sore spot in your relationship, that keeps coming up over and over, it's possible that it is, what is known to therapists as, an Attachment Injury.

A friend and colleague of mine, wrote this piece about how you can heal an attachment injury you caused.

I'm sharing it with his permission.

Healing Attachment Injuries

An attachment injury, by definition, is a hurt in a close relationship that is severe enough to adversely affect the relationship. This could be between husband and wife, parent and child (no matter what ages), or others.

We grow close to or attached to people when they help meet our needs of friendship, companionship, romantic relationships, etc. We want to love and trust those we have attachments to and want to be treated well by them. When the relationship is good we can easily forgive little things and a quick apology can work wonders.

When an incident happens that is big enough to be called an attachment injury, things are different. An example of an attachment injury was reported by the well respected marital therapy pioneer and author, Susan Johnson.

It happened when a woman had a miscarriage and she appropriately responded to the loss as a death of a child. Her husband however had not yet established a relationship with the fetus, nor felt it growing and moving, or had those deep loving, tender feelings his wife had. His anticipation and longing for a child was not in the same place as his wife's. He looked at the miscarriage as a medical procedure. She was crushed by his dismissal and silent denial of her pain and loss. For years afterwards whenever this wife felt a triggering event her emotions would swell up and she would feel anger, hurt, abandonment and more; almost as if it happened that day.

When our spouse goes off on an emotional outburst, after experiencing a triggering event, we know there is an attachment injury that is not yet healed. Or sometimes when we hear about the same problem or issue over and over again it is evidence of an attachment injury.

Here is how to heal an attachment injury at approximately this level. (More severe injuries, like affairs or repeated significant injuries, require more and often different treatment.)

To begin, you must want to heal all such injuries sincerely or your attempts will not yield the desired result.

The following steps will be written from the point of view that the husband caused the injury.

The next time a triggering event occurs and ignites your wife's emotions about "the" injury - stay with it.

1) Bring the entire issue, tenderly and carefully, to the forefront of her thoughts. Go over all of the events that lead up to it, all of the errors made, acknowledge the missed queues, etc. To be healing your attitude should be calm, humble, soft spoken and contrite during the conversation. Acknowledge your partner's pain and suffering over this. Remember the focus is on your spouse healing—not on you or your feelings, image, etc. The more you are thinking about your issues, the less helpful it will be to your spouse.

2) Next, apologize for every little detail that you were responsible for--every single one. Then apologize for the things that happened that you did not cause--especially, if you did not cause them. Apologize that they even happened! Be truly sorrowful that those events contributed to your wife's pain and sorrow.
Proceed slowly, only going forward when there has been enough time for her to absorb what is occurring.

3) Let her know what your intent was and what your intent is now. If your intent was not good, don't lie about it. Admit it and if it was selfish, prideful, controlling, etc. - apologize for it. Tell her how your intent is going to change, if it needs to. On the other hand, if you truly felt that your intent was completely pure, recognize that with the additional knowledge you now have, you still need to apologize. Pointing out that your intent was not meant to harm is a step in the process but does not negate any of the other steps.

4) Next, tell her how you are going to prevent things like this from happening again. Tell her what you are doing and going to do to make absolutely certain you never let that happen again. How are you going to be aware that something like this is brewing again? Share this with her or figure it out with her.

5) Finally, apologize all over again for every single issue that you caused and every single thing that happened that could have been prevented whether you caused it or not. Then, if she is ready, hold her gently and lovingly. Let it all sink in.

Remember, the apology must match the size of the injury. We don't cure infections with aspirin.

We don't cure attachment injuries with a quick and pitiful "I'm sorry, I should not have done that - now get over it."

Remember also, that healing takes time. Some or all of the above may have to be repeated. Be patient—do it again. Allow time to heal.

You will know when the injury is healed. You will see or hear the trigger and the gun won't fire. Healing will then be complete.

By Dean R. Bender

To learn more about marital attachments read Susan Johnson's book, Hold Me Tight

Monday, August 3, 2009

Protect your marriage: Relationship Help

"Whether a marriage will be happy or whether it is headed for the divorce court can be foretold from how things go during its first two years." Says the results of studies by Dr. Ted Huston.

Early warning signs:

A Turbulant Courtship

Lots of tears and high drama

Declined affection in the first two years

A wife that's falling "out of love."

If you have these symptoms in your relationship - it's not too late to turn things around.

Consider the position you take in your relationship - do you emotionally support, engage and share? If not, if you criticize, defend or distance you are contributing to the decline of love and closeness in your relationship.

We need openness and closeness. We have to take risks to share tenderly with our partner and nurture our relationship with kindness and warmth. Try doing more of these things:
* look for the positive,
* tell your partner something you appreciate every day (no "but"'s or "if-only"'s allowed),
* make it safe for your partner to share (soft voice, kind tone, understanding and open heart),
* put yourself in your partner's shoes - have compassion for his/her stresses, and
* do an act of service for your partner everyday

If you have trouble doing any of these things after two weeks of conscious effort - then it may be time to seek marital therapy. The sooner you get relationship help the easier and faster you can be back in love. And, as we all know, being in love is a wonderful place to be!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Are you caught in a criticize/defend pattern?

