Communication Problems? Create a New Language Together!

Most of the time when a couple seeks counseling with me they cite the primary problem as “communication issues.”

I just don’t get where’s she’s coming from!
He shuts down and won’t talk to me!
I feel like I don’t know her anymore!

When two people come together as a couple they each bring his/her own history and way of being in the world. This individual experience can manifest in a language or way of communicating that on the surface seems quite similar to our own, but in actuality is quite different.

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In the early stages of coupling, it’s easy to show genuine interest in another’s language, of trying to really understand what this new amazing person in your life is all about. There’s also the propensity to downplay differences for the sake of building a very new connection. But over time the earnest curiosity wanes, and all those differences once swept under the rug sneak out into your life one little crumb at a time.

An extremely powerful way for a couple to take charge of this breakdown in communication is to create an entirely new language together! Such a language starts with understanding the other person and from that deep understanding, creating new meaning that bridges the “you” and the “me” into an “us.”

4 Ways to Create the “Language of Us”

  1. Teach & Learn – Growing up in a family means instinctively knowing the unspoken rules of how to think and act with your family members. We then take these rules with us, sometimes without even realizing it or considering if the rules fit for us in our adult lives! Whenever you find yourself confused by your partner, or thinking of yourself as “normal” in comparison, it’s a red flag that it’s time to step back and learn more about each other. What are your experiences and beliefs about family, romantic partnership, emotions, and how the world works? If you’re often the one who shares easily, don’t forget to invite your partner to share, too!
  2. Love Languages – There’s a popular book “The 5 Love Languages” by Gary Chapman that discusses the importance of loving your partner in the ways he/she experiences love. Not surprisingly, we tend to show love in the ways we wish to receive love rather than in the ways our partner wishes to receive love. This can cause a lot of “communication issues!” Imagine the sad frustration of giving and giving in a way that’s not interpreted as loving! And the disconnection your partner feels, as well. It can be helpful to start considering how your partner best experiences your love and to be on the look out for his/her loving gestures, too. For more information about love languages, visit Dr. Chapman’s website.IMG_2581
  3. Conflict Languages – Per Dr. Sue Johnson’s model of couples attachment as addressed in Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), couples not only have love languages, they also have distinct ways of protesting emotional disconnection with each other. A protest can be nagging, shutting down, attacking, withdrawing, etc. When our partners act in these ways, we tend to put meaning to these actions such as, “She doesn’t think I can do anything right” or “He doesn’t care.” However, when you start to understand the deeper levels of your conflict, you can learn the map of your partner’s hidden wounds and protest behaviors. You learn that a nag or shut down often means “Please come closer to me” or “I feel helpless.” Please read my previous blog post “Navigating the Iceberg: Diving Deep to Re-Connect with Your Romantic Partner During Conflict” to gain a better sense of the real issues in couples conflict, as well as check out Dr. Johnson’s book “Hold Me Tight” for further guidance.
  4. Inside Meaning – After putting in the time to understand each other in history, affection, and disconnection, don’t forget to be playful with your shared language! Inside meaning is an extension of the concept of inside jokes, and is a hallmark of intimacy. Such a language often organically develops from shared experiences and co-created meaning of those experiences. Being able to accurately read the subtle facial expressions of your partner, recall a fond memory between the two of you, develop words and phrases as shortcuts of expression, and use pet names all communicates: “You know me more deeply than anyone else.” IMG_2573

The co-creation of your very own language as a couple with all it’s intricacies and authentic knowing will deepen the intimacy between you and your partner in powerful ways. Don’t forget this can take effort, especially if your history is colored by significant disconnection with each other. Reaching out for help when needed is key. Couples therapists are skilled at helping you and your partner interpret each other and create a new language all your own.

All content and images owned by Amanda Bowers.

Navigating the Iceberg: Diving Deep to Re-Connect with Your Romantic Partner During Conflict

IMG_1567In working with couples and in navigating my own love life with all its heart swells and perils, I’ve found that conflicts between romantic partners are some of the most painful encounters we experience as adults. Hardly anything can derail our days or our lives more than being out of synch and in discord with our significant other.

Dr. Sue Johnson, the creator of Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) wisely declares, “Conflict in romantic relationships is 90% protest at emotional disconnection.” Over the past 25 years, she’s pioneered EFT as an empirically backed method of assisting couples based on adult attachment theory – the theory that the attachment needs we are all born with do not go away just because we grow old enough to “take care of ourselves.” Rather, we continue to need emotional connection and responsiveness throughout our lives, primarily from our significant other.

When I work with couples, I’ve taken to calling it the “Iceberg of Disconnection” – the ability we have as couples to hyper-focus on the tip-top jutting out of the water and then continue bumping up against each other due to failure to note the fuller berg below. No blog post could possibly summarize the complexity of EFT or how to create deeply secure attachments. However, I will share my go-to approach based on EFT principles for how to dive below and potentially reconnect with your partner when the protests of disconnection arise. IMG_1569

  1. Stop the Conflict Long Enough to Consider Your Deeper Distress – How many times have you found your day unraveling due to conflict with your sig other about something “silly”? For instance, let’s take Claudia and Jeremy (*names and story fictionalized). Just the other night they got into a bitter argument about “Game of Thrones.” Now some might say that nothing could be more serious than if Daenerys Targaryen assumes the throne or not, but Claudia was far more interested in curling up in her partner’s arms for the night than hugging a cold pillow on the couch. The first step in reconnection is to take a step back and realize you’re not arguing about what you think you’re arguing about (at least not most of the time). Claudia was not angry that Jeremy was only minimally interested in GoT, and he was not distant because he believed she was over-invested. They could have argued all night about which stance toward the show was more “normal” and driven each other crazy. Instead, at some point (about the time she was huffing her pillow and blanket into the other room), she turned around and admitted, “I’m so sad right now.”
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  2. Name Your Protests for What They Are – Claudia was sad because she experienced Jeremy’s lack of interest in GoT as disconnection. That fantasy shows were a common way of connecting with her now deceased brother only added to the depth of her yearning not just for Jeremy’s physical presence but also his emotional presence during this TV event. When she was finally able to say, “I’m sad because I wanted to share this with you and it reminds me of my brother,” it totally changed the conversation. She was able to further explain, “When you put down people engrossed by a TV show it also puts down previous ways of connection that I’ve enjoyed.” Yes, she was angry. But she was also sad, feeling small in so many ways. Claudia needed to speak from her deeper truth in order to draw Jeremy into the connection she was so hungry for.
  3. Respond in Kind – When she got more real with him, Jeremy could have used it against her and continued with distant quips. But instead he allowed her vulnerability to draw out his own. He was able to admit, “When you become so absorbed in the show I feel left out because I just don’t enjoy it the way you do.” This further changed their conversation. From the depths of vulnerability the ice melts, and there’s safety to explore “softer” emotions like sadness, shame, fear, and yearning. There’s room to create connection. IMG_0286

Often when one member of a couple is nagging or yelling it is an attempt to say, “I feel your distance, please reconnect with me!” And when the other person is cold or withdrawn, it is a way of saying, “I am also upset about our disconnection and simply don’t know what to do.” The only way to move past your original disconnect is to be brave enough to name and share your deepest emotional truths with each other.

If you lack the language to speak about your truths or are uncertain about how to respond to your partner, please read Dr. Johnson’s book “Hold Me Tight” and consider the additional assistance of a couples therapist to help you create a deeply sustaining connection.

All content and images owned by Amanda Bowers.

Tired of Dating Disasters? 4 Clues to a Lasting Love Life

You don’t need another human being to make your life complete. But let’s be honest, having your wounds kissed by someone who doesn’t see them as disasters in your soul but cracks to put their love into is the most calming thing in this world. ~Emery Allen IMG_1849

I’ve spoken with many a friend and client about the frustrations of “having it all” except “the one.” Or, conversely, not caring about cultivating one’s own garden due to a sense that the flowers aren’t as beautiful without someone to share them with. I’ve personally traversed relational terrain far more complicated than I ever could have imagined, with all the tears and heartache and self-doubt that comes with it. What is this phenomenon? This desire to connect with another that can drive us to utter rage and despair?

Your basic needs are met: food, clothing, shelter. After years of dedicated schooling and job performance, your career is stable, if not successful. You have friends and family with whom to celebrate life’s joys and sorrows. Even a furry friend to snuggle up with while catching up on American Idol. But there’s this sense that life is not complete.

I am the last person who will say you need a romantic partner in order to be fulfilled in this life. Many, many people are choosing to find joy and meaning by cultivating other areas of their lives than marriage or family. But there’s no denying the human pull toward partnership – the need for physical affection we never out grow, and the yearning for someone we can count on no matter what.

If you are one of these people who have it all, including a long history of dating pains and problems, let’s take a look at a few of the things that could be getting in your way.