Is your relationship distressed? If it is, would you really want to know? Or is relationship trouble like the common cold, if you wait long enough the distress will pass?

Relationships are NOT like the common cold. In fact, untended distress typically gets worse.

Most men believe if they ignore hot emotions things will cool down. Well, that is sort of true. It's true in the short run, and untrue in the long run.

It really does help to protect the relationship from the immediate argument to pull out of it. But, if after the conflict the problem isn't address then it's more likely for a attack/defend pattern to get going.

The most common words that come out of men's mouths when they are distressed in the relationship are along these lines:

"you're too emotional"

"why does it have to be like this with you?"

"if you didn't make such a big deal of things...."

"okay, okay. I hate it when you cry"

"anything you want"

"I can't talk to you when you get like this"

If this sounds like you, or like the man you love, it's time to slow down and look at the pattern in your relationship. Chances are, you're caught in the criticize/defend pattern.

There is a good way out of that pattern. Scientifically proven to work.

The first step out, is to recognize the pattern and begin to talk about the pattern itself. Don't talk about the issue that triggered the pattern. Talk about the pattern.

More to come next time.



Thursday, January 1, 2009

Cultivating Attachment Moments

Part 1: Hello's and Goodbye's

Not all moments are created equal.

There are particular moments in our relationships that are much more important than other moments. Learning how to recognize significant moments and use them to keep your relationship strong, or to strengthen your struggling relationship can make a lot of difference.

Recognizing and acting on attachment significant moments is something we do when we have high emotional intelligence. The people that recognize and act mindfully at significant attachment moments have thriving relationships.

Attachment moments are times our loved one is
  1. coming or going
  2. having a heightened emotional experience, or
  3. in emotional need.
Times of coming and going, or reunion and departure, are the easiest to start putting in effort for the lasting love payoff.

To get started follow this rule:

Make a personal connection at each reunion and departure.

Include multiple points of connection. Points of contact are ways we reach out to each other, verbally and non-verbally. Points of contact engage your senses. For most romantic partners comfortable senses to engage include sight, sound, touch and emotion. So look at your partner (have eye contact if possible), speak to him/her, touch him/her and send a smile (positive, warm feeling). The more points of cotact you make the stronger the impact you will have. If it takes physical movement to make more points of contact that also adds strength to the attachment impact.

I know a woman who loved her father-in-law. Adored him. He was in ill health, didn't get around well and was somewhat crotchety. He did one thing consistently over the years. Whenever she and the kids would drop in he pulled himself out of his chair, a painful thing to do, got up, walked over and greeted her. It was a big effort for him. She would tell him, "oh, don't get up", "you don't need to do that", "please, just stay there." Never-the-less, over the years everytime she came over he got up out of his chair, limped over and greeted her - always including a hug. She said what endeared her to him so much was that greeting, she knew she was important to him and was reminded of it everytime he pulled himself out of his chair.

Marcella and Robert make it a point to blow kisses everyday when one of them leaves for work. One watches through the window as the other backs out of the driveway, then they exchange waves and blow kisses. What a great send off.

Curtis and Veronica stop what they are doing when either comes into the room after being apart all day, stand up and give each other a hug and kiss.

Waking and sleeping are also significant attachment moments. In essence going to sleep is a parting and waking is reunion. So making a conscious effort to greet your partner kindly in the morning and checking out warmly before sleep is also important.

At the end of everyday, no matter the hour or the mood at the time, Amy and Travis' last words to anyone in the world are to each other, "good night, I love you."

Think of what it would be like to never leave the house without a loving send off, to consistently be greeted with kindness after time apart, to begin and end the day with the reassurance that you matter. If in times of stress, tension, and anger with each other you still practiced loving greetings and send offs, if you still made an effort to have several points of contact, the less arguments would matter, the sting would go out of the last bad comment faster, you would feel much more tenderness and softness towards each other.

If you're not doing it already, create special greetings and special good-byes. Make that a habit and you will notice your bond strengthening and the tension between you reducing. If you are already doing well with reunions and departures, that's great! You've learned somewhere about positive bonding and creating significant attachment moments.

After practicing routinely the rule: Make a personal connection at each reunion and departure (no matter the mood, moment, or inconvenience) the next step, learning how to respond when you or your partner is having a peak experience, will come much easier.


Attachment Rule
#1. Make a personal connection at each reunion and departure.

#2. More points of contact increase the impact of the personal connection.


Do you need to acknowledge each reunion and departure?
It can create more warmth and contact in your relationship.

Is leaving the room for a few minutes considered a departure?
It is a departure. It's not as significant a departure as parting for the day or a longer time.
So, a personal connection with fewer points of contact is suitable such as "I'll be right back," or "I'm going to go get ____."

Subscribe to Lifetime Of Love Newsletter