IMG_1848Deep Sense of Unworthiness – we’ve all heard the platitude, “If you don’t love yourself, you can’t love someone else.” I’m not necessarily endorsing this statement. Many women love very deeply despite feelings of unworthiness. But I do believe it is far more difficult to accept love when you don’t love yourself. We tend to color and interpret our world based on our personal narratives – if you don’t feel loveable, or have struggled with several painful rejections, you are less likely to seek or accept the type of love that would be fulfilling. Personal work in this area may be as straightforward as a renewed journey of self-love guided by your interests, wise friends, and new experiences. Or it may call for the professional attention of a psychotherapist.

Unfocused Energy – you’ve been on Match, forced yourself through awkward blind dates, and hit the bar scene with friends on a regular basis. But have you taken the time to really think about what you’re looking for? I mean, beyond the usual: sexual chemistry, honesty, and a good sense of humor. Most people want those things! So thinking in those terms does not necessarily help you separate the “men from the boys” or the “women from the girls”! And dating “boys” and “girls” zaps energy and time from being with someone with whom you more closely fit. I absolutely do not endorse the idea that anyone less than perfect is “settling!” No one’s perfect – all relationships involve disappointment, pain, and hard work to find acceptance and middle ground. But clarity in dating can be gold! Make a list of qualities you hope your future partner will possess (and how you’ll know he/she possesses them), how you hope to interact and build a life together, and which of those qualities you may need to be growing in yourself to create that beautiful future. Write whatever comes to mind at first, then separate out the deal-breakers from your preferences, and begin holding yourself accountable to who you spend time with based on this honest assessment of your romantic needs. Sound daunting? Consider the advice of friends whose relationships you respect, or seek some professional counseling or coaching. IMG_1809

Anxious Attachment Style – as children we all develop attachment styles based on those early experiences with our mothers and fathers. Whatever your attachment style, you had no control over its development. A combination of biological sensitivities, environmental “fit,” and potential trauma or loss can greatly color your attachment experience. Those with an anxious attachment may find themselves particularly wrecked by nerves and worthlessness in the dating process. You may have been accused of being “dramatic” or “needy,” or may have a constant sense of insecurity in love with deep fears of rejection if someone gets to know the “real” you. Many people with this attachment style struggle with how to effectively soothe themselves, communicate relational needs to their partners, or most painfully, frequently choose partners who are emotionally unavailable and thus further bruise those childhood wounds. If this is you, you may start with some bioliotherapy by reading the books Attached and Insecure in Love, and follow it up with the help of a counseling professional with expertise in adult attachment.

Avoidant Attachment Style – similarly to anxiously attached adults, avoidantly attached adults may have experienced a lack of attention to their emotional needs as children and now struggle to allow themselves to be vulnerable with others. If this is you, you may distance from partners or end relationships that are seemingly on a good course. You may idealize a past partner or struggle to emotionally and physically connect with the same person. You may find yourself repeating your past with patterns of attraction to those who can’t meet your needs in the present, such as those who are already in committed relationships, disinterested in commitment, or are avoidantly attached themselves. If this is the case, you may start by reading the above mentioned books, and consider psychotherapy with an expert on avoidant attachment to help you understand the historical wounds that fuel your distancing with others, and learn how to tear down those walls and accept closeness and vulnerability in relationships.

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If any of these concepts hit too close to home, please don’t hesitate to reach out to trusted friends or professionals to help you build the romantic life you seek and deserve. Growing old with someone you both love and trust doesn’t have to be a fantasy. It could very well be your future.

All content owned by Amanda Bowers.

Relationship in a Rut? Tap Your Inner Child!

Has the spark been waning from your relationship, or have you found yourself knowing your significant other less and less? Wishing you could reconnect in a deep or vital way? Your Inner Child can help tap the energy you need to get out of a relational rut!

When we tap our Inner Child on the shoulder, we can have the best of both worlds – the fresh energy of childhood and the wisdom and sensuality of adult experience. Your Inner Child can help you re-learn the affection, creativity, spontaneity, and vulnerability necessary to maintain a powerful love connection!

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1) Affection – One of our primary sources of affection in adulthood is through our romantic partnerships. If you are missing affection in your current relationship, chances are your partner is missing it, too. The best way to receive is to give. This does not mean initiating sex and then feeling angry or defeated if it doesn’t go your way! Think of the affection that freely flows from your Inner Child. The part of you that easily gives hugs, holds hands, or needs to snuggle to forget about the “boogeyman” under the bed (ie: the overdue bills, unnerving lab results, etc.). As adults we never stop needing comfort and affection – give and receive freely! Nurturing affection can lead to passionate affection – and both are essential to feeling special and loved.

2) Creativity – In the beginning there are fun dates, love letters, and spontaneous sex. Later on … not so much. But that doesn’t mean you can’t revive the spark through following the example of your Inner Child! (Secret: We often show a lot of our Inner Child when we’re falling in love!) Think of the artwork you offered up and displayed proudly on the refrigerator, or the way you chased butterflies and lightning bugs in your backyard as a child. Now you can make a homemade Valentine or birthday card for your partner, surprise him/her with a spring picnic or a snowman-making contest, or watch the sunset at a local place of beauty (and arrange the baby-sitter, too, if necessary). Now you have a soul mate for a playmate – enjoy it!

3) Spontaneity – Why is it that the unplanned parts of life usually stand out in our memories the most? Because spontaneity has a way of inspiring mindfulness and bringing a spark of energy that elates our moods and calms our nerves. Spontaneity is a magical way to create an experience together that will increase connection. And no one is more spontaneous and inspiring than our Inner Child! Think of the joys of following your curiosity down a new bike path as a child, or of sinking your teeth into a candy sprinkled dessert! Sharing your spontaneity and offering yourself as an encouraging partner in your significant others’ impulsive urges will give your relationship a needed jolt. Make yourself a promise that next time you feel a twinge to stop off at a carnival or go to that often seen but never frequented hole-in-the-wall restaurant, follow it toward the chance to make a memory together! Even if it turns out to be sub-par, it’s something to bond over and laugh about for years to come.

4) Vulnerability – Over time we can begin to feel we already know everything important about our partner; or conversely, we can assume our partner will never understand an important dream or wound of ours. Maybe you’ve known each other for years or decades, but continued engagement is necessary to continue knowing someone. If you feel as if your partner doesn’t know or understand you anymore (or that you don’t know/understand him or her), reach out from a place of vulnerability. Think of the unabashed way you used to talk about the cool new thing you learned in school, the super scary spider you saw on the playground, or how you were going to be an astronaut when you grew up! Only now you’re old enough to know how to say, “This is what I think and feel … what about you?” Share a hard moment from your workday, a bad dream you can’t shake off, or fun idea for a long-weekend away. If you lead with your own vulnerabilities while also offering your partner the chance to reciprocate, intimacy and passion are sure to follow.

Of note: Sometimes our Inner Child no longer feels safe in the company of our significant others. Or sometimes our Inner Child is still quite wounded from the traumas of childhood.

If these tips are met with your partner’s apathy or opposition … or if you can’t even imagine how to tap your Inner Child or how to receive a good response for putting yourself out there in these ways, please don’t hesitate to seek a couples therapist to help break apart defenses and rebuild intimacy.

If your Inner Child is wounded due to physical or emotional traumas in childhood, please take these wounds seriously and seek care and support for yourself. There are many qualified therapists who can assist with healing the lifelong pain of childhood trauma to help you reclaim vitality in adulthood.

All content owned by Amanda Bowers.

 

5 Tips for Effective Boundaries

IMG_0727What does someone mean when they say “good boundaries”? It’s a phrase that’s tossed around a lot, and yet most people assume their boundaries are “good” and others’ are “bad.” Who gets to be the expert here? If you back up and consider how boundaries are used in other contexts, it will help you understand how to use them relationally as well. Sometimes a boundary is something very rigid, such as an egg-shell. It clearly protects that which is inside and makes a firm demarcation between the inside and outside that is not easily crossed without destroying the boundary. Other times, boundaries are more diffuse. Think of a picket fence around a home – the fence clarifies property, but you can still see beyond it, and even open the gate to enter without harming the fence. Relational boundaries are no different. In some situations, more rigid boundaries are required to keep your stability, integrity, and safety in tact, while other times it makes sense to loosen your boundaries in order to allow for the vulnerability required to form deep connections with others.

What happens, though, is that many people find themselves interacting with the world from only one or the other vantage point without showing flexibility depending on the given relationship or situation at hand. We’ve all met those people who after knowing you for all of 5 minutes will share about their medical problems, their money woes, and ask you personal questions that would make a reality star blush. And then there are others who keep people at an emotional arm’s length, even those who they are supposedly close to, not knowing how to admit to all the complexities and flaws of being human.

This post will speak more to the former. If you are one of those people who often finds yourself in the thick of relational drama, whose to-do list for others is a mile long, who repeatedly puts yourself in positions where you are taken advantage of, and who sometimes can’t even distinguish which emotions belong to you or others, then this post is for you. Let’s look at some tips for firming up your boundaries!

1) It’s ok to say no. For many people, especially women, the idea of saying no feels terrible. However, “no” is actually a primary purpose of a boundary. “No” says you can’t cross this line, because what’s on the other side belongs to me (be it my space, my time, even my body). Thus, it is incredibly important to practice saying no. Some tips for doing so:
a) Don’t be pushed to give an answer immediately
b) Remind yourself that saying yes to this means saying no to something else – check in with yourself about what you’re giving up to say yes (is it your exercise or creative time, time with your children or spouse, your sense of self-respect, etc.)
c) Be short and sweet with your reply. “No, I can’t do that” is sufficient, it doesn’t require a laundry list of reasons, or any apologies
d) Be open to compromise. Maybe this is something you really want to say yes to or it’s your turn to return a favor – see if there are ways to meet in the middle with someone rather than giving of yourself entirely on someone else’s terms

IMG_07542) Choose your inner circles wisely. It feels so good to meet a new friend or colleague and form a super quick bond. There’s that magical sense of this person just gets me. And those types of quick, lasting relationships do exist! If you have one or more of them, be grateful. But don’t forget that time is also a teller of all secrets. And that it’s over time, with ever-deepening disclosures and need for support, that you come to know you can trust someone. That co-worker you spoke with so openly at lunch the other day may not guard your confidence as closely as his/her own desires to advance. And your new neighbor may pull away when he learns you’re under water on your mortgage. Or conversely, that neat person who was so open and interesting to talk with at first, may now be calling you daily with her “crisis du jour” and you didn’t mean to sign on to be her confidant. I’m not asking you to have people jump through unreasonable hoops, but it is important to make sure those closest to you have earned, not just been given, your trust. And earned trust takes time.

3) Helping versus needing to be needed. We all love people who are naturally compassionate and helpful, who step in to offer a word of kindness or support without immediate expectation for reciprocation. These are the people in our lives who appear to enjoy being kind. These are our saints. However, it’s really important to distinguish for yourself if you like to be helpful or need to be needed. Some people don’t know who they are or what to do with themselves if they are not always in a helping role – if this is you, watch out! There is a fine line between being a saint and a martyr. You may be on the fast track for emptiness and sky-rocketing resentment. If you find yourself constantly in the middle of other people’s crises, being called on in excess to the point that you are angry, or noting to yourself that you are the only one who can do something or the only one who gives of yourself, then it may be time to take a hard look at how you can do more for yourself and let others do more for themselves. If this is a deeply ingrained pattern, the help of a therapist may be valuable.

 4) Two halves don’t make a whole, but two wholes make a great life. Many of us have bought into the romantic notion that another person can “complete” us (thanks, Jerry McGuire!). That where you are strong, he/she is weak, where you are practical, he/she is adventurous, etc. That you are somehow empty and less real without the constant attention and affection of another person. This is such a compelling story because it is basically the story of a newborn and a mother – and we never stop yearning to recreate it. However, between two adults, this story can be very dangerous. By depending on each other too much, by feeling ill at ease when apart even for short periods of time, by cutting off from other parts of yourself and your life, you and your partner risk losing the deep connection, passion, and vitality that makes a couple relationship so worthwhile. Challenge yourself to be a whole all on your own! Develop your personal hobbies, passions, and goals. Some of these you may do together, but some of them should be yours alone. This keeps you both going out into the world and coming back to share what you’ve learned and get excited about it together, rather than closing off the world into the little bubble you both live in that eventually either becomes stagnant or pops. IMG_0750

5) Kids need parents to be parents not friends. As a therapist I’ve worked with a lot of families, and one of the common problems that leads a family into my office is that the parents – albeit well-meaning – do not know how to let their kids be upset or dislike them. They are intent on seeming “cool” and being a kid’s friend. I’m certainly not advocating running your home like a military compound without the warmth and nurture and play that kids need to thrive! But kids also need limits. And they need to test your limits and know those limits are real. I often speak of the 3 C’s to parenting: clear expectations, clear rewards/consequences, and consistency in enforcement. I promise if your kid gets mad at you, it’s won’t last. And once an adult, your child will be so grateful to have grown up in a home where he/she learned that gentle and firm are not mutually exclusive concepts.

If some of these tips seem daunting, don’t be too hard on yourself! One could probably write a whole blog post (or book!) about each topic. Just take a deep breath, connect to your present moment, and ask yourself how you can embrace this moment with the balance the moment calls for. If you find it overwhelming to consider, you may seek the advice of a mental health professional.

All content owned by Amanda Bowers.

Couples Are Teams: Hallmarks of Happy Ones

Whether it be raising kids, running a home, or navigating a life event like a major illness or career shift, couples are teams. In small every day ways, couples have the chance to be teammates as well: planning meals, money management, even sex! That’s one of the most powerful parts of being a member of a couple: that feeling of you’re not alone. Unfortunately the exciting tingles of falling in love and deep security of early partnership can fade over time when life together becomes routine, stress becomes overwhelming, or when you slowly shift from getting to know each other to assuming you already know all there is to know.

Being part of an effective team is a profoundly satisfying and even invigorating experience. Anyone who plays (or spectates!) sports, enjoys a supportive and successful team at work, or is a member of a choir or theater cast knows the simultaneous surge of excitement and loyalty that a team can bring: that feeling of being part of something larger than yourself.

Who better to enjoy such feelings of  excitement and satisfaction with than your partner? If you’d like to improve the quality of your team as a couple, or want to be sure and maintain the intimacy you’ve already built, take a look at these 6 Hallmarks of Happy Couple Teams:

1. Trust – This seems like a no-brainer, and that’s because trust really is the foundation of every important aspect of your relationship as a couple. If trust is something you’ve not taken as seriously as you meant to, or you’ve encountered big breaks in trust during your life as a couple, it’s time to make rebuilding that trust a top priority. You may consider seeing a professional such as a couples therapist to assist if necessary. If you’re lucky enough to have a trusting relationship, don’t take it for granted. Guard your trustworthiness with each other as the prized treasure that it is.

2. Communication – How can two separate people with two different brains, different histories, different preferences, and different ideas, feelings, plans, and problems possibly work well together as a team without communication? The short answer is they can’t. Being able to share your ideas with your partner is essential to a strong and happy team together. Equally if not more important is the ability to truly listen to your partner’s ideas. This means focusing your mind only on what he/she is saying – not developing a defense or waiting for a chance to talk again. Good communication such as this may be slow in the beginning, or when discussing difficult topics – but it will pay off in terms of highly effective communication in the lifetime of your team.

3. Don’t Take Things Personally – Have you ever heard the saying that how a person reacts to you says more about him/her than you? Well, it’s true. Outside of those heart-to-heart occurrences where your partner may be sharing something important about how you affect him/her, most jokes, snide remarks, and misguided feedback really isn’t personal. It’s just not. Accepting this and avoiding easily bruised feelings will not only change your happiness in your partnership, it will change your life.

4. Self-Soothing – Not taking things personally is much easier if you have the capacity to self-soothe. By self-soothe, I mean the ability to calm yourself down when you have perceived (perhaps falsely, perhaps not) that your partner has slighted you in some way. This does not mean that after you’re calm that you shouldn’t talk about what happened. But don’t rely on your partner to always soothe you with his/her proclamations of love, affection, compliments, etc. Sometime you have to be able to take some deep breaths and remind yourself of your good qualities and worthiness without your partner’s help. The ability to do this will transform your relationship in ways you cannot imagine.

5. Avoid Perfectionism – No one is perfect. We do the best we can, and then have to let the rest go – in each other and in ourselves. I was kayaking with my partner a few weekends ago in a tandem kayak – an endeavor we’d neither done before independently or together. If we’d decided we were going to “perfectly” navigate this unknown river, in this new-to-us flotation device, it would have been a miserable day! Instead we communicated the best we could, problem-solved mistakes such as getting caught on rocks (or yes, there was this one time I fell out of the kayak!), and laughed off the rest. This is a good metaphor for life. Perfectionism isn’t possible, but learning together is.

6. Seek Humor – Along with avoiding perfectionism, the ability to seek humor in situations is key. Couples who can tell a joke, crack a smile, and overall bring levity to life situations have a far greater chance of staying together for the long haul and enjoying themselves along the way. Your brain may be telling you: this is awful, scary, angering. And it may be! Also allow room for the part of the situation that is playful, silly, and adventurous. Enjoy!

All content owned by Amanda Bowers.